There is a key difference between good teams and truly great teams. Good teams have their heroes. Great teams create heroes during battle. They find someone to step up every time the team needs. Last night it was Faf du Plessis' night to step up. In a low scoring game, against the best bowling attack in the tournament, Faf stood firm and carried the bat through to see his team through to the final.
The game was set up before Faf's heroics though, by the CSK bowlers led by Lungi Ngidi, Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja. Kane Williamson accepted in the post-match presentation that his team was 20 runs short of a good score in the first innings. That difference was created largely due to a miserly spell of 4-0-13-1 runs by Ravindra Jadeja.
When you look at the highlights of Tuesday night's game, you will hardly see anything featuring Jadeja's efforts. None of his darts bowled at the stumps or his sprints at the boundary line would be worth another look. But Jadeja has been around for long, and it's a known fact now that he thrives on being unremarkable, accurate and efficient.
Before the start of this year's IPL season, Dhoni expressed his faith in Jadeja, the batsman. Jadeja acknowledged his captain's desire and publicly stated more than once that he wants to play a more significant role with the bat this year.
After first four games of the season, Jadeja had just bowled an aggregate of four overs, and you wondered if Dhoni's expectations from Jadeja to deliver with the bat are more to do with the lack of faith in his bowling abilities now, than the confidence in his skills with the bat. Jadeja has been out of favour in the Indian limited overs team for a while now. His detractors rate his bowling as too predictable, too one-dimensional to succeed in this format where batsmen line you up if they know what's coming their way.
As the season wore on though, Jadeja started coming into his own. We have seen in Test matches that Jadeja requires overs under his belt to find his rhythm. There are no long spells in T20, but playing more games and bowling more overs helped Jadeja find his groove.
Jadeja's stock delivery is the fast slider on the stumps. If he bowls it a tad too short, the batsmen will be able to cut and pull him with ease. Go full and miss that yorker length, and Saurashtra all-rounder will be deposited straight back over his head. The margin of error is minimal for a bowler like Jadeja. A slight off-day can make him look completely ineffective. When your primary skill as an artist is minimalism, you need to have complete confidence and perfect rhythm to execute it properly.
In Test matches, one thing that makes Jadeja such a great asset is his reliability in the final innings of the game. If there is any help on the pitch, you can be sure that Jadeja will be able to exploit it. Other bowlers may have an off day even when conditions are in their favour, but Jadeja almost never falters when you provide him with some external help.
On the night of the first qualifier against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Jadeja couldn't have asked for a better situation to come in. On a sluggish pitch, where his quick spinners were bound to grip, the opposition was already four down after the powerplay. All Jadeja needed to do was to turn the screws against batsmen who wouldn't be willing to take too many risks.
A marked difference in Jadeja's approach this year has been the willingness to give the odd ball some air, and whenever he has done that he has managed to extract considerable turn from the abrasive tracks.
Jadeja's solitary wicket on the night came off an innocuous slider that he bowled on middle, and leg and an out of form Manish Pandey turned his bat face a bit too early and gave Jadeja a simple return catch. Jadeja doesn't bowl too many wicket-taking deliveries, Jadeja bowls wicket-taking spells. To understand his quality, you have to watch his entire spells and see how he relentlessly puts the batsman under pressure and induces a false shot from him.
In a way, Jadeja is Dhoni's creation. The captain backed him through thick and thin in the Indian team as well as the CSK and got the best out him as the team's workhorse. In a CSK team of slow movers, Jadeja adds an extra edge to them on the field with his nimble feet and rocket throws. A Jadeja on top is a barometer for CSK team doing well.
Jadeja’s abilities with the white ball may be waning, but in Dhoni’s hands, he is still an asset and a match winner. With the team just one more win away from being crowned IPL champions of 2018, Dhoni would expect one final push from one of his oldest and most reliable allies.