It's hard to put the finger on what went wrong for a team that lost a game by one run. If Shane Watson had got a better piece of the bat against Lasith Malinga in the final over, then we may have seen him getting lifted off the ground just like Kieron Pollard hoisted the Sri Lankan legend on his shoulders. But elite sports is always about small margins, and a loss by one run is also a moment to reflect on what went wrong.
The MS Dhoni run out appears to be the turning point of the game. If he could have stayed in the middle for a few more overs, his mere presence would have been enough to see his team through. But the game had started to drift away from CSK much before that, in the same manner it did in the earlier games against the same opposition.
Rahul Chahar has had a stranglehold over CSK all season. He hasn't given away more than a run-a-ball against them in any of the games in 2019. CSK have been guilty of going through quiet periods in the middle of the innings trying to take the game deep and then getting blown away by Jasprit Bumrah.
On Sunday night, we saw CSK had more than one player padded up during the powerplay. One sensed the team had decided to break the monotonous pattern of their defeats and were now willing to dazzle their opponents with a surprise promotion. But perhaps the strong start they got made them change their mind. CSK were 53 for 1 after six overs. From there they needed less than 100 runs to win and plenty of overs to go. That must have forced them to change their minds and trust their conventional way of chasing runs.
Earlier in the evening, CSK had bowled exceedingly well to restrict Mumbai to under 150 on a good pitch. The way Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock started, it seemed a total in the range of 190-200 would be likely. But Shardul Thakur bowled with great heart, and along with some help from the usually accurate spinners, CSK managed to shut the MI batsmen down. The target of 150 was one CSK would have happily taken after being asked to bowl first by their arch-rivals.
After another good start from Watson and Faf du Plessis, it seemed CSK would finish this game in a canter. But then Rohit started to turn the invisible screw on them, and the innings lost all momentum. A quick look at CSK's progress gives you an idea of MI's domination of the middle overs yet again. At the end of the first powerplay, CSK were 53-1. After 15 overs, they were 94-5. That adds up to 39 runs in nine overs, a Test match-like crawl at just above four runs an over. In between, there was a six-over passage where they scored at exactly three runs an over.
Against any other team, CSK may have still managed to come back despite that slow progress in the middle overs. Against MI, they were almost guaranteed to fail because of that very slowdown as they have already done twice before in the season while chasing.
Faf said at the presentation ceremony after CSK's last win that the top order is aware of the big-hitting potential of the lower order, so they try to focus on steadying the ship. Being aware of your team's strength is great, but with CSK it seems they are spoilt by the Dhoni cushion that has saved them over and over again through the years.
Against good teams, if you give them a sniff, they make you pay for it. From needing just over run-a-ball after the end of the first powerplay, the equation moved to 12 an over in the last five, four of which would be bowled by Bumrah and Malinga. Watson knew he had to capitalise on whoever bowls that one other over, and he did it brilliantly by taking 20 off against Krunal Pandya in the eighteenth over. Before that, Malinga also proved expensive in the sixteenth over where he conceded a six and three boundaries.
The best thrillers are often those where both sides are trying hard to lose before one side changes its mind. That's precisely what happened on the night of the final when a severely cramped Watson kept trying to hit out or get out, but MI refused to take their opportunities.
It match was still wide open when Malinga was given the responsibility of defending nine runs from the last six deliveries. The veteran Sri Lankan pacer gave nothing away in the first four balls against a set Watson, forcing him to try and pinch a non-existent brace only to get run out in the process. With a bit of luck, left-hander Jadeja might have got more than one ball to face in the last over and could have had a better chance of pinching a boundary against Malinga. But as it happened, CSK lost their second game of the season failing to make contact with a last ball slower delivery, this time in the biggest match of them all.
Dhoni was gracious enough to acknowledge his team’s weaknesses through the season and accept that it was far from a perfect campaign for the men in yellow. They continue to be a great sports team and a big part of their success this season was the team spirit that motivates them to play for each other and punch above their weight. The team needs to put this loss behind them as soon as possible, and start looking at 2020, with a remodelled team that fights with the same CSK spirit.