For years, Steve Smith will look back on this Sunday evening and grimace. His insides will feel like they are in knots, his feet will become momentarily heavier, and brow will furrow worse than an Indian road. Like stories of ‘the one that got away’, he will think back on the night where so much could have been so different with so little.
He will think about Dan Christian’s last couple of overs, in which he leaked 27 runs. After reducing Mumbai to 79 for seven, Smith wanted to go for the kill, shoot them out for perhaps under a hundred. For that, he had two slips for the new batters, hoping to nip any resistance in the bud.
But when cutters aimed at the stumps were working so well, Christian offered width and wides. When the length ball was proving impossible to put away, Christian tried to bowl full, relying on conventional wisdom rather than what was working on the day. Christian allowed Pandya to get under the ball, without having to worry about the slow pitch slowing it down. Those two overs were the only blemish in a superb effort in the field by RPS.
Smith will also think about MS Dhoni, the man whose batting approach Smith had backed all season, and with good reason and result. Dhoni’s fondness for taking the game deep is well known. When he came in — in the 11th over — the required run rate was just over seven. By the time Dhoni got out, it had climbed past 10. Dhoni started slowly, as he often does, and for 24 balls after he came to the crease, neither batter found the boundary. They knocked it around, ran like speed skaters, and seemed to be getting set.
It was almost as if they had assessed that the wicket was not easy to bat on, and decided that if they were both at the crease till the last ball, the runs would come. Dhoni had done it before, helping take 41 runs off Jasprit Bumrah and Mitchell McClenaghan in the last two overs of their previous game. Bumrah though had other ideas. When he removed Dhoni, RPS had turned an uphill walk into a sprint against the gradient.
Smith will also think about his own batting. While the focus was on a typical Dhoni innings, Smith himself was batting on 18 off 26 when Ajinkya Rahane was dismissed. Should he have stepped on the gas earlier? Should he have been more aggressive against Karn Sharma, who slipped in four quiet overs for just 18 runs?
Smith will think about whether he underestimated MI’s death bowlers. Yes, Smith backed himself, as Dhoni did, to see the team home by batting till the end, no matter what the run rate. But did he back himself too much against Lasith Malinga, whose fittest years are behind him, who hasn’t bowled at the death regularly for MI? Did Malinga’s bravura, did the ball that went between Smith’s legs and somehow missed the leg stump, take him by surprise? Did he think about the fact that when that over began, he was on 35 off 40 balls?
Smith would have thought he could still do it. He correctly anticipated the yorker from Bumrah, and went back in his crease to get under it. The six over long off brought his team within 12 runs of what he later described as a fairytale ending. It seemed even more imminent when Manoj Tiwary, Pune’s crisis manager, took four off the first ball of the last over, and got Smith on strike on the second, getting out in the process. Seven off four balls.
Smith would have looked at the percentages. Mitchell Johnson had four fielders deep on the leg side, and only one fielder deep on the off side, at deep cover. Johnson was certain to target Smith’s pads. So Smith did the right thing. He played the field, made room for himself, and went over the off side, opening the face of the bat at the last minute. Only he hit it too well, opened the face too far. The connection was so good Smith might have thought it was four. Ambati Rayudu caught it in the most ungainly fashion, but he caught it. It was like striking gold, only to be robbed immediately afterwards. Smith will think about whether he had time to cross when the ball was in the air, and get Christian on strike, not Washington Sundar.
Smith will think about that one shot. Had the angle of the bat changed a few degrees, it would have sent the ball five feet either side of Rayudu. It would have meant he wouldn’t have to think about everything else he was thinking about.
He will wonder whether he would have finally had a trophy to show for his four-month long purple patch in India. He would have thought about the immortality that was only one-run away, of being the only IPL team who could not defend their title, of capping the fairytale with a happy ending.
Smith will be thinking about these things, and will think about them for some time.
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Updated Date: May 22, 2017 10:03:06 IST