Once the disbelief gives way and the pain dulls, those at the heart of Rising Pune Supergiant will know they have only themselves to blame for letting slip a glorious opportunity to win the Indian Premier League 2017. They lost the final by a meagre run to Mumbai Indians, a team that they had consistently bested up till the big day – it made for a nail-biting, thrilling finale to a fine tournament, but that won’t matter to them. It was quite possibly Pune’s last ever act on the field, and this isn’t how they had envisioned going out.
It was harder for Pune to stomach given how against the tide the result was. For the majority of the match, it was Pune who had the upper hand, who seemed the more confident, who went around with the swagger of eventual champions. Despite being asked to field, they had Mumbai on the ropes right from the off. Parthiv Patel, Mumbai’s top scorer, was sent back in the third over for just four by Jaydev Unadkat. Two balls later, Unadkat had Lendl Simmons walking back too, having snapped an excellent, reflex return catch. Mumbai were 8 for 2, and within three overs of the day, they were already fighting an uphill battle. Also Read- A look back at top 5 bowling performances of IPL 10
It was to be the first sway in a match that zig-zagged quite a bit. Ambati Rayudu and Rohit Sharma added a cautious 33 before Mumbai encountered another slide. Rohit (24), Kieron Pollard (7), Hardik Pandya (10) and Karn Sharma (1) all fell in fairly quick succession, and Mumbai stared at the bottom of the barrel at 79 for 7. It would have taken a brave man to bet against Pune at that point.
Then, Krunal Pandya, with only the tail to bat with, slowly went about picking the ones and twos and kept the scoreboard moving. The total crossed the 90-mark, and with just three overs remaining, Pandya and Mitchell Johnson decided to target Dan Christian. Johnson used his muscles and heaved him for six in the 18th over, before Pandya latched on to another poor delivery outside off, sending it to the fence for four in the final ball of the over, which yielded 13 runs. They took ten off Unadkat’s subsequent over before Pandya went all out against Christian in the final over. He hammered a six and four, and in all managed to add 14 runs to boost the total to 129 for 8. His 38-ball 47 had given his bowlers a total to defend.
Pune would still have been confident of crossing the line, but at the time, they didn’t know how crucial Pandya’s knock would pan out to be. It was the difference at the end of the day. It was a surprising move from Smith to go with Christian in the death when Shardul Thakur, who had given away just seven runs in two overs till then, still had two overs remaining. Also Read- IPL 2017: A look back at some of the best moments from season 10
In the chase, Pune lost Rahul Tripathi (3) early on, but Ajinkya Rahane finally found some form and moved things along in the Power Play overs, with an assiduous Smith for the company. Rahane was dropped by Krunal for 14, and made him pay by hitting fours on both sides of the wicket. By the end of the Power Play, Pune were 38 for 1, and Mumbai seemed resigned to their fate. By the time Rahane was sent back, it was the 12th over, and Pune needed just 59 from 49 balls. With Mahendra Singh Dhoni promoted to No. 4, it seemed like a blessing in disguise for Pune.
Pune should have gotten a move on around then – a big over would have heaped the pressure on Mumbai, especially as they seemed to be saving Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga for the death. With Dhoni the new man in, the onus was on Smith, who was cautious till that point, to put away a few boundaries. He didn’t though, putting a price on his wicket and keeping the surge for late. As the overs went on, Mumbai slowly realised the tie was far from over as the pressure seemed to build on Pune. In the 16th over, Pune finally went big, claiming 14 runs off Krunal’s over to reduce the equation to 33 runs off 24.
Unfortunately for Pune, Bumrah and Malinga then took charge. Both are ardent practitioners of the yorker, and they rarely make a mistake in their lines and lengths. Scoring was difficult, and when Dhoni was undone by a slower ball, caught behind off Bumrah, Mumbai had the upper hand yet again. Smith, however, finally took charge and managed a six off Bumrah’s 19th over.
Pune needed 11 runs off the final over, and when Manoj Tiwary pulled Mitchell Johnson’s first delivery to the fence, it seemed Pune had the match in the bag, with the equation reduced to seven off five. However, Tiwary’s attempt at another biggie – when a single or a double would have been more sensible – resulted in his wicket. When Smith holed out soon after, the match swayed back to Mumbai. This time, it was decisive. Pune had Christian and Washington Sundar, the 17-year-old rookie, in the middle. Four were needed off the final ball, but Mumbai gave away only two.
Everyone in the Pune dugout wore stunned expressions. This was their match for the taking. How could they lose? In hindsight, Smith’s decision to go with Christian in the death was a folly. Smith was also unusually cautious with the bat – his 50-ball 51 was far too slow, and being the settled batsman, he should have ideally attacked in the middle overs and heaped the pressure on Mumbai.
Stephen Fleming, the coach, lamented Pune’s failure to keep their wickets intact at the crucial stages. “It was a game of inches and metres. Steve Smith came very close to winning it in the last over, and it could have been a much different story,” he said. “But that was the nature of the game. It was very ebb and flow on what was quite a tough wicket to score on. We knew that it was going to be tough. We knew their bowling attack was top class. We fell behind a couple of times. We lost wickets at key times. We just couldn’t do enough to kill the game. They just hung in and created enough pressure to get across the line but it was just a great final. It was full of pressure, full of mistakes and it was full of great performances. It was a grand finish to a good competition.”
All considered, though, Pune can look back at this tournament with pride, especially considering it was only last year that they finished in the seventh position. The turnaround this year has been phenomenal, and there were lessons to be learnt in how Smith and Dhoni cooperated and conducted themselves in a situation that could have easily morphed into a power struggle. Fleming said as much.
“I don’t think we are the most skilled side in the IPL. What we have had is players stand up from nowhere. We take real pride in that,” he said. “We have created an environment where some players have been able to excel. Jaydev (Unadkat) has been extraordinary again today, so has Rahul Tripathi and (Manoj) Tiwary. Big stars have stepped up at key times as well. Ben Stokes was fantastic for us.
“Steve was the captain this year and MS Dhoni has slotted in to the role of a senior player very easily. He is a proud man but he is humble man. We saw the interaction between the two and other leaders, Faf du Plessis as well. So, leadership was never going to be a weakness for us. It was a case for making sure all our leaders were contributing in the right areas.
“I am very proud of the combination we put together and the campaign we ran. We would have loved to have sat here and had the icing on the cake but it does not change the feelings about the work that we put in during the year to get to this point.”
Fleming is right. For all the disappointment and disbelief at how the final panned out, you can’t take anything away from Pune, and what they did this season.