In one of the great blips to the fantastic IPL narrative, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals - powered by two star-studded line-up and helmed by two of the greatest icons of Indian cricket - were banned for a couple of years. It gave rise to a conjuring narrative that could’ve been otherwise.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the face, brand and everything in between for Chennai Super Kings while Rahul Dravid made Rajasthan Royals a brand in his own image and building Indian cricket’s golden future. But when the jolt came about, it left Indian cricket in a state of disarray - even more than the original 2013 issue - and it needed a moment of its own to reconfigure itself.
But let’s forget that for a moment and imagine the two teams were still a part of Indian Premier League for the 2016 and 2017 edition. What ripple effect would it have on the country? It is the alternate universe that matters to us to have a perspective. Can we delve deep into it?
So we are in 2016, just ahead of the IPL auction. Even though Shane Watson had an average season in 2015, Rajasthan Royals know what their talismanic all-rounder could bring to the table and thus they decide to retain him for the upcoming season. That means Royal Challengers Bangalore, who have targeted Watson for their 2016 campaign, now have the full purse to go for their former player Kevin Pietersen once again, who has now been released by Delhi Daredevils.
With the addition of KP, RCB became a strong unit and the Englishman duly responds with a couple of valiant half-centuries upfront against CSK and DD to make his intent clear. The combined force of play ensures RCB not having any difficulties going forward, with regular wins against top teams. With the field of play being levelled, RCB, CSK, DD and SRH reach the play-offs with a little fuss, with the first two teams contesting in the first qualifier.
DD and SRH battle out for the second qualifier position and it eventually boils down to a RCB-CSK final in 2016. In the clash of past and present, the modernity has its own way of expressing with a freakish century from AB de Villiers nip CSK’s hopes into a bud and presents RCB their first-ever IPL title.
However, a tired Kevin Pietersen, who has now remained underwhelmed after a few great knocks up front, is no more interested in prolonging his career and he thus decides to hang up his boots after the season. Watson, meanwhile, couldn’t add much value to RR once again and thus RCB bring him on board to capitalise at small Chinnaswamy ahead of the 2017 IPL. The tournament is shaping up nicely but the biggest surprise has to be CSK. With their team being overly dependent on few players, the management decides to do an overhaul. They get hold of Chris Gayle, letting go of Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith, with Sarfraz Khan and Mandeep Singh in the middle-order. It is a new batting order in place alongside MSD and Raina but the unfamiliarity didn’t help the cause with Gayle falling prey to off-spinners on a regular basis.
RCB, who have added Dinesh Karthik to their roster after KP’s retirement, are going stronger than ever and for the third consecutive season, they enter the playoffs without any fuss. This time though they played with more caution to safely establish themselves in the final. MS Dhoni has started to struggle in the IPL, as has been the case with the Indian side, with DK having great success with RCB. It then led to the selectors taking a bold call of replacing him with MSD in the national team just after the Champions Trophy of 2017. It was actually prompted by DK scoring a couple of centuries on the Windies tour and a place was settled.
It is a harsh call forced on MS but Kohli seems supportive of the idea because of the success it yields against the likes of Australia, New Zealand and then South Africa. But the move has also stops the country from another cultural investment - instead of having leg-spinners doing the trick from both ends, India retain only Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja because DK is no MSD with gloves on.
It is evident in South Africa in early 2018 as the hosts manfully play out Chahal and take their attack on Jadeja with DK’s frailties behind the stumps being exposed brutally. However, he is still going strong as a batsman and with MS Dhoni not playing many matches in domestic cricket, there are no great competitors even. DK carries on and in the IPL he repays the faith with some stunners behind the wicket and that results in India persisting with him for the subsequent England tour and Asia Cup 2018.
The Asia Cup is a great anomaly in more ways than one as India suffer an ignominious beating at the hands of arch-rivals Pakistan in the opening encounter that set the ball rolling. Despite Rohit Sharma putting up a great show, Indian bowlers are no match. Karthik once again comes under scanner for his ludicrous keeping where he drops Mohammed Hafeez and Sarfraz Ahmed who go on to share a 170-run stand to chase down India’s target. India subsequently beat Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Afghanistan to ensure a place in the final but the manner in which they are winning doesn’t inspire any confidence either.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but certainly, it does in Dubai. The Indian top-order brings about an almost replica of the 2017 Champions Trophy final with Mohammed Amir and Wahab Riaz dismantling them in an effervescent manner. India are left with no choice but to play a defensive brand of cricket, with the side tottering on 65/4. DK thus decides to negotiate the middle-overs with Ravindra Jadeja at the other end.
Slowly and steadily they build the innings and after the 29th over. DK changes his gear to a more attacking avatar. Pakistan are left searching for their soul and the Tamil Nadu man is upon him. It is a great exhibition of batting that befuddles the team completely. DK scores his third international century, his third in 15 months too, as Pakistan are given a target of 290 runs.
It is enough for Jasprit Bumrah to weave his magic as he conjures up a fantastic spell of pace bowling, leaving everyone in awe. Pakistan are blown away and Chahal comes to the party in the middle overs, exchanging a pretty daunting fight back on the neighbours. India eventually win the encounter by 67 runs, with DK being credited as the man of the match. It turns out to be the most definite innings for Karthik as the world goes gaga over him just like they did in 2003.