Welcome to the series where we present you a moment, a game in history that has shaped the way the sport has been played, in our weekly segment ‘Throwback Thursday.' This week, we revisit the 2017 IPL final when Mitchell Johnson bowled a superb over to hand Mumbai their third IPL title.
When it comes to fan banter and securing bragging rights, very few tournaments possibly create the euphoria quite like the Indian Premier League. And when it comes to trading the bragging rights between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, things become quite a story. However, this story is not about the glorious rivalry - rather, a different indictment of sorts that connects the two dots on an unlikely plane.
We are at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad - the den of the defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad - for the 2017 IPL final between two western Indian outfits - Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiant. This is going to be the latter’s last appearance in the Indian Premier League who, alongside Gujarat Lions, will make way for Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals for the 2018 IPL but none would play a part with the game having gone down to the wire.
Mitchell Johnson has the ball in his hand to deliver the final over, entrusted with the job of defending 13 runs in the last over, and facing him are two of the franchises golden boys of the season - Steve Smith and Manoj Tiwary. But before we revisit the historic moment, it is important to go back in time and understand the game in a broader context.
After Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were banned post the 2015 IPL by the apex court of India, the BCCI invited bids to sell out the spots for a couple of years, ensuring the new entrants would be phased out as soon as the 2017 season comes to an end. In those conditions, it was extremely difficult for the BCCI to match the amount, but that was the sheer global impact of the brand that was dished out in 2008. Sanjiv Goenka’s company New Rising and Delhi-based handset maker Intex won the bids for the two new IPL franchises with a bid of minus Rs 16 crore and minus Rs 10 crore reverse bidding auction.
In the Pune franchise’s first season, after MS Dhoni openly admitted of not being emotionally invested as much as he would do for Chennai Super Kings, the side fell off quite contrastingly as Dhoni would lead CSK in the season gone by and two years after readmission. So clueless was he that despite the presence of some star names, including Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith, Pune just saved themselves from the embarrassment of ending up as the wooden spooners. However, five wins from 14 games was not the stuff to be proud of and something had to give.
The axe ultimately fell on MS Dhoni’s shoulder, as Rising Pune Supergiant, who dropped an ‘S’ from the name, removed Dhoni from the captaincy and appointed Steve Smith as the skipper for the 2017 season. It was surprising to see Dhoni, who just gave up Indian limited-overs captaincy a few months ago, playing under Smith, years junior to him in terms of cricketing experience. But more than that, it was surprising to see Dhoni failing to pick up the pieces and create his own puzzle too - a master craftsman who was past his prime. Things quite wrote it for itself.
So much so that Harsh Goenka, the brother of Rising Supergiant Owner Sanjeev Goenka, took to Twitter to sarcastically take a dig at Dhoni and his abilities as a batsman. The world was riled up and some CSK fans even opened a few social media pages to criticise and create memes on the Kolkata-based businessman.
But that didn’t have any bearing on Dhoni the cricketer and, of course, Dhoni the leader, who continued to exert his dominance from behind. Throughout the tournament, Smith ran to Dhoni for advice and while he was busy changing bowlers, Dhoni was in charge of changing the fielders and hand-holding bowlers from behind the stumps. It was a carefully-constructed arrangement where there was no ego fight but only a systematically arranged symbiotic relationship. Smith soared high, using his tactical acumen, and then rendered a golden touch to a fragmental captain.
They had a special affinity for Mumbai Indians throughout the season and after beating them in both home and away leg, they didn’t leave any stone unturned to make it three in three in the first Qualifier to book a place in the IPL final for the first and last time in their existence in the league. What a beautiful campaign it was turning out to be for them! Coming to the final, and especially against a team that they had dominated with such authenticity in the lead up to the showdown, things were pretty much alright.
History almost repeated itself when Rising Pune Supergiant, riding on a terrific effort from Washington Sundar and Jaydev Unadkat, crumpled Mumbai to 129 in 20 over - a real sub-par score not only in the IPL but in any T20 parlance. And with the presence of MS Dhoni, Steve Smith, Manoj Tiwary and an in-form Rahul Tripathi, it was a target almost easier than a cakewalk.
47 runs required in the last five overs with Dhoni and Smith in the middle. Dhoni smacked a six and a four off Krunal Pandya to bring it down to 33 off four overs, when Jasprit Bumrah, who made his India debut under Dhoni a year and a half ago, came out to bowl. Bumrah knows his game better than anyone else in the death overs, but with Dhoni in the sight, he had his reasons to be apprehensive. After all, Dhoni had taken 17 runs off Bumrah in 10 balls, including two sixes, in the first Qualifier.
But every day is not Sunday and Dhoni realised that soon enough. Bumrah bowled a back of length delivery and close to off stump, to deny Dhoni swinging his blade. But when the Ranchi man attempted to punch it through point, the edge flew to the keeper. Manoj Tiwary was the new man to the crease but Bumrah was not ready to relent. Lasith Malinga followed his spiritual protege to give away just 7 runs and another Bumrah over later, Pune needed to score just 11 runs to win in the ultimate over. Both Smith and Tiwary were in the middle and it was their game to lose.
Then Rohit had a decision to make, to hand over the ball to Malinga or Johnson, who had given away 14 and 18 runs respectively in their 3 overs. After long deliberation, he chose Johnson so as to exploit the heavy wind crossing past the stadium from the VVS Laxman end. “Johnson, we knew that his slower balls, off cutters and taking the ball away from the right-handers will be difficult in the end and, again, hitting against the wind will be even more difficult, so that was the plan,” Rohit explained later.
So that brings us to the moment. Tiwary hit a four on the first ball to release the monkey off the back, but trying to hit it on the up over extra cover, he holes out to Kieron Pollard on the next ball. Johnson bags Smith’s wicket on the next ball and it is all down to seven off the last three. Dan Christian is the new man in, with Washington Sundar giving him company. They take three runs in the next couple of deliveries to bring the equation down to one shot to the fence.
Johnson is in golden form, a good delivery would make him a hero but a lot is riding on the moment. He streams in, Christian is on strike, ready to tonk one out of the park. Everyone is on the edge of their seat to witness something spectacular. So why would we wait then?
Welcome to a moment in history.