Down on one knee and barely able to run by the end, Shane Watson’s ageless combination of brute strength and big-game smarts ensured that Chennai Super Kings claimed their third IPL title in their comeback season.
At the halfway stage Sunrisers Hyderabad, the arch defenders, would have fancied protecting their above-par 178, and with Watson initially becalmed, Faf du Plessis perishing in the fourth over of a quiet Powerplay and Rashid Khan lying in wait, they would have believed even more.
But Watson is a special and durable talent. Ten balls he took to get off the mark, but the power that resides in that famously burly frame has always meant that any creeping run rate can be reeled in.
Even so, the scale of the destruction that followed once he got that first maximum away – one of eight sixes he would duly deposit, along with 11 fours – left the distinctly yellow-shirted crowd at Mumbai’s Wankhede stunned and exhilarated.
Returning after a two-year suspension, CSK’s re-emergence at the IPL this year has followed a familiar pattern. Under the tutelage of long-term godfather MS Dhoni and stacked with the experience and knowhow of Watson, Suresh Raina and du Plessis, Chennai mapped a course to their seventh showpiece final and a third win in all. Their overall IPL win ratio now stands at higher than 60 per cent.
Such was Watson’s dominance, that the match lacked the last-gasp drama that marked the two previous tussles to determine the finalists. Not even the magical Rashid Khan could keep him in check, while the normally parsimonious seam-pairing of Sandeep Sharma and Siddarth Kaul gave up 95 runs from seven overs combined, the vast majority to Watson.
He could claim sterling support from Raina at the other end, the India left-hander scavenging singles and unfurling the occasional leg-side flick and pull to make 32 from 24. Between them, they added 117 from 57 balls of ultra-violent batsmanship.
The finale itself happened almost as a sideshow to the boundary-edge parties which had already started, the yellow dugout bouncing along to every processional boundary and its shimmering stars finally flooding the playing arena in the 19th over, when Ambati Rayadu, newly arrived to the crease after Raina’s departure, crashed a drive through the forlorn Sunrisers infield.
For Kane Williamson’s men, a tournament that began with six straight victories petered out at the last. In a reversal of their tried and trusted gameplan, they scrapped and bludgeoned up to a very competitive total only to relinquish control with the ball and in the field.
Williamson himself will be sore tonight. After cruising in imperious style to 47 and with the scoreboard ticking into three figures in the 12th over, he advanced hard and a touch too early at the leg-breaks of Karn Sharma, leaving Dhoni’s lightning-quick hands to do the rest.
Although Yusuf Pathan (45 not out) and Carlos Brathwaite (25 not our) flexed their considerable muscle to share five sixes between them, it was a stop-start second-half to the innings, with the pick of the seamers, Chennai’s Lungi Ngidi, delivering a superb, momentum-shifting penultimate over in which just eight runs were given up.
This though will be remembered as the Watson final. A fourth IPL hundred, a second of the campaign, and just 57 balls for his 113*, of which, incredibly, those first 10 were dots. The serene, arms-aloft celebration upon reaching the milestone spoke not just of personal satisfaction but of an immense IPL franchise returned to the stage for which it has always belonged.
“It’s just been a special season,” he said at the end. “To get an opportunity after my previous year, was incredible. Things fell my way nicely tonight, but to be able to do it in such a big game… it’s very special.”
He now has a few months of rest in which to mend that aching frame. He and CSK will be back next year. One of the tournament’s true institutions is back.