A year on from the indignity of failing to make the playoffs for the only time in their history, Chennai Super Kings returned to their throne in the Indian Premier League to thrill the masses at the Dubai International Stadium.
MS Dhoni got his hands back on the trophy for the first time since 2018 after his Chennai side beat Kolkata Knight Riders by 27 runs. It was the franchise’s fourth title, which is one less than the side they deposed, Mumbai Indians.
To say they were popular champions undersells the point. The 25,000-seater stadium in Dubai Sports City was rocking, filled to the 70 per cent permissible under the current Covid safety measures. The vivid yellow shirts of the Chennai supporters entirely outnumbered anything else.
They arrived early, left late, and cheered and whistled to celebrate their side’s return to the top of the podium.
After missing out on the knockouts a year ago, Stephen Fleming, Chennai’s coach, had said the franchise needed to start again and build anew.
And yet their champions this time round were all the same old heroes from the past. Faf du Plessis, 37-years old and deemed unworthy of a place in the South Africa squad for the forthcoming T20 World Cup, propped up the batting in the final.
His 86 not out from 59 balls brought him to within two runs of his opening partner, Ruturaj Gaikwad, at the top of the season’s run-charts. Gaikwad, with 635 runs, just about retained the orange cap.
With 192 for three to defend, Dhoni, 40, organised his side with all the poise you might expect from someone who was captaining for the 300th time in a T20 match.
Ravindra Jadeja’s fielding was game changing. As per always.
Only briefly did the game look out of Chennai’s control. Venkatesh Iyer and Shubman Gill did as they have done so frequently since the tournament resumed in the UAE, and got Kolkata’s innings off to a flyer.
Iyer hit a fourth half-century of his breakout IPL, although he did get some good fortune on the way.
Dhoni dropped him off the second ball he faced, off Josh Hazlewood. Iyer flicked the next ball over fine leg for six.
The same happened again when Iyer was on 21. Dhoni shelled a far tougher chance, off Shardul Thakur, then the left-handed opener swiped the next ball for four.
Iyer was warming to the task, launching a 92 metre six off Jadeja on his way to 50 in 31 balls.
Jadeja got his avenge shortly after, though, as he just about held on to a steepling boundary catch to dismiss Iyer off Thakur.
Gill remained and profited from one unbelievable stroke of luck. On 22, he was caught on the boundary by Ambati Rayudu.
He was reprieved though, because of the fact the ball had clipped a Spidercam cable, thus rendering it a deadball. He then took successive fours off Jadeja straight after. Gill was railing against the inevitable, though.
In Kolkata’s two IPL title wins, they had chased a similar target successfully. In 2012, they made 192 to beat Chennai, while two years later they chased 200 to beat Kings XI Punjab.
This time, though, the task was too sizeable, and they managed just 165 for nine.