“We would have bowled first. When you’re playing against Virat, you have to bat second. Can’t let him chase” — Suresh Raina, Gujarat Lions captain
“It is very difficult with Virat batting second. I would have definitely fielded first” — Suresh Raina
Such has been the reputation of Virat Kohli’s chasing prowess that the captains (almost all) choose to field first upon winning the toss, to keep him from chasing in this season’s IPL.
But on Sunday, the final match of the Indian Premier League, the biggest stage of all for two teams fighting for their maiden title, Sunrisers Hyderabad skipper David Warner, after winning the all-important toss, uttered the words, “We are gonna bat.” It took everyone by surprise, even Virat Kohli, who quipped, “Had I known (that SRH are going to bat first), I wound’t have come out for the toss! I wanted to bowl first anyway.”
Some thought it was a foolish decision from Warner, others called it brave. But unlike other captains, Warner had a simple theory: Concentrate on your own strengths rather than the opposition’s.
Ever since its inception in 2012, Sunrisers Hyderabad’s fortunes have depended on their bowlers, especially their fast bowlers. Their batting has let them down time and again, with just one or two batsmen scoring heavily. This season wasn’t any different.
Warner had carried SRH’s batting on his shoulders throughout the season with amazing consistency. Just like Kohli for Royal Challengers Bangalore, he too was rampant, having registered eight fifties before the final. The rest of the batsmen combined to score just six, of which four were scored by Dhawan. The Australian ramped up 779 runs, the next best tally for SRH was Dhawan’s 473 — way behind Warner’s.
Warner had scored 33 per cent of SRH’s runs. In their last match, against Gujarat Lions, he had played arguably one of the best innings of the tournament, carrying SRH past the finish line with an unbeaten 93 off 58 balls. So, going into the final, it was all about Warner and whether he could deliver on the grandest of stages.
The final was being played on a typical M Chinnaswamy track, a venue at which 197 was the average score batting first this season, a venue where Kohli and RCB had chased down targets at will. SRH had never scored 197 in the IPL this season. In fact, they got to 150 only three times while batting first.
With Warner wading against the tide by batting first, the need of the hour was a complete batting effort. Putting up a substantial total which would allow the bowlers that breathing space against arguably the most dangerous batting line-up.
The SRH captain did step up on the big stage to provide a blistering start. He added 63 with Dhawan for the opening wicket, with the bulk of the scoring done by the Australian. Dhawan’s contribution was just 28 runs before he departed in the seventh over.
However, that didn’t stop Warner as he continued to play some delightful shots on his way to his ninth fifty of the season — joint fastest in an IPL final, off just 24 balls. All that the others needed to do was stay out there in the middle and give Warner company, he looked in such sublime form. But Henriques played a poor shot in the 10th over to walk back to the hut. Out came Yuvraj Singh and rolled back the years with some delightful flicks and cover drives.
Just when it seemed it was going out of hand for RCB, Kohli brought back Aravind — the best bowler so far — for his second spell and he provided the turnaround for the hosts with the prized wicket of Warner, who edged one to short third man.
This was a crunch moment for SRH. Over the years we’ve witnessed their batting order collapse with the departure of a set batsmen. The middle and lower-middle order succumb to pressure. In the last match, Bipul Sharma had played a vital hand but he had Warner at the other end guiding him and steering the chase. On Sunday, he too departed at a crucial juncture.
The SRH’s middle and lower middle order batsmen (No 3 to 7) had averaged just 16.79 in this IPL, the lowest among all teams. This is when Warner needed his support system to breathe life back into the innings. Yuvraj started the process as he continued to play some vintage shots. He chipped in with 38 important runs off 22 balls. However, when Deepak Hooda and Yuvraj were dismissed in quick succession, reaching the 200-run mark looked tough.
In walked Ben Cutting — who had played just three games prior to this with scores of 8, 0 and 18 not-out — and he just scythed through the RCB bowling with monstrous hitting to change the complexion of the game. He clobbered 24 runs off the last over from Shane Watson, including three sixes and a four to propel SRH past 200 and take them to 208/7 with a whirlwind 15-ball 39.
Getting past 200 gave SRH that mental edge. “We knew we had to get 200 against these guys, they have a phenomenal batting line-up,” Warner said after the match.
This contest was termed as RCB’s batting vs SRH’s bowling. SRH’s batsmen had pretty much overachieved considering their form, and it was the bowlers’ turn to get the job done.
However, it all started on a wrong note when Chris Gayle went berserk. He, along with Kohli, added 114 in just 10 overs and it seemed like this was going be a stroll in the park for the hosts. Throughout the season, Bhuvnewhar Kumar and Mustafizur Rahman, along with Ashish Nehra, had formed a strong force for Hyderabad, but losing the Delhi pacer to injury in the final stages of the tournament was a big blow.
On Sunday, with Gayle finding his form, Bhuvneshwar and Mustafizur couldn’t manage to force a turnaround. This is where Warner’s support system again came to the fore as Cutting sent back Gayle in the 11th over to provide the spark. Kohli, meanwhile, had started to get into that special ‘God’ mode, as he brought up yet another 50. Just when it looked that Kohli would run away with yet another chase, Barinder Sran struck a decisive blow to clean up the RCB captain in the 13th over. It all turned around in the next over when Bipul had AB de Villiers caught at extra cover off a miscued loft. Cutting’s day just got better when cleaned up the in-form KL Rahul. Mustafizur and Bhuvneshwar were their main strengths, but SRH had Cutting, Sran and Bipul to thank for breaking RCB’s spine.
The finishing punches were duly applied by Bhuvneshwar and Mustafizur with impressive death bowling. But four of the seven wickets to fall were taken by SRH bowling’s sidekicks — Cutting, Sran and Bipul — and that sucked the momentum out of RCB’s innings.
In the end, the hosts fell short by eight runs, which signified the importance of Cutting’s innings at the death.
“I thought at one stage we might have struggled to get 180-190. An exceptional knock and a great performance from Ben Cutting to come out and do what he did,” Warner said in the post-match conference. “Cutting adds a string to our bow and it paid off tonight at this venue. I am firm believer that runs on the board in a final situation puts pressure on the opposition and 208 to me equals almost 215-220 in these situations,” Warner added.
RCB coach Daniel Vettori too expressed the importance of Cutting’s all-round performance. “Ben Cutting with his batting was probably decisive. If you look at the overall scheme of things, he took some crucial wickets too that put us on the back foot,” Vettori said in the post-match conference.
Kohli and de Villiers had scored 60 per cent of the team’s runs prior to the final. The top order had scored 74 per cent. So when Kohli and de Villiers departed in quick succession on Sunday night, all hopes were pinned on the middle and lower middle orders. But they went missing in the all-important game.
Despite single-handedly winning game after game for SRH, Warner continuously emphasised on the importance of team performances. In the one game that mattered the most, his team delivered the goods.
“We were walking around thanking the crowd and Vettori mentioned to me, ‘We got 200 and we lost’. So that felt a bit weird that we were short by eight runs,” said Kohli at the presentation ceremony.
Well, that was because Warner’s support system finally fired when he needed them the most, while Kohli’s failed when he needed them the most.