This wasn’t the deadest of dead rubbers. Two knocked-out teams – Rising Pune Supergiants and Kings XI Punjab were desperate not to finish at the bottom of the pile. It ultimately boiled down to 12 off the last two balls, with MS Dhoni, the fading star, facing off against Axar Patel, the rising star. Dhoni unleashed his attacking avatar that brought back memories of his heyday; his back-to-back sixes over midwicket delivered Supergiants a sensational four-wicket win in Visakhapatnam.
The final over began with Supergiants needing 23. M Vijay’s key men in the end overs Mohit Sharma and Sandeep Sharma had bowled out. Axar was in the hot seat. Dhoni may have struggled for timing and power all season, but this wasn’t beyond him.
Dhoni flatly refused a single after mis-hitting the first ball a short fizzer – to deep midwicket. The next ball a wide bouncer down leg side – was well stopped by Wriddhiman Saha. The second legitimate ball was fired too full and Dhoni’s responded with a mighty club over long-on.
The next one was darted short and wide outside off as Dhoni slapped it to sweeper cover, where Hashim Amla dived full-length to his left to save a certain boundary. Dhoni, in anticipation of a four, was unmoved and Supergiants missed out on two precious runs. It was clear he trusted himself to finish it off.
Axar then sent a short ball outside off, which Dhoni flat-batted over cover for a one-bounce four to reduce the equation down to 12 off two. He then sealed it with twin sixes and said it was the “kind of the game you wanted to win to get into the knockouts.”
Dhoni had joined Thisara Perera in the 14th over after Supergiants were reduced to 86 for 5 in a chase of 173. Perera was the first to tee off with three boundaries off fast bowler Kyle Abbott in the 16th over. Then, when Sandeep missed his yorker by an inch of two, Dhoni smeared two off-side fours in the 18th over to bring the equation down to 29 off 12 balls.
A ball later, Thisara swung wildly only to nick Mohit Sharma behind. Dhoni carved the third ball away for four, but Mohit hit back to give away just one run off the next three balls with a cutter and two pinpoint yorkers. As it turned out, the Sharmas’ efforts, however, weren’t enough as Kings XI were left to rue what could have been, considering how well they started with the ball.
The seamers stuck to disciplined lines and lengths and subdued Ajinkya Rahane and Usman Khawaja. Gurkeerat Singh Maan reaped the rewards with his more-than-handy offspin as he sent back Saurabh Tiwary and Khawaja in the 12th over.
Gurkeerat’s role wasn’t just to bottle up the runs with the ball. Earlier in the game, he also brought up his maiden IPL half-century, courtesy three fours and three sixes. His 58-run third-wicket stand with Vijay helped build the base of their eventual total of 172 for 7.
While Vijay took his time early on, Hashim Amla did the early running with three whipped fours, including two in the first over of Irfan Pathan. Vijay shifted gears when he slammed seamer Deepak Chahar for successive boundaries in the fifth over. Amla brought up Kings XI’s first fifty-plus opening stand in the last seven matches with a lofted cover drive for six.
The subsequent introduction of spin, however, applied the brakes on the innings. While R Ashwin finished with 4 for 34, his best IPL figures, Adam Zampa enhanced his growing reputation to finish with 1 for 32. His four-over spell was a masterful display of legspin bowling on a ground with short boundaries, which was repeatedly peppered by Vijay during the course of his fourth half-century in eight games as captain,
A slog to a straighter one from Ashwin left Vijay’s stumps splayed by the 16th over. Although Kings XI counter-punched to pick 48 off the last four overs, the twin fifties were mere footnotes in a second-straight dismal season.