Shashwat Kumar was in Mumbai to witness the latest iteration of the Chennai Super Kings-Mumbai Indians rivalry, one that wasn’t dripping with cricketing quality but had drama in abundance, like always.
Over the years, the CSK-MI fixture has been the game that has mattered. The past four editions of the IPL have been shared among the two franchises. Prior to that too, they have contested in the finals multiple times. In 2022, however, things are slightly different. A victory would’ve theoretically kept both sides in the hunt for a play-off spot but realistically, both were battling for bragging rights.
That was quite evident throughout the game too, with several dropped catches, missed run-outs and stumpings, full-tosses, unforced errors, and a general lack of confidence. But that is the beauty of this rivalry. For large swathes of their existence, they have been spotless. This time, they are nowhere close to achieving that level. The will to succeed, though, hasn’t dwindled at all. There were numerous situations throughout the match where both teams prepared themselves for inevitable doom. On each occasion, someone rose to the occasion.
There was one particular moment in the 17th over that encapsulated this feeling. Jasprit Bumrah was bowling to MS Dhoni and the latter squirted the ball towards short third man. For a second, Dhoni kept ball-watching. But then, almost as if a current ran through his body, he seemed to grasp the magnitude of the situation. It wasn’t the time to ponder over what CSK had done and the opportunities they had missed earlier in the evening. Instead, it was the time to hustle, hurry, and earn the right to beat their eternal rivals. There were a couple of instances where Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard – cricketers who have retired from international cricket, engaged in friendly, but competitive stare-downs.
The thousands in attendance at the stadium felt that way too. Even before a ball had been bowled, the atmosphere was electric. The spectators alternated between CSK and MI chants, easily creating the best atmosphere at any venue this season. For them, it wasn’t about the ninth-placed team taking on the tenth-placed side in the IPL. For them, it was about the CSK-MI rivalry.
Oh, and among all of that, there was a Dhoni masterclass as well. He was his usual self – cool, calm, collected, and at the centre of the drama. When he walked out to the centre, the DY Patil Stadium broke into rapturous applause. Dhoni’s entrance was so gladiatorial that even the MI fans took a deep breath, and acknowledged the arrival of a true IPL legend.
Back to the game now. 17 runs to defend off the final over is normally a handy position to be in as the bowling side. A couple of good deliveries and the equation becomes incredibly skewed for the batting team. But Dhoni held his own under pressure to hit his 51st six in the final over of an IPL match. And MI didn’t. A fairly simple, old but pretty effective script, especially if you are a CSK fan.
The match, in isolation, was not befitting of what these outfits have previously conjured in the IPL. It wasn’t dripping with quality at all junctures. It was, in many ways, a boxing bout where two fighters hopelessly missed their punches, only for their profligacy to lead to a slugfest. But to both teams, the outcome mattered. Rohit, who has seen his side slump to seven successive defeats, looked shattered at the post-match presentation, hinting how badly he and MI wanted to have a win under their belt. Jadeja, meanwhile, doffed his cap and sought his blessings when Dhoni returned to the pavilion.
It might not be very relevant in the qualification race this season. MI are on the brink of elimination and CSK require a miraculous turnaround to make a fist of it. This, however, can be treated as an aberration. When IPL 2023 rolls into town, these teams will, most probably, find a way to click into gear again. They wouldn’t have won nine titles between them if they didn’t know how to make things tick.
For now, though, this game serves as a good reminder of this rivalry. It was nail-biting. It was dramatic. Simply put, it was box office. Most importantly, it had the realism that both teams are nowhere near being the forces they once were. But it was still enough. For the CSK fans. For the MI fans. And for the IPL.