It was a thriller in Motera, extending into the early hours of Tuesday, that brought the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023 to a fantastic finish. A match of ups and downs and swinging fortunes ended with Ravindra Jadeja hitting a six and a four off the final two balls to hand 41-year-old M.S. Dhoni his fifth IPL title for Chennai Super Kings (CSK). “If I had to lose, I don't mind losing to Dhoni,” said Hardik Pandya, who led Gujarat Titans (GT) almost as well as his mentor.
In the two-month-long campaign of the best and biggest cricket league in the world, there were many lessons to learn in leadership, courage, and self-belief. Here are five things that stood out.
When to step in or stay out: Mohit Sharma, one of the comeback heroes of this IPL, had almost won it for GT. Defending 13 runs in the final over, he had nailed four perfect yorkers to concede just 3 runs in 4 balls. He was in the zone. Then the spell got broken with skipper Pandya stepping in to discuss field settings and what to bowl next. That was a mistake.
The next yorker fell short of the target by inches and Ravindra Jadeja hit a straight six. Now an even more animated discussion followed, with coach Ashish Nehra too getting involved on the boundary. Sharma got an energy drink and several thumps on the back. By now, he was a nervous wreck and missed his line in the final ball which Jadeja glanced to fine leg for the winning four. If ever there was a case for a leader having faith and staying out of the way of a player doing well, this was it.
Conversely, on 9 April at the Eden Gardens against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), GT’s stand-in captain Rashid Khan should probably have interrupted the flow when Yash Dayal was getting hit for six after six. That would have helped the bowler regain control over his whirring brain and at the same time knocked the KKR striker out of his zone. Ultimately, Rinku Singh hit five consecutive sixes off the last five balls to give KKR an unlikely win.
Cool heads prevail under pressure: Dhoni had his head bowed and eyes closed for the final ball in the final, probably reminding himself of his credo from Rudyard Kipling: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same… ”
Throughout the final, Captain Cool was calmness personified. When Deepak Chahar dropped a dolly from the in-form Shubman Gill at an unusual fielding position Dhoni had created, he did not betray any annoyance. When the rain interrupted the game, and Pandya and Nehra were busy trying to influence the umpires, MSD was nowhere to be seen. He stayed composed till the end and made fewer mistakes, which, ultimately, made all the difference.
Glory goes to the brave: The impact substitute introduced in this IPL effectively gave every team an extra batsman. This encouraged top order batsmen to take more chances and produce taller scores. It rewarded the bold and punished the conservative.
With 639 runs, Virat Kohli had his best IPL season since 2016 (when he had scored a record 973 runs). But his strike rate came down to 139.82 from the high of 152, seven years ago. His brilliant century in the 21 May playoff in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s (RCB) playoff got overshadowed by his GT counterpart Shubman Gill scoring a faster century. Gill’s overall strike rate for the season was 157.80.
Fruits of talent-spotting and faith: The IPL continues to excel in spotting, grooming, and showcasing new talent. When that is complemented by leaders reposing faith in the newbies, it produces new stars. We have had several examples this season.
Sai Sudarshan of GT became the record-holder for the highest score in an IPL final by an uncapped player, with a classy 96 off 47 balls. GT’s new Afghan find, left-arm leg-spinner Noor Ahhmad, bowling in tandem with his countryman Rashid Khan, almost turned the final outcome with a brilliant spell of 2/17 in 3 overs.
CSK opener Ruturaj Gaikwad is repaying the faith shown in him after his early failures in his debut season of 2020. Mumbai Indians (MI), desperate to fill holes in their bowling after losing Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer to injuries, backed Akash Madhwal from Uttarakhand, who repaid the faith by claiming 14 wickets in 8 games.
You can reinvent yourself: Sai Sudarshan got dropped from the GT playing 11 despite scoring two fifties early in the season. The reason was his below par strike rate for a No.3 batsman in today’s T20. He returned to the 11 but his strike rate continued to lag and he was retired out in the 26 May playoff against MI.
In the final, he began conservatively, but later, with his captain at the other end exhorting him to unleash his batting prowess to the maximum, Sudarshan went into full flight to end up four short of a century at a strike rate over 200. The transformation of this classy Tamil Nadu batsman in that final augurs well for the future of Indian cricket. This is a superstar in the making.
IPL 2023 has been a watershed for scores above 200, successful 200-plus chases, new stars, and the renewal of faded stars like Ajinkya Rahane of CSK. And the match-defining 19 in 8 balls by CSK’s Ambati Rayudu in his final IPL game captured the emotion of this well-contested tournament. “I can smile for the rest of my life,” said a tearful Rayudu after a final for the ages.
Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.