If Malinga doesn't get you, Johnson will
Dale Steyn - 1-0-15-0 (Super Over) v Royal Challengers Bangalore
The IPL isn't the most challenging assignment for someone who has bowled marathon spells of unrelenting menace at the Test level. Dale Steyn was outstanding right through IPL 2013, piling up 19 wickets at an economy rate of 5.66, often while defending low scores. We could easily make a list of five memorable Steyn spells alone. He tormented top orders, blew away tails, and made a mockery of sloggers, who fumbled against him even on their best days.
But his brilliance can be distilled to one Super Over of pin-point pace and accuracy against the most destructive top-order pair in the tournament. With 20 to defend against Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli, Steyn did away with the variations - no subterfuge, slower balls, loopy bouncers or back-of-the-hand stuff. Steyn thundered in hard and sent them down at blistering pace, straight and full enough to negate leverage. On a slow pitch he clocked 147 kph three times, and five out of the six balls were unhittable, even by Gayle who thrives by making his own room. RCB fell five short, and Gayle smiled resignedly in the end, knowing he'd been quelled by a superior force; one that could cut it in all formats, in spells even as short as a single over.
Amit Mishra 4-0-19-4 v Pune Warriors
Fourteen to win off 12 balls with four wickets in hand, and all three seamers have bowled out. Nine times out of ten, you'd expect the legspinner tasked with bowling the 19th to fire them in and delay the inevitable win for the chasing team. Amit Mishra trotted in with plans of his own, tossing up each delivery higher than the previous. Angelo Mathews was enticed off the second ball and lofted straight to long-on. A couple of balls later, Mishra floated the googly, and it broke back to nail Bhuvneshwar Kumar on the pads. There was panic in the Pune ranks, and Mishra brushed aside the last two - Rahul Sharma and Ashok Dinda bowled with the legspinner and the wrong 'un respectively. Four wickets in five balls, to good, old-fashioned, attacking leg-spin bowling.
Mitchell Johnson and Lasith Malinga 8-0-52-0 v Royal Challengers Bangalore
Four-over spells, and the innate imbalance between bat and ball in T20s, don't afford bowlers the canvas to hunt in pairs. In the game against Bangalore, Lasith Malinga and Mitchell Johnson knocked the stuffing out of Chris Gayle and co. with five predatory overs that did everything except produce a wicket. Malinga warmed up by curving a few away from the out of form Tillakaratne Dilshan. At the other end, Johnson dug it in to Gayle whose one real weakness is quick chin music. Gayle showed bravado, swatting a six over midwicket, but it only spurred Johnson to go faster. The bouncer went higher, with deep square leg lying in wait, and Gayle lobbed a ramp shot just over the slips. Johnson produced two more vicious short balls and Gayle weaved out of harm's way, but Malinga hit his shoulder in the next over with perhaps the best bumper of the tournament. The bouncers had shown the RCB party the way out, and the revelry wound up in quick time.
James Faulkner 4-1-16-5 v Sunrisers Hyderabad
James Faulkner's success is founded upon sharp pace, smart lengths, skillful seam movement, and the natural awkwardness created by the left-armer's angle. He brought all of them to bear against Sunrisers, who gave him two of the three five-wicket hauls in the season. The first led to a win for the Royals, but the second, in Hyderabad, was the better spell. Parthiv Patel was beaten by Faulkner's very first ball, and inside-edged a steer onto the stumps. Soon after, Faulkner got Shikhar Dhawan to cut to point for the second time in two games. Faulkner came back to dismantle the innings in the death. Darren Sammy and Biplab Samantray holed out in the deep, before Steyn lost his stumps to a sharp, straight yorker.
The strategy to beat Chennai Super Kings is straightforward: derail the top order before they can take the game away from you. Mumbai Indians beat Super Kings three times in four games this season, and on two of those occasions - including the final - it was down to a scorching opening burst from one of their opening bowlers.
In the league game in Mumbai, with only 139 runs to defend, Johnson steamed in with visible intent. In his opening over, he got Michael Hussey to cut to point three times in three balls, and incredibly Kieron Pollard dropped it each time. Undeterred, Johnson decided to do it all by himself in his next over, and induced an inside edge from M Vijay that clattered into the stumps. Next ball, he induced Suresh Raina to close the face on a quick delivery angling in, and this time Pollard held the catch at point. Three balls later, a dazed S Badrinath walked back after a searing inducker burst past before he could play his cover drive and struck him in front. Game over.
In the final, it was Malinga's turn to take the lead, after having been deprived of the new ball for a few games. He began with three deliveries that curled away at pace, and Michael Hussey and M Vijay pushed watchfully for singles. The fourth ball was fuller, and swung deviously late to beat Hussey's bat, hit the pad and crash into the stumps. Suresh Raina then walked out, and he would have known that Malinga was going to bounce him. Malinga knew he was going to bounce him, and placed a man ready for the catch at short backward square leg. Out came the bouncer, it's pace and direction making short work of Raina's anticipation. He was back in the crease, yet late on the shot as the ball reared up at his ribs. He fended awkwardly, and the catch popped to short backward square leg. In the next over, Johnson sent Badrinath back for another duck. Game over. IPL over.
Sunil Narine 4-0-13-4 v Delhi Daredevils
Bhuvneshwar Kumar 4-1-12-2 v Chennai Super Kings
Mohit Sharma 3-0-10-3 v Delhi Daredevils
Nitin Sundar is social media manager at ESPNcricinfo