In the chaotic denouement of one of the most dramatic IPL matches of the season, Rahul Dravid stood up from his seat in the Rajasthan Royals dugout, pulled off his cap and flicked it into the ground. The emotional display from the Royals mentor, one of cricket's most stoic figures, perfectly encapsulated the frustration of watching his side let a game and a playoff spot slip away in improbable circumstances.
"In terms of emotion, we thought we won the game at one stage," Dravid said after a gut-wrenching five-wicket loss to Mumbai Indians ended Royals' season. "Then we still had to bowl a ball and they hit the boundary so you can just imagine the emotions. There was sheer disappointment in their camp, joy in our camp and suddenly a ball later that's completely reversed. So for sheer emotion and drama, I think this was probably one of the best games of cricket I've been involved in. It's just disappointing that I happened to be on the wrong side of the result."
Mumbai needed to achieve a target of 190 in 14.3 overs to overtake Royals' net run rate and qualify for the playoffs. They had a brisk start but when Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma was dismissed two balls into the 10th over, with the score 108 for 4, it left the side needing 82 off 31 balls. Dravid said that a couple of decent overs would have ensured that Royals secured a playoff berth. Instead, Mumbai scored 49 off the next 2.4 overs and entered the start of the 13th over requiring a slightly less daunting 33 runs off 15 deliveries. Corey Anderson was motoring away on 75 off 33 balls and eventually finished 95 not out.
"At that stage if you bowl a couple of seven, eight-run overs or 10-run overs for that matter, the game quickly goes out of hand," Dravid said. "But they kept getting that 15, 16-run over. They just stayed in the game. It looked at the stage we got Rohit out, I think after that stage when Rayudu and Anderson batted, there was a period of about 12 to 15 balls where we suddenly gave 50 runs. That was the critical phase of the game where we thought we could've maybe bowled a couple of better overs there. The guys have tried their best and it's just not worked out for us in this tournament."
Dravid said Royals' death bowling had cost them in all three losses at the end of the season, including two to Mumbai. He deflected away criticism over team selection during that stretch, when a win in any of the last three games would have clinched a playoff spot. When prompted to elaborate, Dravid said the team was battling its share of injures and rejected any notion that they had rested players to get them refreshed for the playoff stage when a spot seemed practically assured for the Royals.
"We knew we needed about 16 points to qualify. It's not that we were trying to say, 'Oh we've already qualified.' We were not trying to be arrogant at that stage. Even today we made three changes in a must-win game. The last game we made three changes. We tried to play the situation. Ajinkya Rahane was injured in that [first loss to Mumbai]. If you noticed he didn't field in the game before that. He was carrying an injury. We would have loved to have played him but that is the nature of the situation."
Despite the immediate disappointment of failing to qualify for this year's playoffs, Dravid was optimistic for the future, saying the young nucleus of the side would only get better over the next two years.
"I think there's a lot of positives from our season as well. It's the first year and we've always been saying that this is the first year of three," Dravid said. "The performances of people like Sanju [Samson] again, Karun Nair has been exceptional, even people like Ankit Sharma and Rahul Tewatia who played only a couple of games and showed there is a potential for the future. I think Steven Smith playing for us this year showed that he is going to become a force to reckon with in the IPL and in this tournament. So there were a lot of positives from that point of view."