Fleming proud of Pune in 'great final'
The one run that separated Mumbai Indians from Rising Pune Supergiant is an accurate representation of the way the IPL 2017 final played out. Both teams scrapped hard on a sluggish surface and made mistakes in turns. However, when it came to the final act, Pune, as their coach Stephen Fleming put it, couldn't "kill the game".
"It was a game of inches and metres," Fleming said after the match. "Steve Smith came very close to winning it in the last over and it could have been a much different story. But that was the nature of the game. It was very ebb and flow on what was quite a tough wicket to score on. We knew that it was going to be tough. We knew their bowling attack was top class. We fell behind a couple of times. We lost wickets at key times. They just hung in and created enough pressure to get across the line but it was just a great final. It was full of pressure, full of mistakes and it was full of great performances. It was a grand finish to a good competition".
After Rohit Sharma had opted to bat, Pune's bowlers largely neutered whatever advantage Mumbai may have hoped to gain from winning the toss with tight spells at the top. While the fielding - right from Jaydev Unadkat's return catch to send back Lendl Simmons to Smith's direct hit that caught Ambati Rayudu short - was first-rate, there was no shortage of tactical smarts as well.
Against Kieron Pollard, Pune replicated the field they had for him during the league game at the Wankhede Stadium and almost immediately found success. Manoj Tiwary was stationed on the boundary right behind the bowler, and Pollard holed out to him with unerring accuracy off the third ball he faced.
"We were happy. The way we bowled and went about our work was very good. One-hundred and twenty-nine, if you asked us that as a score in a final to chase down, you would take it every time," Fleming said. "We were calculated in the field. Some of the outs were very pleasing in terms of field positioning and tactics we used. Batting wise, it was always going to be a grind.
"We were a batter short with Ben Stokes not being here. We were playing an extra bowler and we were a little mindful of that. The best way was a couple of partnerships and gain momentum. We saw Smith and [Ajinkya] Rahane come close to that. We just lost wickets at key times and it kept them just in the game, and then they came home with a real rush."
While Pune had a decent start in the Powerplay to score 38 for 1, they could make only incremental advances as they scored 27 runs in the next five overs. Fleming, however, maintained there was no other way they could have approached the chase.
"If you lose three for 20, then it's game on. It was always going to take us a partnership to get close but we just could not get the one or two overs when we were close to putting the game away," he said. "We lost wickets, or they bowled a good over. It was never going to be a wicket where they could blast your way through. When we played against [Sunrisers] Hyderabad, we found that as well. Just batting deep was the best opportunity and we could not get over the line [tonight].
"The wicket was two paced. Both teams struggled to play aggressively on it. The number of boundaries that were limited and the mis-hits that came along suggested inconsistent bounce and reverse swing. It was a tough track to score on, but the bowling on both sides was outstanding. We have some good bowlers who have performed well in that type of conditions for most of the tournament and we were at it again today. They have some good pace bowlers who did a great job, especially in the last four or five overs."
Fleming, said the result wouldn't gloss over the advances made by Pune in IPL 2017 after finishing second from bottom on the points table last year. What pleased him most was the contribution made by relatively low-key players like Jaydev Unadkat, Rahul Tripathi and Manoj Tiwary.
"I don't think we are the most skilled side in the IPL. What we have had is players stand up from nowhere. We take real pride in that," he said. "We have created an environment where some players have been able to excel. Jaydev has been extraordinary again today, so has been Rahul Tripathi and Tiwary. Big stars have stepped up at key times as well. Ben Stokes was fantastic for us.
"Steve was the captain this year and MS Dhoni slotted in to the role of a senior player very easily. He is a proud man but he is humble man. We saw the interaction between the two and other leaders, Faf du Plessis as well. So leadership was never going to be a weakness for us. It was a case of making sure all our leaders were contributing in the right areas.
"I am very proud of the combination we put together and the campaign we ran. We would have loved to have sat here and had the icing on the cake but it does not change the feelings about the work that we put in during the year to get to this point."
As part of the two-year agreement, Pune have possibly played their last game as an IPL franchise as Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals are set to return in IPL 2018. What does the future hold for Fleming and the team?
"We concentrated on getting this game through and finishing as well as we could and then whatever happens after this, I am not sure anybody knows about it to be honest," he said. "We didn't spend a lot of time on working out what-ifs. It was purely what we could control and that was getting into the final. Secondly, we lost some players on the way to the final so that was a big goal to get here [to the top two] and then hopefully play two good games. And we came pretty close".
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun