The perfect tango
In the end discipline prevailed over flair. The only really tense spell in the chase came when Muttiah Muralitharan operated. On either side of his spell there was such calm, composure and skill from Royal Challengers Bangalore, led by Rahul Dravid and Manish Pandey, that the victory seemed almost a formality if they held their head. And they did.
Pandey seems to have grown a year in a couple of nights, from the time he made that hundred. Dravid, it seems, has lost a few years since the IPL's first edition. It was a perfect tango between a rapidly maturing Pandey and a relaxed Dravid. What stood out was the absence of the mid-pitch conference between the veteran and the novice. When Dravid joined Pandey one expected there would be moments where Dravid would guide the youngster through constant chit-chat to kill the adrenalin rushes. Sure there were talks, but there wasn't anything visually dramatic. There was no need either: Pandey was eerily cool and in control.
The start set the trend. Albie Morkel got his deliveries to curve away in the air, but Pandey showed class. It's risky to foist such an adjective upon one so young, on somebody who has just played two fine innings at this level, but it was unmistakable tonight. He waited that extra second for the swing to play out before threading two pretty square-drives through point. It was in direct contrast to how he started in his last knock.
On Thursday he started off with a few big hits, which came with a touch of desperation in them, to give himself some breathing space. Understandably the pressure on him to deliver was more then. Understandably he was yet to find himself at this level. Cricketers often talk about how one innings can turn things around. Things seem to have turned around for Pandey.
What caught the eye was how late he played. There was a delightful late-cut off Manpreet Gony, and a lovely little battle with Shadab Jakati, who actually bowled really well to Pandey, despite what his figures show. Time and again he slowed it up, hoping the youngster would go hard at him. Pandey refused to take the bait. He was made to wait by the bowler, and he waited. There were several little taps past cover before he won that contest with a forcing shot off the back foot to the cover boundary. Jakati was taken off.
In the meanwhile Dravid was just being Dravid. Rock solid. A wicket at that time could have set the cat among the pigeons. He not only made sure it didn't happen but kept the runs coming too. The outstanding shot was his signature classy on-drive. It wasn't a bad delivery from Morkel who landed it on a length and on the stumps. Dravid leaned forward fully, and wristed it gorgeously through wide mid-on, uncorking his wrist - as is his wont - in an exaggerated fashion at the completion of the stroke.
All along Dhoni had delayed the entry of his trumpcard Muttiah Muralitharan. Perhaps he left it for a bit too late. You knew Chennai Super King's only chance was Murali. And he bowled beautifully. It was a fascinating phase as he did his utmost to strangle Bangalore. It was the only time the Bangalore fans in the crowd got edgy. At the grass banks, they oohed and aahed. In the middle Chennai fielders repeatedly cleared their throats to appeal.
Matthew Hayden, at first slip, and Dhoni, at leg slip, defined appealing. Blood-curling cries, the full arch of the body and the extension of arms right behind over their bodies. Murali screamed as well. The tension was palpable, and indicative of their desperation and their state of mind. They knew this was the last and the only dice. Simon Taufel remained impassive, though, till he finally lifted his finger to send Dravid back.
It was here, at this moment, where the game paused for a brief while. The Chennai section of the crowd was finding themselves. It was here that Bangalore showed how far they had come through in confidence levels. Virat Kohli and Ross Taylor don't generally need an invitation to go for their shots, but the clinical fashion in which they hunted down the remaining runs must have given a lot of heart to Kumble.
The bowling must have already given him great joy. Though Kumble didn't do anything magical tonight, the rest of the pack stood up to be counted. Again it wasn't anything sensational; there were no magical balls but simple old-school discipline. Chennai ended up at least 30 runs short and it made the difference in the end. Bangalore against Deccan in the final. Who would have thought?
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo