Last things first. Royal Challengers Bangalore and Deccan Chargers, placed at the bottom last year, will face each other in the IPL final tomorrow. And lightning does strike twice. Ask Chennai Super Kings. They had shot under by setting Bangalore 147, but would have thought of it as a fighting total. Manish Pandey, who came out of nowhere and scored a century in the last game, didn't think so. His 35-ball 48 almost killed the chase, and a minor hiccup later Bangalore were in the final.
If anything this was an even better innings in terms of the quality of strokeplay and this being a knockout match. Pandey got going with a square-drive in the first over, following a ball both wide and full. As if to show it was no fluke, he brought out a more classical square-drive, down on one knee, to the next delivery. Jacques Kallis matched that start with back-to-back square-cuts of equal ferocity and beauty in the second over.
But within seven deliveries Bangalore lost Kallis and Roelof van der Merwe. To pull them out of the shock Pandey produced boundaries with a back-foot punch and a drive on the run in two deliveries in the fourth over. Out of habit the slogs came out in the next two overs, but he cleared the leg-side field with them. By the end of the Powerplays Pandey had reached 29 off 14 deliveries with the help of six fours, four of them along the ground, and Bangalore needed only 88 from 84.
Pandey had batting with him the best man possible, Rahul Dravid, whose classical strokeplay and superb planning had a calming effect on the 19-year-old at the other end. His straight-drive off Shadab Jakati and flick off Albie Morkel were shots as good as any played in the night. The key moment was always going to be when Muttiah Muralitharan, held back by MS Dhoni, came on to bowl.
Murali started off with a big lbw shout against Pandey, and after that Dravid made a conscious effort of keeping the youngster away from the fox. Pandey finally fell when he went to slog-sweep the other spinner, Jakati, and a turnaround was in the offing. Fifty-three were required in 45 balls then, and Dravid seemed to have it under control until Murali came back and got him lbw in the 16th over. After an asphyxiating over, Bangalore required 35 off four overs.
Chennai needed a gamble then, after all other bowlers had been taken for runs. Suresh Raina bowled the next over, and both Ross Taylor and Virat Kohli took a six off him. The decisive, and the most symbolic, blow came in the next over when Kohli read a doosra, stepped out to Murali, and hit him straight down the ground for a big six. Bangalore's fifth win in a row was all but sealed.
The win, though, looked far away when Parthiv Patel stunned them after they had put Chennai in. The whole talk before the semi-final centered around the orange cap holder Mathew Hayden and whether he would be back for the big match. But Bangalore were hit from an unexpected quarter. It's not often you go about outscoring Hayden in good form, and if you do you better be playing exceptionally. That's precisely what Parthiv did for a brief while.
Parthiv was attacked with short bowling, but he brought out the pulls, the cuts, and the upper-cuts. In the first six overs Chennai raced away to 52, and Hayden hadn't even warmed up by then. In fact Parthiv had reached 32 off 20 deliveries, while Hayden was still 13. What odds would punters get for that?
But Anil Kumble and Bangalore regrouped fast. Smart bowling changes and smart bowling thereafter kept pulling Chennai back whenever they threatened to move too far out of reach. The result? A late assault never came. It was Kumble, who brought some control to the proceedings, coming in to bowl the sixth over. And then when Hayden went for one six too many off R Vinay Kumar and mis-hit to long-on, Kumble seized the opportunity.
He brought back Kallis, whose first two overs had cost 21. With his fourth delivery Kallis removed Parthiv, and Bangalore could now try and rein in the two new batsmen.
The new batsmen were Dhoni and Raina, in that order. There was a period of quiet around the time-out, and Kallis went for five in his next two overs. Just when Raina looked like opening up, with a four and a six off Vinay, Kumble brought back Praveen in the 15th over. With the first ball, Praveen got Raina to sky a slower ball, and Bangalore had once again prevented Chennai from getting away.
Again, when Morkel slogged Kumble for a six after 23 balls without a boundary, van der Merwe got Dhoni, caught at long-on. Dhoni's move to come in at No. 3 didn't work: he didn't hit any boundaries in his 30-ball 28.
Kumble handed over India's Test captaincy to Dhoni but today he had managed to outfox his younger counterpart.