It was hard not to watch this match and think of another that took place a generation ago, the final of a tournament that may one day come to be regarded as the pinnacle of limited-overs cricket. Even the circumstances were similar. One team had dominated the group stages, while the other had been lucky to survive. But when it came to the games that mattered the lucky survivors were just clinical. Just as Imran Khan's Cornered Tigers improved as the World Cup went on in 1992, so did MS Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings. And just as England fell short at the MCG, the Mumbai Indians found themselves unable to raise their game when they most needed to.
Some will argue that the best team didn't win, and Dhoni candidly admitted that Chennai "could have played much better". But while the league table doesn't lie, neither does the evidence of the last week, when Dhoni's monstrous hitting kept them alive in Dharamsala before both Deccan Chargers and Mumbai were swept aside.
The catalyst for Pakistan cricket's finest hour was Wasim Akram. Doug Bollinger isn't in that class as a left-arm pacer, but there's little doubt that it was his arrival as a late replacement for injured stars that transformed Chennai's season. "Our domestic pace bowlers didn't bowl very well," said Dhoni. Bollinger did, especially in tandem with the outstanding R Ashwin. "He has done the job of a seamer for us," said Dhoni. "He's an effective bowler and he has that carrom ball to confuse batsmen."
Dhoni cited a motivational speech from team owner N Srinivasan as one of the significant moments of the campaign, and expressed satisfaction in the performance of the team's domestic contingent. Suresh Raina crowned a hugely impressive season with a match-winning hand of 57, and will be one of the key players as India look to regain the Twenty20 World Cup that they won in 2007.
"Raina takes the opponent on," said Dhoni. "But lately, he has learnt to finish off games. He doesn't just make 30s or 40s. He respects the bowlers when he needs to. It's a great format for a young player to get noticed in, but we shouldn't get carried away. It's a good platform for youngsters because they're put under pressure and you can see how they react."
Having fallen short at the final hurdle in 2008 and at the penultimate one a year later, Dhoni called this a triumph for the way the team had prepared. "We only get a week or 10 days before the tournament starts, so it's important that you gel well as a team. We've also been very unlucky with injuries."
In the final, Chennai made their own luck, taking the crucial catches that Mumbai fluffed and exerting relentless pressure with their slow bowlers. Their spin-heavy attack was clearly a big factor in Kieron Pollard being held back till the very end, and Dhoni admitted that the circumstances had forced him to choose the XI that he did. "It may not sound the right combination, but it worked for us," he said. "When you can only pick four foreign players, it's tricky. You need your domestic players to do well."
M Vijay, Raina and Ashwin all passed that test, as did Shadab Jakati, who dismissed Sachin Tendulkar and Saurabh Tiwary in the same over to leave Pollard with an impossible task. "When you lead India in a World Cup, you're playing with 15 of India's best cricketers," said Dhoni when asked to contrast the IPL experience with the international one. "Here, you don't necessarily pick the best XI or even the best balanced one. But it worked for us."
Having stared elimination in the face earlier in the tournament, Dhoni's boys, like Imran's charges, found their most menacing roar at the most opportune time. And Mumbai, like Gooch and England 18 years ago, simply had no answer.