'Hollywood' scripts a fairytale
Shane Warne must be nearing 40, but the greatest big-match player of our age has magically made possible the fairytale win of the Rajasthan Royals
There are some moments that sports aficionados will never forget. At Lake Placid in 1980, Mike Eruzione, the USA captain, slotted the puck past Vladimir Myshkin to complete what is still called the Miracle on Ice, the 4-3 defeat of the mighty Soviet Union that Sports Illustrated labelled the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.
At Edgbaston in 1999, Allan Donald stood frozen at one end as Lance Klusener set off for a run that would have taken South Africa into the World Cup final. Donald never made it, and the focus went from Klusener's big hitting to the spell that a certain Shane Warne had bowled earlier in the day, and especially the two magical deliveries to Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten.
The Rajasthan Royals, with 12 wins and just three defeats coming into the final, had undoubtedly been the most accomplished side in the IPL, but as Brazil's footballers of 1982 vintage could tell you, being the best is no guarantee of success. Then, a careless pass from Toninho Cerezo condemned them to be forever remembered as the greatest team to be denied World Cup glory.
When Suresh Raina threw with unerring accuracy to end Yusuf Pathan's innings at 56, you sensed Rajasthan might just have had a Cerezo moment. But the man they called 'Hollywood' hadn't finished writing the script. Off the last ball of Makhaya Ntini's magnificent spell, Warne backed away and guided the ball with super-strong wrists to the cover boundary.
They might not call it the Miracle on Turf, but that one stroke was decisive. It meant that Rajasthan needed just eight from the final over, and this time Mahendra Singh Dhoni had no Joginder Sharma to engineer an improbable victory. And unlike Misbah-ul-Haq, neither Warne nor Sohail Tanvir staked it all on one shot, winning it with singles and a two even as Chennai fumbled.
Dhoni refused to apportion any blame, though the two reprieves that Yusuf got, on 13 and 33, were to have a vital bearing on the result. "We knew we had some weak links in the field," he said. "Mistakes were made, and we just have to accept that."
While walking to the press conference after the presentation ceremony, Warne stopped briefly in the middle to reprise the cover drive off Ntini with a sweep of his arm. When asked about it, his grin was as broad as any he sported when Australia regained the Ashes in 2006. "We knew we didn't want to leave ourselves with too many to get in the final over," he said. "Eight off six balls - we thought we could do that.
"It was just one of those things that was meant to be. After all, we are the entertainers of the IPL. No one could have written a script like that, a last-ball finish to win." And when asked how it compared to the balls that flummoxed Gibbs and Kirsten, he said, "It's right up there.
"I'm 40 next year, a bit too old for these sort of finishes. But the players, they make me feel young. I'll come back as long as my body will hold up."
When someone remarked that Dhoni had spoken of Twenty20 being a young man's game, Warne quipped, "In that case, I'll be back with a walking stick next year."
You can rest assured though that when it comes to the crunch, the greatest big-match player of our age will trade it in for the magic wand that has made this Rajasthan fairytale possible.