Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
For the third time in two seasons, Kolkata Knight Riders capitalised on a tactical error from Chennai Super Kings to get all over them while defending a total. At the same venue, Abu Dhabi, last year, Knight Riders had kept overs in hand from their mystery spinners to bowl at MS Dhoni in Super Kings' chase of 168. Together, Varun Charkaravarthy and Sunil Narine managed to tie him down to 11 off 12. Super Kings then sent in Kedar Jadhav, leaving Ravindra Jadeja only eight balls after he came in during the 18th over. Jadeja hit an unbeaten 21, but Super Kings lost by ten runs.
In the return fixture in Dubai, it came down to a similar situation as the Super Kings looked to chase down 173. Dhoni lasted four balls on this occasion, falling to Varun again. This time, however, Ruturaj Gaikwad kept Super Kings ticking in the middle overs until Jadeja walked in during the 18th over. With 30 needed off two overs, he took complete control, belting 31 off 11 balls against a jittery Lockie Ferguson and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. That effectively ended KKR's playoffs push, and a glimpse of Jadeja as the specialist finisher became one of the few highlights of Super Kings' below-par 2020 campaign.
WATCH - Jadeja takes Krishna to the cleaners
On Sunday, there was no doubt that Jadeja has fully grown into and embraced the role in what has been an exponential rise as a batter over the last two years. Once again, Knight Riders used Dhoni's vulnerability against Varun to haul the game their way; Varun bowled Dhoni and Suresh Raina was run-out in the 18th over, which cost the Knight Riders just five runs.
Once again, it looked like Super Kings had left too little time for Jadeja. But once again, he turned the tables on Knight Riders, taking 20 off Prasidh Krishna's last four balls to leave them needing four off the last over.
"I think this was [almost] exact - one year back in Dubai, second game against KKR, Jaddu won us the game in the last over," Super Kings bowling coach L Balaji said after the match. "I recollected a little bit, and went back to the memory. When Ravi was playing, [we knew] definitely he would do some kind of magic. He has improved his batting under pressure and he is showing that on the field and making sure he's helping us to cross the line. It's wonderful to see Ravi coming a little bit higher and higher in this batting order. His batting ability has changed overall in the last one or two years."
Sam Curran had batted ahead of Jadeja in both games against Knight Riders last season. This stands to reason, as Super Kings use him as a floater; he has often batted ahead of Dhoni, too, over the last two seasons. This seems to work well for Super Kings, with Jadeja following Dhoni a clear move to give him clarity: he is not expected to build an innings, or hold the middle order together in this team, with six-hitting being the clear brief. The 'magic' is expected in two or three overs of batting, as it might well be when he joins India for the T20 World Cup next month. Against this specific opposition, however, you can't help but feel that Super Kings have only just managed to get away.
L Balaji lauds Ravindra Jadeja's accuracy
At the post-match presentation, Dhoni alluded to that, saying 'it is enjoyable when you don't do so well and still win,' given how many times the opposite can happen in cricket. But as they sealed their seventh last-ball win in the IPL - more than anyone else - the Super Kings dugout was quietly confident.
"We knew until and unless the last ball is bowled, the match is not over," Balaji said. "So we were aware as a support staff that we have to get it closer and closer. So yes, there were a couple of moments, a couple of hiccups here and there. But we were able to come up. That is what CSK [and] our mantra is all about. To take that pressure and come out positively and take it as much as you can with your experience that you've gained on the field - nothing can be compared to that [experience]. Every match gives you some kind of experience and it's a wonderful match to be a part of."
The win took Super Kings to the top of the table with 16 points, with four games to go. It has been a complete turnaround to last year's performance, when they finished seventh with 12 points.
A large part of that has come down to the all-round riches they possess, which was evident in the last over with Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar scoring the runs needed after having good outings with the ball earlier. Curran, Dwayne Bravo, and Moeen Ali round off an enviable roster of such allrounders; from this group, Jadeja has emerged as a clear MVP, with major impact expected in both innings of a game. On Sunday, he made more impact than anyone according to ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats, which gave him an impact score of 81.56, clear of Thakur who was rated 76.15. Jadeja's 1 for 21 in four overs, with the wicket of Rahul Tripathi, played its part.
"We all know how much Jaddu's bowling will make an impact when it's right-handers, or one right-hander and one left-hander comes into play. Especially in day games. Jaddu is pretty consistent with his lines," Balaji said. "He doesn't give any free-flowing shots to the batters. That is what we have understood over a period of time - Jaddu is one guy, if he finishes, then it'll make a huge difference. This is what happened in the previous game against RCB. He came good, in a smaller ground, on a flatter track. He came good, so that helped the fast bowler to finish well. That's exactly what happened [again]."
As India scratch their heads about Hardik Pandya's bowling fitness, and grapple with a problem of plenty with the batters at their disposal for the T20 World Cup, Jadeja might slowly be emerging as the answer to many questions.