With the Chennai Super Kings returning from a two-year suspension, emotions ran high among players and fans. Even the usually unflappable MS Dhoni almost teared up at an event while speaking about his side's return to the IPL.
Both Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming agreed that only experience could counter the effects of the emotions and pressure. So, at the IPL 2018 auction, the Super Kings packed their squad with over-30s players, including Shane Watson.
Fleming, who was coaching the Melbourne Stars then in the BBL, liked what he had seen of Watson in the 2017-18 Australian tournament. Watson was the fifth-highest scorer that season, tallying 331 runs for the Sydney Thunder in ten innings at an average of 36.77 and strike rate of just under 140. But at 36, could he reprise those heroics in the IPL, ten years after he had emerged MVP in the inaugural season, back in 2008?
That question came up again in the 2018 final, when Watson went scoreless off his first ten balls in a chase of 179 at the Wankhede against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Bhuvneshwar Kumar had started with a maiden over in which a big outswinger ripped past Watson's outside edge, and he continued to challenge the edges. Watson was also carrying a hamstring strain that hampered his running between the wickets. Faf du Plessis was gone and Suresh Raina wasn't quite the IPL stalwart he once was.
In the sixth over, Watson broke loose with a six and four off Sandeep Sharma, and when first-change Siddarth Kaul darted one on to the pads the following over, Watson lunged at it like a caged animal released, clearing the square-leg boundary with a full-blooded whip. In Kaul's next over, Watson sent a knuckleball over long-on for six. Then lined up Sharma again in the 13th, clobbering him for a hat-trick of sixes in a 27-run over.
In all, Watson ruthlessly took 74 off 27 balls from Kaul and Sharma. His stunning transformation even allowed Ambati Rayudu to play a maiden in the 15th over, bowled by Rashid Khan. They could afford it: CSK only needed 33 off 30 balls after that over, with eight wickets in hand. From 0 off ten balls, and a run-a-ball 19 at the end of the powerplay, Watson cranked up to his century in 51 balls.
Other players might have panicked after such a slow start with the title on the line, but not a T20 veteran like Watson. Other teams might have panicked if their home base had been moved after just one game, but not Dhoni's CSK. After the franchise moved to Pune (and their fans moved with them), Watson adapted to the conditions and struck a century against his former team, the Rajasthan Royals.
Pilloried as Dad's Army for picking too many over-30s - and retired - players, CSK eventually won the title thanks to a hundred from a 36-year old who was largely batting on one leg.
"This year we've really valued experience and also around the world you see experienced players consistently do well," Fleming had said after the auction in 2018. "MS and I are both on the same wavelength that that experience counts. There's room there for young players to come tomorrow, but it was one of our directions as CSK comes back in, to get an established experienced side to join the likes of [Ravindra] Jadeja and [Suresh] Raina and a couple of other young players. That was the plan."
The plan worked perfectly for CSK as they beat the Sunrisers 4-0 that season to seal their third IPL title and one of the most remarkable comebacks.