IPL 2023 breaks new ground with unprecedented sequence of last-ball thrillers

Year after year, season after season, the IPL simply doesn’t fail to entertain and enthral but even by its own lofty standards, this edition which isn’t even a quarter of the way done has broken new ground.

CSK vs RR, IPL 2023
RR won by three runs against CSK after a last-ball finish in Chennai. Photo: BCCI/IPL

Just 17 matches and less than two weeks in, IPL 2023 has already served up more than its fair share of thrills and spills. Rajasthan Royals’ (RR) three-run win over Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at Fortress Chepauk on Wednesday (April 12) was the fourth night in a row when the outcome of a game was decided off the last ball, unprecedented even in a tournament where the unusual is the norm and where, one would think, the potential for surprises is minimal, given how nothing ought to be a surprise anymore.

The sequence of last-ball finishes kicked off on Sunday night at the iconic Eden Gardens, thanks to the ebullient Rinku Singh and his merciless takedown of the unfortunate Yash Dayal, the left-arm seamer who ended up conceding sixes off the final five deliveries to usher in holders Gujarat Titans’ (GT) first defeat of the season. While it’s all but impossible for anyone else, the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) man included, to reprise Rinku’s heroics, the tale of nail-biting endings spilled over to a second night. In a match of fluctuating fortunes with the pendulum swinging crazily one way and then the next, Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) somehow held their nerve, just, to edge Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) by one wicket at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Also read: IPL 2023 full schedule, match times, venues

Just when one was beginning to catch their breath came the Tuesday thriller at the Wankhede Stadium in a clash between winless protagonists Mumbai Indians (MI) and Delhi Capitals (DC). Rohit Sharma had shaded David Warner in the battle of the captains and the home side seemed headed for a regulation victory when the Capitals fought back superbly. Even so, five runs off the last over, admittedly from the uber quick Anrich Nortje, with Australian giants Cameron Green and Tim David in the middle, appeared straightforward. But nothing is quite straightforward in the IPL, is it? It took a scrambled two off the last ball and a full-length, no-holds-barred dive at the striker’s end by David, for Mumbai to edge home.

Sandeep’s brilliance against Dhoni

Surely, surely, normalcy would return on Wednesday? Surely, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals will give pulsating hearts a rest? Surely, this would be a ‘routine’ game? Surely not.

Sandeep Sharma, RR vs CSK, IPL 2023
Sandeep Sharma held his nerve against MS Dhoni and CSK to deliver a last-ball win for RR. Photo: BCCI/IPL

In a game of mistakes galore, most of them by England all-rounder Moeen Ali who put down two simple catches at slip and missed an easy run out with the wildest of throws, it came down to 21 runs off the final over for CSK to maintain a proud home record. It came down to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the consummate Finisher at his peak but now severely on the decline with his 42nd birthday less than three months away, and the explosive Ravindra Jadeja against Sandeep Sharma, the swing exponent who’s at his best with the new ball but not quite the most adept at death-bowling duties.

Also read: IPL 2023: RR edge CSK in last-ball thriller in Chennai

Twenty-one is a lot of runs, let’s be under no illusion. Sure, Rinku made light of hunting down 29, but that doesn’t happen every day. Even in the IPL. For CSK to get those 21 runs, a million things needed to fall in place.

Dhoni decided, ‘So why not turn the clock back one more time?’ Thus emanated two bruising sixes from his broadsword, and the equation eventually came down to six off two deliveries. Jadeja on strike, CSK one hit away. Sandeep, a bundle of nerves after two wides followed by those two sixes, bustled in and nailed an unsmackable yorker. A single. Five off one. Dhoni on strike, CSK one hit away. Sandeep was no Nortje, was he? He wouldn’t deliver a second successive unhittable yorker, would he? Nortje in that final over against Mumbai had sent down six remarkably well directed yorkers; Sanju Samson needed Sandeep to bowl just two.

And so Sandeep did. Picture perfect, as textbook as one could ask for. Dhoni, the man who has stared the devil in the eye and stared it down a million times, could only eke out another single. You could sense his utter disappointment and anguish, but you could also sense a certain admiration for the brilliance of Sandeep’s execution. Chennai hearts sank, Rajasthan’s pumped furiously after their first win in Chepauk in 14 years. Tell you what, this IPL isn’t good for the heart. Should come with a statutory warning – ‘The faint-hearted, do stay away!’ – in all caps.

IPL2023  breaks new ground

Year after year, season after season, the IPL simply doesn’t fail to entertain and enthral but even by its own lofty standards, this edition which isn’t even a quarter of the way done has broken new ground. Encouragingly from an Indian perspective, it’s the home boys who have stood out at the crunch. Rinku in Kolkata. Ravi Bishnoi and Avesh Khan in Bengaluru, with Harshal Patel doing a stellar job of defending a mere five in the final over. And Sandeep in Chennai, nearly bested by two celebrated IPL and global heroes, but digging deep to come up with the goods when it mattered. Rinku apart, everyone else in this short list has played for the country with varying degrees of success; the IPL’s premier objective is to give Indian talent the platform to perform, and so far, Indian talent hasn’t disappointed.

Also read: IPL 2023: Why there is a ‘ban CSK’ demand in TN

While this eclectic bunch has been involved in climaxes, a host of others, less heralded but no less ambitious, have staked their claim. Tilak Varma, the supremely consistent and wonderfully blessed left-hand bat from Mumbai Indians. Sai Sudharsan, the little left-hander who has admirably filled the giant breach at No. 3 for Gujarat Titans, a breach created by the horrible knee injury in the opening game that ruled Kane Williamson out of the tournament. Dhruv Jurel, the intrepid middle-order bat from Rajasthan Royals. Suyash Sharma, the baby-faced mystery spinner from Kolkata Knight Riders. They are the future.

The Ajinkya Rahanes and the Shikhar Dhawans and the Amit Mishras and the Piyush Chawlas have reiterated the value of experience and shown that there is plenty of fight left in the old legs yet, debunking the oft-held myth that the IPL, or indeed the T20 format, is a young person’s game. These might be occasionally expressive embers of a dying fire, yet they command attention. But it’s the younger guns that have fired the loudest, most incisive shots thus far, and that’s huge cause for optimism for a country looking to add to the inaugural T20 World Cup crown worn in 2007. Almost a lifetime ago.