Ahmedabad May 30 2023: Ravindra Jadeja had bowled the ball left-arm spinners dream of. Drift, sharp turn, bounce, whirr. Everything. Shubman Gill, the man in the form of his life, was beaten fair and square. Yet, it's what transpired behind the stumps that had everyone's jaw drop, even though they knew what was coming.
He may be turning 42 soon, but MS Dhoni once again proved he has the fastest hands in the business. The time taken from the moment the ball lodged in his gloves to him stumping Gill is a mind-boggling 0.12 seconds. That's even faster than the fastest stumping Dhoni has ever effected.
Jadeja enquires, as if he's asking Dhoni, 'what do you think?'. The wry smile is a giveaway. Gill isn't going to have a second chance. It's a massive moment because until then, Gill had been picking gaps that may have seemed like a brick wall to others. The crowd erupts as the big screen signals 'OUT.' So much for this being the home ground of the Gujarat Titans.
The fluid strokeplay, the lazy elegance, the bristling front-of-square pulls - they're all the kind of shots you pay big money to watch. Or in this case, brave thunderstorms. But then at some point, you wonder if Jadeja's contribution to the set-up will be overshadowed again, like it has happened repeatedly this tournament.
Or at least he's felt he hasn't been credited enough by the fans at different times. They've elicited cryptic social media outbursts that have set tongues wagging. Is there another storm brewing? Is everything okay between Jadeja and Dhoni?
But the beauty of sport is it offers you a second chance when you least expect it. And that second chance for Jadeja came in the final over with CSK's hopes of a miracle fast fading. They needed 10 off two balls against Mohit Sharma, one of the best death bowlers in the competition. That's enough pressure. Forget for a second there are over a hundred thousand people in the crowd, and upwards of 30 million watching on television. All at 1.30 AM on a Tuesday morning.
In the dugout, Dhoni has his eyes closed. He never sits there. But on Monday night, he was there well before it was his turn to bat. And he continued sitting there long after he'd been dismissed. He seems to be praying hard, fists clenched. He can't look, no one can. It's rare, it's raw, it's unadulterated. And then Jadeja shovels a yorker-length delivery over long-on for six. Now it's down to four needed off one ball. More nerves.
Stephen Fleming, the coach, exudes the calmness of a sage at the best of times. He is anything but that now. "I just couldn't look, I was gearing up for a heartbreak, mate," he says later. "I thought, 'oh that's one ball away from a big heartbreak.' I wasn't even looking at what Dhoni was doing. And suddenly, Jaddu swings leg side. Oh, unbelievable." Fleming lets out a big puff of air, re-running that moment as he describes it.
He's emotionally drained. He's got a cold beverage that he's left unfinished to sit there and talk about the win. But he's also pumped. "I'm happy answering more questions, that's fine. I'm enjoying it," he tells the media representative trying to wrap up the press conference. And then, he goes back to describing the moments in the aftermath.
Jadeja's winning runs trigger manic celebrations in the crowd. Ahmedabad appears as one big party waiting to take off. Strangers in the stands wearing CSK's yellow are exchanging hugs and fist bumps. There are happy tears. They're all now awaiting that speech. and they can't wait for it to begin. The eagerness is as if they're all awaiting exam results hosted on a single server that would crash anytime, resulting in more delays and more anxiety.
It's 2 AM or thereabouts, but no one has moved. Besides the boundary, Harbhajan Singh is moved. He has been in the dressing room and knows what it takes. Matthew Hayden, who Chennai made one of their own during his three-year stint with the team, is moved to tears. He squishes Ajinkya Rahane and Deepak Chahar in a bear hug.
Across Bengaluru, crackers are going off. An airline pilot en route a Dubai-Chennai flight is thanked profusely by passengers as they de-board, for being their voice from the match. His heroic act: announcing scores every two overs.
Jadeja runs towards Dhoni, who in a rare display of emotion yelps in delight as he lifts him in one motion, wonky knees be dammed. It's a sight quite unlike anything. It's not something you expected to see when Jadeja stormed off midway through last year's IPL, hurt and upset by Dhoni's rare outburst against his captaincy. The official reason was injury, but there was hubbub that Dhoni's comments had upset Jadeja to the extent that he left in a huff.
You wondered then if it was the end of a memorable association. You wondered now, in victory, if that association had only been strengthened. Minutes later, a teary Jadeja, voice still shaking from the emotions of victory and pumping of adrenaline, would dedicate the win to a "special man." Dhoni himself.
It seems like the completion of a circle that took shape in 2009. When Jadeja, facing severe backlash after a botched T20 World Cup chase at Lord's against England, found a confidante and mentor in Dhoni. Who would throw him into tough situations fully confident he was polishing coal into a diamond.
As cameramen crowded around the two, the lights went off at that very moment for a laser show. That wasn't incentive enough for fans at the far end to leave. Metro services had shut down for the night. A long commute to a major intersection in the city by foot awaited. No problems, they weren't leaving without hearing Thala speak.
Ears straining into the distance, eyes firmly on the big screen, trying to catch the odd missed words via a lip sync, they were all either standing or seated. When Dhoni announces he'll try and come back next season for them, there's a triumphant roar. This is what they were waiting for. There's ecstasy, joy, and relief. All in one. The spectrums of emotion people don't possibly experience are all activated at once. It's nothing like anything you've experienced in recent times.
The scenes elicit thoughts of life after Dhoni for CSK. But you're immediately brought back into the sense by a massive burst of spectacular fireworks that light up the stadium. Dhoni lifts the trophy and in his trademark fashion hands it to the junior-most member of the squad before fading quietly into the background. It was typical of him.
What wasn't typical of Dhoni are the emotions he displayed as he spoke of the love and adulation. It told you the story of a man who knows he's at the sunset of a glorious career, wanting to come back for one final crack.
The heart says yes. Now for the rest of the body to follow suit.