Rahul Tripathi's impact on the eventual outcome of matches in this leg of the IPL cannot be overstated. (Image: Twitter/IPL, BCCI)
As anticipated as Chennai’s fourth Indian Premier League (IPL) title was, Kolkata’s loss in the final was no less of a surprise. The Knights had, after all, reached the final on the dint of being the most successful team in the UAE leg of the IPL with seven wins out of nine. How then, and at what point, did the team that had never lost an IPL final (two wins out of two) and was on a red-hot streak lose the 2021 title?
Of course, the venue, Dubai wasn’t as benevolent to Kolkata’s three-pronged spin attack as Sharjah—a ground where KKR registered four out of its seven wins in the second half of this season. But then, the flat, batting-friendly pitch of Dubai was equally contrary to the style of play of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK)—a team known to choke opponents on spin-friendly pitches—as it was for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR).
Then, for those statistically inclined, there was the curse of the Eliminator. The fact that in 10 seasons since the playoff format was introduced, only once had a team that had not finished in the top 2 of the league table gone on to win the title meant that KKR only had a 10% chance of winning the finals to begin with. But, as favourable as these numbers were for CSK, the point that KKR won the toss in the finals and decided to chase—considering the teams batting second in Dubai had won nine times out of 10 this season—pretty much evened things out between the two teams on the statistical front.
Similarly, some crucial, more noticeable moments on the field cancelled each other out too. If Dinesh Karthick missed stumping Faf du Plessis on two, M.S. Dhoni missed an easy catch of Venkatesh Iyer on nought. Both batsmen would go on to score half-centuries.
Also read: IPL 2021 Final Snapshots | CSK vs KKR: Faf du Plessis shines as Chennai Super Kings clinch 4th title
Yet, despite the obvious oscillations in sport, there was a moment in the match, a seemingly insignificant one at that, that may have been the difference between Chennai winning its fourth and Kolkata missing out on its third IPL title.
That turning-point came on the second ball of the seventh over of the Chennai innings. Kolkata’s Rahul Tripathi strained his hamstring and was spotted hobbling off the field. As minor as Tripathi's injury looked in the larger scheme of things, it proved to be a major reason why KKR failed at the chase.
His match-winning 6 in the game vs Delhi, under pressure, to take his team to the summit clash aside, Tripathi’s overall performance during the second leg of this year’s IPL makes him one of the most impactful batters this season. In the UAE leg—a phase dominated by the openers—Tripathi emerged as one of only two middle-order batters to feature in the top 10 run-getters list. The other being Glenn Maxwell.
Not just the bulk of runs, Tripathi also features in the list of top 10 strike-rates for batters in the UAE leg (minimum 100 runs)—a list, once again, dominated by the openers. The only other middle-order batter to feature in both top 10 lists along with Tripathi is Glenn Maxwell, and even there the Indian trumps the Aussie ace on strike-rate.
Now, as it panned out, for 30 out of the 40 overs of the final, it was neck and neck between the two teams. Chasing 192, Kolkata were 88 for no loss after 10, before Shardul Thakur captured two wickets in the next over—a jolt from which Kolkata never recovered. Under normal circumstances, it would have been Tripathi who would have walked out to bat at this juncture and, as he had done many times before during this season, the game could have gone either way.
Interestingly, Chennai themselves were in a similar position whilst battin—80/1 at the end of the 10th over. But while they had Robin Uthappa walk in at no. 3 and give the innings an impetus with a 15-ball-31, Kolkata missed their unsung hero at his usual batting position.
Picture Glenn Maxwell not batting for RCB (Royal Challengers Bangalore) because of an injury in a final match. Imagine the attention that an event like that would attract. Naturally, Tripathi doesn’t carry the same stature as Maxwell in cricket, but his impact on the eventual outcome of matches in this leg of the tournament cannot be overstated.
At the fag end of the match, M.S. Dhoni was spotted patting the Kolkata youngster on his back even as he struggled to stand straight, let alone bat. Who is to say the winning skipper didn’t recognise the magnitude of Tripathi’s injury and its influence on the match.