Only future generations, with the benefit of hindsight and perspective, will be able to answer this to satisfaction, but given subsequent events, a look back at IPL 2015 naturally raises the question: Was this the last year that we saw the IPL in its original avatar, with the original eight teams, with marquee players largely identified with certain franchises still associated with them?
You can’t think of MS Dhoni, R Ashwin and Suresh Raina in the IPL and not picture them in Chennai Super Kings yellow. You can’t imagine Shane Watson, Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Dravid in anything other than Rajasthan Royals gear. And for a couple of them at least, there might never be a repeat of that, with both franchises cut from the competition for two years.
But if this was a finale of sorts, it was a pretty decent one. The eighth edition of the Indian Premier League began with teams seemingly more evenly matched on paper than ever before and more savvy about the Twenty20 format. It was the perfect recipe and the league phase lived up to that, with no strong favourite emerging. Only Kings XI Punjab, finalists last year, were the surprise laggards – but that could have had as much to do with some of their stars not adjusting quickly enough in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 World Cup. And as successive editions of the IPL have shown, if you fall behind at the start, catching up is well nigh impossible.
Mumbai Indians have been the only exception. In 2014, they sneaked into the final four after opening the tournament with a five-game losing streak. This year they began a bit better, winning one match of their first six, before almost stumbling into a winning combination. When Aaron Finch and Corey Anderson were rendered hors de combat with injuries, Lendl Simmons provided the firepower at the top that had been missing, while Mitchell McClenaghan revitalised the bowling so much that Anderson’s all-round abilities weren’t missed.
Mumbai faced more or less must-win situations in each of their last eight league games, and save for an AB de Villiers century – which no coach, captain or bowler can do anything about – came through with seven wins, carrying that momentum into the first qualifier and the final, both against Chennai.
If Mumbai gathered steam and built into a juggernaut as the tournament progressed, Rajasthan were their opposite in every way. The scrap merchants to Mumbai’s gilt-edged team, Rajasthan began by winning five in five, stumbled and fumbled, but a timely Shane Watson century pushed them into the final four, where they ran into de Villiers turning on the magic again. But like every year, this time too, Rajasthan unearthed one of the more successful youngsters in the competition in the form of Deepak Hooda.
Chennai themselves had an uncharacteristic tournament. Though they topped the league table, they never looked the unstoppable force people have been accustomed to seeing, in part due to both Dhoni and Raina being off-colour. That they still ended runners-up in spite of not being at their best spoke of their depth.
Only Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Daredevils performed largely as expected, finishing in the bottom half though they too had their moments, particularly courtesy David Warner and Shreyas Iyer. Kolkata Knight Riders didn’t resemble the formidable outfit that won the title last year, but they were good enough to be in the fray for the final four till the last stages.
Royal Challengers Bangalore finally had their golden trio of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and de Villiers clicking more than failing, but Gayle began tepidly enough to even be benched for a game – unthinkable just a year ago. What worked well this time around was that Bangalore had Mitchell Starc to fall back on while bowling, making for a more complete outfit. But though they got past Rajasthan in the eliminator, Chennai’s superior big-match game was too much to overcome in the second qualifier.
Wet weather also played its part in not allowing Bangalore to finish in the top two, though they had the highest net run-rate in the league phase and all three of Mumbai, Rajasthan and Bangalore finished on 16 points. The IPL governing council might do well to re-examine the rule of most wins deciding standings, in favour of a more equitable method such as win-loss ratio or win-loss difference.
But while Bangalore might feel a bit hard done by, they had the red-hot form to go past Chennai in the second qualifier and choked. Which ensured that Mumbai finished head and shoulders above the other teams in the fray and were worthy winners, Rohit Sharma returning to his favourite Eden Gardens to not just lift the trophy, but also play the key hand in the final.