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It was very special for me: Shane Watson

CricketIt was very special for me: Shane Watson

Shane Watson symbolised the sort of team Chennai Super Kings assembled for their Indian Premier League 2018 comeback script.watson 1

An ageing frame, limbs not as flexible as they used to be, but plenty of experience, spirit and performances that mattered. His 57-ball 117* against Sunrisers Hyderabad – a knock that really only began after the first 10 balls, when he finally got off the mark – powered Chennai to their third IPL title in Mumbai on Sunday 27 May.

By the end of the knock, Watson was sore. He’s been sore for a while, really, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, his captain, not taking up the option of bowling the 36-year-old, to get the best out of him. In the final on Sunday, the best of Watson was certainly on display.

Watson seemed like a spent force last season, mostly warming the Royal Challengers Bangalore bench. Chennai picked him up at the auction in January, and more than resuscitated his T20 freelance career. There was sincerity when Watson said he was grateful.

“It’s been a special season, to be honest. To get an opportunity again, after the previous year at RCB, unfortunately, it was incredible,” said Watson. “To be able to do something like I have tonight, things fell my way certainly a few times. To do this in a game that means so much for the franchise, it was very special for me.”

It seemed destined to be anything but special the way Watson began the chase of 179, though. Hyderabad had set them a good target, but with Bhuvneshwar Kumar hitting the right lengths and getting a bit of swing, Watson struggled to get bat on ball – so much that, Faf du Plessis’s downfall came after he attempted to go big.

Watson then powered back, ending his 57-ball knock with an astonishing strike rate of 205.26.

He could afford a smile when recounting those first 10 balls. “The ball was swinging around a bit, especially Bhuvi, with the skill he has and the lengths he bowls,” Watson told Star Sports later. “I probably didn’t have the intent needed for those first couple of overs. In the end, I was just trying to get to a run-a-ball.

“Small goals, very important. But once I got through that and the ball stopped swinging, it came on beautifully to the bat. It flies, and it’s (Wankhede Stadium) not a huge ground. Maybe I shouldn’t go so hard at the start and get out, which is what I normally do here.”
It was the perfect comeback for Chennai, after being written off as early as in January on account of many of their players being on the wrong side of 30. They didn’t have home advantage either, with matches in Chennai shifted to Pune after their first match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.

And yet, here they were. Watson revealed that captain Dhoni, usually one to keep his emotions to himself, was as expressive as he’d ever seen him in the first team meeting. “That showed how much it means for him alone, to be part of CSK, how proud he is,” said Watson. “That was the starting point for me to realise what a special franchise this is, how much it means to someone like MS, who normally isn’t so emotional. It galvanised the whole group, that’s for sure.”

Meanwhile, Kane Williamson, the Hyderabad captain, was left to reflect on a curious campaign.

Hyderabad overcame odds of their own to reach the final, playing a thrilling brand of cricket on the way. They lost their regular captain, David Warner – banned for his role in the Cape Town ball-tampering saga – shortly before the season began. But in Williamson, they had someone who transitioned into the role as smoothly as they could have hoped.

“It was a completely different experience,” said Williamson. “Before coming to this job, there were a number of guys I hadn’t met and a variety of coaches, which I think was something that I was looking forward to. They are very experienced and some of the differences that we faced, it was very enjoyable.

“It was an enjoyable season, an enjoyable campaign. Obviously, it would have been nice to come away with a win and I suppose for the large part of that it was looking likely, until that fantastic knock from Watson.”

Hyderabad were built around their bowlers – Rashid Khan, in particular – and they seemed to specialise in defending totals. It all seemed to go their way when the batsmen set seemingly competitive total, but Williamson credited Watson for putting pressure back on his bowlers.
“In terms of his innings, he did put us under pressure,” said Williamson. “You come into the final and that is one of the things you do need to do best when you are under pressure. Everybody is feeling (pressure) a little bit, and he responded to that beautifully. He put us under more pressure.

“Once again, the way we started with the ball was outstanding. It gave us every opportunity. There was a balancing point there which they ran away with, and I do think that the experience they have in their side played an important factor.”

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