For 16 overs, Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiant had circled each other warily. Mumbai knew a target of 130 was below par, but Rising Pune were aware it was a tricky trek on a spongy surface. Like hardened snipers, they ensured every changing detail in a mercurial situation was documented and assessed. Even the direction of the wind was studied, but more on that later.
After 15 overs, 47 runs stood between Rising Pune and a memorable maiden title. Their current and former captains - Steven Smith and MS Dhoni - know how to strip chases to their barest essentials, and provided a refresher class on how it's done by collecting a six and a four off Krunal Pandya, the man responsible for Mumbai making 129 in the first place.
Thirty-three runs required in four overs. Rising Pune were now favourites. Mumbai realised the time for sniping was over and reverted to a frontal assault.
Jasprit Bumrah is only 23, but his consistency and inch-perfect finishing skills make him the obvious attack leader. Just ask England, who couldn't score eight runs off the last over against him in Nagpur. There is no real mystery to him: everyone knew he was going to bowl two of the last four overs and whip up a combination of yorkers and slower balls. But because he is so good so often, merely knowing what he is going to do is only as effective as a full-throated scream a split-second before a speeding truck runs over you.
The 17th over was like a highlights reel of his best deliveries. Bumrah started off with a full ball to Smith, but didn't repeat it against MS Dhoni. Bumrah knew Dhoni could bring his whippy wrists into play against the full-length delivery, and that if he missed the yorker by even this much, Dhoni would smack it out of sight. Dhoni had, in fact, taken 17 runs off Bumrah in 10 balls, including two sixes, in the first Qualifier.
On this night, though, Dhoni would last only one delivery against Bumrah. He bowled it on the shorter side of a good length and kept it close to off stump, to deny Dhoni swinging room. He attempted to punch it through point and edged to the keeper. Finding a bit of reverse swing, Bumrah then bowled length to Manoj Tiwary; three fast, inswinging deliveries, the last two being dots. Ladies and gentlemen, only three runs conceded in the over.
Thirty required off three overs. Not an easy ask for Rising Pune, but you wouldn't put it past Smith to gun it down. Rohit Sharma, Mumbai's captain, knew he had to lean on Lasith Malinga and Mitchell Johnson to sandwich Bumrah's 19th. Johnson, though, had played only four games before this in IPL 2017, and Malinga had had an underwhelming tournament.
With a genial smile plastered on a chubby face topping a chubbier body, Malinga, 33, looked more the friendly neighbourhood uncle than a scary death-overs merchant. Before this match, he had conceded at 11.07 per over at the death this season, and given the pace he had lost, his yorkers were now easier for batsmen to get under. This probably explained why he was no longer the first-choice death bowler for Mumbai. Malinga probably realised that he needed to work on a few things when he opted out of a couple of games mid-season.
On Sunday night, Malinga mixed up length deliveries and slower balls and didn't overdo the yorker in his first two overs. He sucker-punched Ajinkya Rahane with a slower one in his first over, but Krunal Pandya shelled an easy chance at short extra-cover. It wasn't until his third over that Malinga went full-tilt at the yorker. One of them nearly took Smith's leg stump with it.
As much as Malinga's spell of 3-0-14-0 should have pleased captain Rohit, he was sweating over whether to bowl him out in the 18th or save him for the last over. But the fact that Malinga had more games under his belt prompted Rohit to hand the last over to Johnson. While both Malinga and Johnson would bowl with the wind from the VVS Laxman pavillion end, Rohit was reluctant to have Malinga bowl the last over from that end. He felt Johnson would be a better fit with his slower balls and offcutters.
"It was always a gamble between Malinga and Johnson to bowl that last over. Malinga has played quite a few games for us and he was in that rhythm so I thought better to go with him [in the 18th over]. Johnson, we knew that his slower balls, offcutters and taking the ball away from the right-handers will be difficult in the end and, again, hitting against the wind will be even more difficult, so that was the plan. You know, it worked. Sometimes when it doesn't work it looks very bad."
Malinga had grown more comfortable with his yorkers and it showed. He sent down a fast, indipping yorker that sneaked between Smith's legs. He almost nailed another yorker with his next ball, but Smith squared the ledgers by stepping deep in his crease, shortening the length a fraction, and flicking it wide of long leg. By going for only seven, though, Malinga had done his bit.
"Malinga and Bumrah are probably the two best death bowlers we have seen in this tournament. They've done it again and again consistently," Rohit said. "This year Malinga has probably not found his way so much, but we wanted Malinga to be in the fray and we knew somewhere down the line the experience will count.
"The last three overs... of course they've been put in that situation many a time and they have done it not just for IPL teams but also for their countries. We can talk as much as we want. At the end of the day, it's about going and implementing on the field. That's what these three fast bowlers did".
Twenty three off two overs. The ball was now back with Bumrah, and he conceded only four off his first four balls. But Smith's brilliance off the last two balls put the game in the balance - he went deep in his crease again, and an attempted yorker that was only a few inches off-length went sailing over long-off; then Smith worked a full-toss into the leg side to pick up two.
Eleven required off the last over. It seemed like Mumbai had a dozen captains. Everyone was screaming at a fielder within earshot, asking him to move a little to the left or right or just reminding him to stay put. Rohit, meanwhile, was discussing fields with Johnson and Bumrah, but Malinga didn't want to be left out of the conversation. He was all whirry hands and feet. The animation on his face was an amusing counterpoint to Johnson's placidness. This was great theatre.
Up to this point, one of Johnson's biggest contributions had been mentoring the younger fast bowlers in the team. He wouldn't have even been on the field had Mitchell McClenaghan, the fourth-highest wicket-taker of the tournament, been fit. Heck, Johnson wasn't even sure of playing in this year's IPL.
On the surface, it may have seemed as if Mumbai had a thing for internationally retired and seemingly over-the-hill cricketers, but Johnson was a typically calculated pick, even if at a relatively steep INR 2 crore.
He was the fourth-highest wicket-taker in the 2016-17 Big Bash League with 13 from nine matches and an economy rate of under six. At the death, he had gone at 6.60. What was not to love? Johnson had, moreover, played a starring role in Mumbai's victorious 2013 campaign.
But, after the fields were set and reset a million times, what did Johnson do? Bowl an offcutter slanting away from off stump, but Tiwary neatly shuffled across and scooped a four over square leg.
Seven from five. Johnson saw Tiwary back away, looking to go over extra-cover, and followed him with another slower cutter. The mistimed shot was held at long-on.
Johnson later said he was looking to make Smith hit towards the leg side, the bigger side of the ground. Did things go to plan, though? Yes and no. Seeing Johnson come around the wicket, Smith backed away and creamed a full ball sweetly, off the stumps, over the off side. Luckily for Johnson, it went straight to Ambati Rayudu at sweeper cover, the only fielder in the vicinity.
"Fortunately I was able to deliver at pressure moments," Johnson told the official broadcaster after the match. "It was well set up in the last couple of overs. We needed to get Smith off strike and get him out. He gave himself room. It was a good shot but not good enough at the end."
After Bumrah was hit for a six in the penultimate over, Johnson realised he had no other choice but to be deadly accurate with his plans. "I wasn't thinking too much, just wanted to be clear with my plan: bowl full at the stumps and get the guys to hit leg side. [For] Smithy, off side isn't his strength, fortunate the shot went to hand," he said. "I told Bumrah that it helped me that [Smith] hit him for six off that second-last ball. I felt like I was more clear then. We got less runs, but we had to be spot on."
Rohit said the plan was to not give Smith too much pace to work with. "Johnson was bowling against the wind and we wanted him to hit into the wind and that was the plan," he said. "But he came and bowled a nearly perfect yorker and he sliced it right to Rayudu. He was probably not expecting that catch to come to him. To take that catch under pressure was brilliant."
As for Johnson, 35, he isn't saying goodbye to the IPL anytime soon. "Mumbai picked me and look what happened," he said. "I'll play a few T20 competitions around the world and hopefully get back in next year."