Qualifier 1: Royal Challengers Bangalore v/s Chennai Super Kings
Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
Form Guide: Irrelevant
Here we are, then. The shortest league stage in the world has just concluded- duly leaving most of us with mixed feelings. We cursed the games while they went on- long, winding, seemingly endless- but now that it’s over…What do we do at 4PM and 8 PM. The first ‘rest’ day in over 50 days (Monday) is being marked by plenty of withdrawal symptoms ranging from remote-fingering to waiting for advertisements of IPL much like a drug-addict waits for his next fix.
In the end, it was the Super Kings who profited the most from the Sunday madness- inspite of having lost their game convincingly enough to relegate them to the depths of mediocre run-rates. With Mumbai doing what they claim to have ‘planned’ to do all season (what with the calculated starts and ‘planned’ chases)- with them finally being able to pull of the mother of all thrillers, The Super Kings have been granted the opportunity to reach the final- with a trial game. Like they needed it.
With Sunday set to be replayed over a period of two days now, there are seriously no surprises. On form, all the teams have finished in the position circled out for them initially- when they were storming through the league games. After some breathtaking collapses, miraculous comebacks, close finishes, lopsided encounters, underdog days, crazy upsets and self-destructive madness- the Usual Suspects have made it to the playoffs. I mean, what happened?
Okay, so Chennai deserved to finish top, but one bad game and one position really may not matter much when you look at the bigger picture- the top two was a target anyway.
RCB and CSK seem to have paced their crests and troughs perfectly, in hindsight. With slow (read poor) starts to IPL 2011, both were in danger of crashing out early- thus letting Mumbai and Kolkata speed away to almost-qualification with a relatively easy set of victories.
Midway through the league, as if inspired by Rafael Nadal’s ability to turn the style on when needed the most (read 5-4 in the third set), experience shone through in the form of a Sambhar-rice explosion for atleast the next 7-8 games- with a winning rate of 90%, while Mumbai and KKR were left wondering if they peaked too early.
All’s well that ends well.
Let the games begin.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: (Position: 1st)
With Gayle back to his bludgeoning best, RCB must be wondering whether to accept this bouquet with grace or not. Sunday, more than most days, confirmed their blatant status of being a one-man team (especially when it comes down to chasing par totals). Not a tag one team should be proud of, but one is sure Mallya and Co. do not really care. They have finished top of the league for the first time in 4 years- and sweeter it is, for not once were they leading IPL-2011 for the last 50 days. With some late heroics, top slot was snatched right under Dhoni’s sensitive nose- and the rest, as they say, will be Kingfisher-induced partying history. If Gayle does not fire? What? Are you…*slurs* kidding me?
It was all part of the ‘plan’
This makes life relatively easier for the reds- as far as making the final is concerned. Even if Chris Gayle is still hungover tonight, they can afford to take it easy and wait for the battle-scarred winner of the MI-KKR clash until they feed the West-Indian with as much fruit and fluid as they can. He will surely recover by Friday, and one can almost envision the look on poor Gambhir’s (or Sachin’s) face when he sees the ball sail over his head time and again to relegate them to the singular glory of having made the Champions League final position.
Another minor miracle took place- with Zaheer Khan actually bowling to reputation and duly ‘peaking’ at the right time, as will be said about his performance. He (along with incoming captain Vettori) provided some much-needed respite to an ailing bowling attack that seemed to fall to pieces just by the comforting thought of the giant Jamaican opening their own batting.
With Kohli resuming his normal role of refusing to finish off innings with his own bat (and duly referring to the mother and sisters of a mysterious person while returning to the pavilion), life seems good for the well-balanced (Gayle firing) Challengers. With AB De Villiers looking set to open the batting in the next game, Vettori finally seems to have learnt a lot about captaincy- just by sitting in the dugout and using the inevitable ‘outsiders perspective’ to make some positive decisions. After all, we fans can’t always be that wrong, can we?
It is truly difficult to predict the result of games that involve this mercurial team, simply because one is not sure even they believe in their own ability of finishing off games without the services of Chris Gayle. As initially mentioned, never has the fate of one team depended so much on the form of one man.
Hard stats confirm that when Gayle has scored more then 30 at a lightening fast (read usual) rate, RCB have won 7 games out of 8. To put things into perspective, RCB have won a total of 9 games. Out of 14. Gayle has the Orange Cap again, in 9 innings. And the one time Gayle scored Zero, RCB crashed to their heaviest ever defeat in IPL.
Enough said. Over to MSD and Co. to decipher the complexities of the Angels and Demons in this particular RCB outfit.
No, not even Dhoni may have an answer if the script so much as gets ‘bollywood-inspired’ from Sunday’s script- and the road to the final will truly be complete.
Player to watch out for: AB De Villiers
After a disappointing blob to Ashwin on Sunday, the best limited over batsman in the world will hope to get another opportunity to open the innings and duly confirm his slot as the perfect foil to Gayle- if and when needed. His form, one feels, will be crucial to RCB’s chances to win the entire tournament outright- for his finishing abilities are second to only MSD.
Of course, the usual skilful spells by Aravind and Vettori may only help matters, but no total in the world will be too small if Gayle and AB decide to take a liking to the color ‘yellow’ or ‘gold’ soon.
Chennai Super Kings: (Position: 2nd)
Even a whirlwind MSD innings wasn’t enough to drag the Super Kings to the proverbial ‘momentum-boosted’ waltz into the playoffs. Of course, being one of the two batsmen to have reached double figures against an inspired RCB bowling line-up- one suspects- could have been one of the reasons for Chennai’s crushing and convincing loss to an inferior team. So they had their bad day. They paced it. Can’t put it past MSD to be able to pace his losses too. Really.
Need a little help from my friends…
It will not happen again- that is for sure. Vijay, Hussey, Raina and Badrinath cannot possibly fail simultaneously once again- and even Bangalore know that they may have been witness to a phenomenon that is rarer than a posing SRK not blowing rehearsed kisses to nobody in particular. One problem, though, seems to be the form of Dougie Bollinger- previously the most consistent of bowlers- and MSD might just bring in Southee in this game. But Dougie big-match tendencies (by simply being an Aussie) may convince Dhoni to keep him on- atleast till they complete the mundane task of retaining the trophy. Yawn.
With Bravo and Morkel as their bowling all-rounders, Chennai still look scarily invincible- and a loss here may still see them demolish eliminator opposition to reach the final with that godforsaken momentum phrase being thrown around once again. They will be smarting from an unexpected loss and push off the top perch on the last day, but Mumbai’s thrilling last-ball win may have restored their faith in Upper Powers (and miraculous luck)- simultaneously relegating many a Bengali dude to the atheist heap.
With this writer still maintaining that Bangalore’s rained-out game against Rajasthan (when both teams were woefully SO out of form that both teams could have lost that game at the same time) was the crucial difference at the end between Bangalore and the rest, Chennai will be looking to set things straight. Forget points. Forget positions.
A Win: Final. A loss: One more game to the Final. Simple.
Player to watch out for: Suresh Raina
The heaviest scorer in IPL history is yet to make a mark on this tournament, and if his new World Champion tag is anything to go by- expect him to hit the ground running on this massively big stage. Big-match players are the difference between Champions and the rest of the World- and playing with two Aussies in the Chennai team, young Raina may have had no choice but to subdue himself till the playoffs.
Of course, one hopes Kohli is not thinking on the same lines.
A Chennai Win. One way or the other, CSK will reach the final. Overflowing with class and quality, the fag end of the tournament seems to turn the Yellow Brigade on- and even a failure may result in eventual success. Expect MSD to find a way. Anyhow. Chris Gayle, after all, is only human. He cannot go on forever.
Or can he?