‘Is that Ayesha Takia in Yellow?!’
Five days ago, defending Champions Chennai SuperKings were virtually out of IPL-5, after being completely outplayed by Kings XI Punjab at Dharamsala on an overcast day. Fans pretty much took it for granted that Chennai’s chances of still being in it were purely mathematical- and depended on a bunch of results turning their way. Most of all, many of us believed that Chennai’s golden run was well and truly over, and they simply weren’t good enough this year.
After all, they needed a team like Deccan Chargers, languishing at the bottom of the table, to beat Rajasthan Royals as well as the Royal Challengers Bangalore in consecutive home games- where they had previously won just ONE out of their 16 games. They also needed a Viru-less Delhi Daredevils to beat a rampaging Kings XI on their minefield of a pitch- with youngster Awana in prime form.
But then, most of us overlooked one simple fact: Rajnikanth lives in Chennai.
That was that. God decided to wear a yellow jersey for four consecutive days. Not only did the Chargers overcome their fear of winning, but they even pulled off a nailbiter against eventual chokers Bangalore. Rajasthan were eliminated a few days ago, thanks to Dale Steyn.
And horror of horrors, Bangalore was made to look like a South African team in an ICC tournament, thanks to…Dale Steyn. Surely, Kohli must wonder about his over against Albie Morkel earlier in the tournament. Surely, Kohli must wonder a lot about the shot he played to be caught at the boundary when they were cruising along against the Chargers on D-day. But then, cricket is a leveler, and after the two phenomenal months in International cricket, Virat Kohli has been made to look human…and lose. It’s time to calm down a distraught Sid Mallya with a tweet that says (in a pseudo-English accent): Pipe down, love. Because the Chargers were all over you that night!
And of course, Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav and David Warner decided to prove that the Daredevils aren’t so dependent on Sehwag after all. Punjab was chucked out in style, by the favorites.
So, there we have it- 3 of the 4 teams that qualified last year are in the playoffs again, but with a slight change in order. This time, it is KKR that is in second place- no chokes for them again. Mumbai Indians have been shunted to third spot, ahead of the surprise package (what do you know?) CSK in fourth spot. Delhi, of course, have used that wooden spoon from last year with great effectiveness, and have stirred up a winning formula of their own. There is no stopping them, atleast for now.
Qualifier 1: Delhi Daredevils v/s Kolkata Knight Riders
Will this be SRK’s year? Maybe, just like Chelsea winning the Champion’s League after such a controversial and disappointing start to the year, SRK’s name could be written on the trophy after all. Such events defy logic and form. His team has shown great gumption to finish ahead of Mumbai, and this earns them two shots at the final. This does not mean, by any stretch of imagination, that KKR won’t take this qualifier as seriously as a Knockout game. Last year’s memories are still fresh and painful, and they will not want to be in that situation ever again.
They play favorites Delhi, in a game that will be played at Sahara stadium, Pune. This is a pitch that made Delhi crash to one of their first losses of the league, against a Dada-inspired underdog Pune side. Surely, they have improved leaps and bounds since then, and right now, all they must do is carve out a game-plan for their greatest opponent: Sunil Narine. If his threat is nullified, you’d back a strong Delhi batting line-up to be able to counter everything else.
Clearly, both these teams have been in the running for the Purple Cap (Morkel and Narine), which is why they’re at the top of the table. Bowling is not such an underrated art, after all.
Destiny or Form? Eternal underperformers or Mercurial stars? Passion or Ruthlessness? It could all come down to the top four in each team- and with Pathan clawing his way back to form, and Shakib doing wonders with bat and ball, you’d have to say: This could be the Playoff’s first upset.
Delhi could be playing another qualifier very soon.
Through the tiny trap door at the back of the kitchen
Eliminator: Chennai Super Kings v/s Mumbai Indians
The SuperKings must have been in the hotel lobby atleast twice in the last four days, and most of them out of the hotel door when Kohli was at the crease on Sunday. But then, Kohli decided to thank his captain in a very generous manner, after being promoted to Vice-Captain earlier this year.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men, you could argue, do not deserve to be playing at Bangalore, out of all the grounds in the country. But they are. Face it.
Champions never go away, and certainly, they cannot be given another chance. And another chance could very well mean that out of all the teams, the Yellow Brigade is the most rested, fresh and rejuvenated bunch of boys out there- which could effectively mean curtains for a Mumbai team that has just used up all their luck, form and cards in a single game against the Royals.
It is very hard to look beyond the fact that NONE of the Chennai batsmen have really been in top form, especially Suresh Raina and Dhoni himself. But somehow, someway, they have scraped through- sneakily letting themselves in before the door closed. For their reward, they face a Mumbai Indians team that have invariably gotten the better of them in IPL history…except for the big games.
And there is no bigger game for both teams in this competition. A Knockout. This time, there is no mathematical calculations, probabilities, permutations, NRR situations, prayers or choking needed.
All that’s needed is three solid hours of cricket.
A second chance. A third coming. Dhoni and the IPL are meant to be together, for better or worse. Mumbai could find themselves out of the tournament before they know it, and form team or not, it will be CSK that steam through to face a vulnerable KKR or DD team in the second qualifier.
If this were a Bollywood film, Kolkata Knight Riders would beat the defending Champions on the last ball in the final, and Shahrukh Khan would be allowed onto the field…with his kids.