Eliminator: Mumbai Indians v/s Kolkata Knight Riders
Wankhede stadium, Mumbai
Form Guide: Inconsequential
When Ambati Rayadu Javed Mianded-ed that last ball of Balaji for six over deep mid wicket on Sunday, little did he know that he changed the fate of two teams in a drastic manner. Mumbai were always going to remain 3rd or 4th, but the elasticity of SRK’s facial muscles as he watched the ball sail into the stands must have matched the sheer looseness of MSD’s already-lucid grey matter- with Lady Luck doing an about-turn and firmly perching herself into a yellow corner. KKR were, just like that, relegated from 2nd to 4th- which means that they have to beat all the three other teams to win the tournament. No questions asked. No second chance. Nothing. Cruelly, it all came down to one single ball (or one over, fans may argue) after consistently punching above their reputed weight throughout the tournament, and distinctly looking like a better team than Mumbai.
But such is fate- and now SRK can take solace from the fact that this is their first appearance in the playoffs, and anything further will be a bonus. One step at a time, you see. I doubt Gambhir will use the philosophical approach, though- and his ‘surely won’t be the last time’ in the post-match presentation speech indicated that he was more than a little determined to show Mumbai their true place- and what better way to do it than snatching away a Champions League position from them by beating them today? Hit it where it hurts most- Gambhir will say- and ‘we were waiting for the right moment’.
Consistently, over the last week, teams that had nothing whatsoever to gain in their final game- have mauled the tension-ridden teams that have a lot on the line. Deccan destroyed Yashraj Films single-handedly by altering Punjab’s dream fate in one innings- and Rajasthan demolished Mumbai to hand them over a tense finale against KKR. Of course, we all know what happened to KKR then.
IPL-2011 may not have been a fight to the finish, as we all wanted, but it sure did provide a finish that was worth a million spectacles. The fans deserved it. The country deserved it, after a long-drawn group stage that had cricket-fans tittering on the brink of madness. Mumbai did finally come good. The mother of close contests happened- and KKR succumbed to the good old KKR curse- 21 runs in the last over is just not their cup of tea. (with memories of Rohit Sharma snatching victory from them similarly in 2009)
Time to eliminate one of these two teams that peaked way too early by IPL-2011 standards:
Mumbai Indians: (Position 3rd)
In hindsight, it is easy to laude the genius of Sachin Tendulkar’s captaincy after promoting Bhajji to number 3 and ‘preserving’ Rayadu for a last-ball finish. What accuracy. What a mind. What farsightedness.
‘It was all part of the plan’
Sadly, that is far from the truth. SRT tried to be innovative. He tried to be different and do a MSD. He must thank the outer edge of Franklin’s bat and Balaji’s consistently poor bowling in the last over instead. Good fortune and KKR’s cursed fate had a lot to do with Sachin’s ‘brave’ decisions. Using Harbhajan as a pinch hitter backfired as soon as Sachin’s own strike-rate overtook Bhajji’s. Sachin was actually banking on Rohit Sharma and Pollard- who refused to validate his ‘instinctive decisions’ and left it to the unfancied pair of Franklin and number 7 Rayadu. SRT’s hopelessness was there for everyone to see when he sat in the dugout smirking at the scoreboard that said 21 was required of one over. He didn’t hope. He didn’t believe. He didn’t expect. Balaji made him hope, believe and expect though.
One can argue that Mumbai deserved a top-2 or atleast a top-3 finish considering the storming start they made to IPL-2011 winning 8 out of their first 10 games. But their performance over 4 games has been so downright mediocre that one wonders if they even merit a place in the top 4. Every strategy, every plan, every batsman has been exposed- and Lasith Malinga has taken no wicket in 2 games.
Yes, it is all WRONG.
Somehow, SRT managed to play another gem of an innings that fell woefully short of expectations when he trudged back at yet another wrong moment, and left it to his young troop of overachieving players. That a New-Zealand all rounder who is not even first choice for his own team- did it in style in the end, only proves that dropping Symonds was the only positive decision that SRT and management had successfully made.
The game was dead and buried when a clueless Pollard (with strike rate less than 100) walked back to the dugout, and it was not the least bit exciting till the last over. That we starved fans decide to call it the finish of the century- is a result arising from our sheer frustration of Gayle-induced one-sided games in this edition, and we hope to see evenly matched games in the playoffs. It really does not matter who wins- as long as we get a good-quality, smart, competitive game that re-inspires us to take up cricket at the ripe age of 28 or 45.
For that, Rohit Sharma, SRT’s 13th opening partner and Kieron Pollard MUST score more than 20 runs each- just to give a soon-to-be-injured Malinga something to bowl at.
Almost losing to KKR twice in a row will not be easy- this time, it could just be a straightforward loss. Or an ‘exit’ as we playoff people call it.
Player to watch out for: Rohit Sharma
Yet to play ‘that’ innings, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina have flattered to deceive this year- duly handing it over to the less-fortunate and less-experienced players to have a bat or two (and then snatch a national place or two). Sharma has scored 4 half-centuries, but they have never been back-to-back or path-breaking, as is expected of his insanely talented self. That one innings could happen when it really matters- today. And then on Friday. And maybe, again on Saturday.
In fact, we might see him open with SRT today- and probably succumb to the pressure that SRT tends to build during the first 6 overs.
Kolkata Knight Riders: (Position 4th)
Tempted to place them at second and then call it a ‘system failure’, I would like to forward my deepest of condolences to this unfortunately competitive team. They did all they could- they played better than atleast two teams in the top 4 (as a team), and still fell short by…2 places. And one ball. And two runs. All said and done, they choked at that crucial moment- and that is probably the difference between them and a CSK. Dhoni can probably consider himself lucky that his team now find themselves with more than one chance to reach the finals, but it is a bit more than that.
Are you watching, Balaji?
KKR, if one remembers, have not exactly excelled when it comes down to crunch situations. Pressure. Tension. Last over. Losing to CSK on the first day of the tournament- a game which they should have easily won- may probably be on their minds a bit more than the last ball loss against Mumbai. They would have topped the league outright if not for these heartwrenching losses, and hence- one feels that inspite of what the figures read- they were still among the top 2 teams of the tournament, for the sheer quality and competitiveness. That they lacked the mental edge (which MSD possesses) to duly finish off 3 out of their 5 losses, will probably be worked on in the next edition.
One could start by eliminating the South Africans from the line-up. Just saying.
Gambhir will want to make sure that this game does not go down to the last over or the last ball, or even the last 3 overs. Life must be made simpler- and if they must win, it MUST be straightforward and professional, much like Bangalore and Chennai wins. Weak links like Balaji cannot be thrown the ball in the last over. In fact, he cannot be allowed to catch a ball on the field either- considering his cartoonish antics and inept inability in general. A wiser and slightly more aggressive move would have been to give someone like Yusuf Pathan, a spinner, the last over. A win could have happened- but a wicket could definitely have fallen- what with his variations of pace and lengths.
Anyway, what’s done is done- and KKR will do well not to dwell on the pain that was, and just look forward to beating the 3 best teams of the tournament. Back to back.
One cannot put it past them. After all, they were the original dark horses of every tournament dating back to 2008.
Player to watch out for: Yusuf Pathan
With Lee consistently proving me wrong time and again (or maybe he was just waiting for a more important game, like this one)- let us turn to an Indian who is yet to turn on the batting style in this league. That Gayle and Gilchrist have scored whirlwind centuries, and Pathan hasn’t, only indicates the important role that he has been entrusted with within this team. He is an all rounder whose bowling skills are valued considerably (instead of Kallis). He has been contributing consistently with ball and bat- but we have come to expect a life-altering innings of sheer power and destruction from him over the years.
After all, that is what made him Yusuf Pathan. And not Irfan Pathan.
Romantics will say Mumbai. Die-hard romantics will say Kolkata. Cold hearted experts will say none. A choice has to be made. The underdogs must win. The dream-run must begin.
Okay, let us put it this way- it does not matter who wins this game. Maybe it does. But what I really mean to say is that WHOEVER wins this game WILL definitely go on to win the trophy.
Big prediction. But with great power, comes great responsibility. Sorry, CSK and Bangalore- but you are WAY too strong and dominant to win IPL-2011.