Match#12: Rajasthan Royals v/s Kolkata Knight Riders
Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur
Form guide: RR- Win, Win, KKR- Loss, Win,
Third round for both teams- early enough to intellectualize the performance of most teams, but still not late enough to make Apocalyptic predictions that may or may not seem quite foolish at the end of…well, the 3rd round.
When Shaun Tait began his run-up preparing to hurl down 157 kmph screamers to Delhi’s Premier batsman Virender Sehwag on Tuesday, one couldn’t help but smirk and emit a wry smile (as an Indian national) quite similar to one seen on every Australian fan’s faces since 1999. The battle was won, we thought, during the quarter final of the World Cup. Shaun Tait has since retired, Shane Watson is licking his wounds (well, not quite) in Bangladesh and Ricky Ponting refuses to enter India ever again.
But the war is still not lost- atleast not for the dozen-odd Australian players (and ex-players) that are earning a living in IPL 2011.
Nearing the end of the Delhi Daredevils latest demolition (catchy ring to that), a man named Greg Chappell (or India’s next candidate for President- as he is more commonly known) received atleast 4000 phone calls from disgruntled Ashes fans- and no they weren’t English.
The reason: ‘Bring back Shane Warne. Lure him back with the new Nexus Android 4XXL if needed!’
‘I’m the boss…I’ll hug her first after we win!’
The best leg-spinner on this earth (yes, still) showcased his magic once again as if he was never away from the game at all. Opposition batsman may complain about his fairness-cream-endorsing skin being a distraction, but we know better. Those googlies and rippers weren’t made in a day. Delhi were simply bamboozled by his charm, as so many have been over the years.
The Knight Riders finally seemed to have broken their jinx on Monday against the clueless Deccan Chargers, but even Shahrukh Khan will agree that the Royals seem to have re-discovered the formula that went missing after the first season. Having the best all-rounder in the world may not be enough, simply because he is South African. And Warnie has eaten many a Baked South African on toast for breakfast. Ask a certain Mrs. Cullinan if her husband still wakes up in the middle of the night shouting ‘Doosra! No, not again!’
Rajasthan Royals: (Winners 2008)
If their first game against Sangakkara and co. wasn’t a tiny signal of things to come, their match against the Daredevils was a mile long traffic-jam-inducing red light that never seemed to end.
Having a bits-and-pieces team seems to have become a trademark of sorts for the Shilpa Shetty-owned outfit (Raj, who?) So what if this strategy failed for 2 out of 3 seasons? After all, how many IPL teams can claim to have actually won the trophy (or even reached the semis- in KKR’s case…or even 5th place)
Another solid all-round performance aided by the young Rahul Dravid and the old Johan Botha, not to mention a little known pie-chucker named Shane Warne- has firmly cemented Rajasthan’s spot as potential semi-finalists. Yes, it is too early to tell- but what is life without a bit of futuristic analysis?
Last year, these two teams were fighting for a prestigious 6th place- and we don’t think their superstar owners seemed to fancy being called a mid-table team. (Liverpool FC fans are remotely aware of the term)
Graeme Smith, the ex- South African captain- apart from leaving the Rajasthan stable- must definitely be contemplating the execution of ‘Australia’s best captain that never was’. How was he to know that Johan Botha was, in fact, a batting all-rounder that they so desperately seemed to have been missing during a certain ICC quarterfinal against the Kiwis. After all, he was only national captain for 8 years. He was just easing into his job. Swallowing his pride seems to be his only option now- unless he chokes on it.
Player to watch out for: Ross Taylor. The ‘Boss’ is yet to fire- and given an opportunity, he might just produce that devastating form that effectively ended a certain peace-loving soft-spoken non-controversial Pakistani speedster’s long and distinguished career.
Warnie may not necessarily mind that he will have a problem of plenty- once Shane Watson returns from a long, winding, non-record-breaking tour of Bangladesh. The young Indian speedster Amit Singh looks promising- and between Siddharth Trivedi and him, they have done what Johan Botha the bowler has failed to do.
Kolkata Knight Riders: (6th place 2008, 2010)
Their best performance being 6th place (not to mention IPL 2009), they will now finally have cracked the complex code that most-tournament participating teams are faced with: Starting and ending a league strongly does not guarantee success. In fact, it almost always guarantees failure. Of course, it is always better than not starting and refusing to end at all (2009, cannot resist)- which definitely guarantees a high degree of pure unadulterated failure.
Their captain Dada, er, Gautam Gambhir (also the most expensive player of IPL 2011) is not showing any signs of exhaustion or slowing down after a draining and emotionally overwhelming World Cup. It has nothing to do with his price tag, we assure you.
For once (or twice), their squad selection seems to be spot-on. Jacques Kallis is a prized catch- as he has once again proved- and age is never a factor for the hairy all-rounder. Their cause is only helped by a classy-looking Manoj Tiwari ( freshly out from Bigg Boss), and the self-destructive Manvinder Bisla. Yusuf Pathan and Eoin Morgan are decent finishers too, though Indians may not be too familiar with the former.
It was only a matter of time before Gauti and his troops got their head together after finding a new way to lose against the champions Chennai- and unfortunate Deccan was at the receiving end of their new-found knowledge.
Player to look out for: Iqbal Abdulla. The ‘Jakati of 2011’ seems to be as accurate as left-armed slower-turning dwarfed Glenn Mcgrath. After opening the bowling for the first two games, the youngster will be raring for another opportunity against the might of Rahul Dravid and the solidity of Shane Watson.
Also, a Yusuf Pathan special may be just around the corner- but one cannot help but think if a promotion up the order is the remedy for that.
‘Group hug, anyone?’
Prediction: Hard to call- but romanticism (as a born-and-bred Indian brought up on Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and American sports underdog films) prevails. Hence, a Kolkata win. After all, SRK does need some happiness in his boring, uneventful, financially unsuccessful, young life.