A Tale of Two Halves

Match#35: Royal Challengers Bangalore v/s Pune Warriors

M. Chinnaswamy stadium, Bangalore

Form Guide: RCB- Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Draw, Win, Win| PW- Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss,

With Pune successfully pulling off the most consistent streak in IPL 2011 along with Mumbai, this game between the fast-recovering RCB and the ex-Warriors promises to be a desperate contest. RCB cannot afford to lose this if they must keep up their consistent semi-final streak, and Pune cannot afford to lose. Period.

Uninspiring captaincy is another trait they seem to have in common- and hence, at this moment, it looks to be even. But a moment before the IPL began altogether, RCB looked like runaway favorites on paper with the best player of every international team set to make their presence felt. That only half of them have done that and the other half have given us reason to doubt their ‘numero uno’ status in general- has been a pain, but it could also turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Yes, RCB are yet to peak. And they seem to be hitting the notes at the right time- unlike Pune.

With the most innovative batsman for each team keeping wickets, they seem to have the luxury to play an extra bowler or batsman playing every game- which is also precisely the reason for their underperforming ways so far. Vettori refuses to believe that a keeper can bat above number 4, and ditto for Yuvraj.

Needless to mention, this abomination might be corrected for this game. If not, it could mean curtains for one of them. Already.

Pune Warriors: 

Somewhere between Doug Bollinger expertly slicing through the Pune top order again (with his resemblance to ‘Chucky’ the doll from ‘Childs play’ completing the illusion) and S. Badrinath putting to rest whatever collective wet dreams of many a Pune fan after a solitary Yuvi special with a classy straight-batted special of his own, Robin Uthappa- the forgotten man of Indian cricket- made sure that he remained forgotten after yet another suicidal shot to R. Ashwin after a brilliant start.

‘Melting point’

So many mediocre batsmen in this world crave for starts, a 20-odd to get going- but when these batsmen watch someone like Robbie reach that figure within 10 balls with virtually no effort and then proceed to play a ridiculous ‘trademark’ shot with the team still reeling from early blows (once too often), one cannot blame them for wanting to cut him open and contemplate cannibalism.

If Pune are to make a really late charge for the knockout stages, this man Uthappa and Yuvi need to bat higher up the order and guide the team to a respectable total before the others decide to do their best impression of the youtube sensation ‘Achmed- the dead terrorist’. Of course, when facing superior teams like Chennai or RCB- half the team needs to fire simultaneously and Manish Pandey needs to get over his 4-match ban and prove himself to be more than a one-match wonder.

It is a bit unfortunate for Yuvi and co. to have come against a hurting Chennai twice in three days. But they should have considered it to be a massive opportunity to drive the yellow brigade out of early contention, instead of inflicting the same situation on themselves. Pune’s condition could not have been represented better than the time Chennai needed 2 off the last over and Yuvi promptly pushed mid-on back to long-on to save…the boundary? Really? Reeks of backfoot defense, we say!

Time to face a team that resembled them quite a bit in the inaugural IPL 2008- though Mallya’s no-nonsense approach to life (and his son) might make sure 2008 is buried and long-erased from the RCB memory back- which duly balances out the defensive captain (but very effective T20 bowler) that they have been blessed with this year.

Player to watch out for: Jermaine Taylor
The forgotten tearaway fast with a style that is a throwback to the West Indies of old- looks to be in good rhythm and is an effective choice to lead this ailing Pune bowling attack. All he needs is a formidable target to defend or atleast an assurance of sorts from his batters- along with a consistent Murali Kartik and Thomas- and Pune are sorted. Yes, that is all.

Royal Challengers Bangalore: (Finals 2009, Semi finals 2010)

After a tense encounter against the admirably-tenacious Delhi Daredevils (who almost pulled off yet ‘another upset’), the Challengers look to have finally settled down into IPL 2011- just like a husband and his tummy would after discovering that his young wife is a great cook, among other things.

They are just a few wins away from cementing themselves as a top-of-the-table team (competitor EPL-inspired football terms), and will look to carry on their point-scoring momentum against the newly-christened laggards Pune- just what Bangalore needed after facing the tougher teams initially and having a torrid first 10 days. Preying on the supposed-minnows (as of now ONLY) is the way to go- especially to win a massive tournament that lasts for over 6 weeks. The problem of actually procuring a win against the bigger teams will be taken care of when the time comes- like in the knockouts, maybe. Right, Mr. Mallya?

‘Padded distraction’

Of course, buying Chris Gayle from the equally competitive league team called ‘West Indies-XI’ seems to be a masterstroke- and he has added a certain amount of depth to an otherwise prone-to-collapses-while-chasing (also called ‘choking’) batting line-up. People often chide the big man with uncomplimentary taunts like ‘What were you smoking when you played that shot, maan?’, but Gayle can be immediately forgiven for thinking the same for the teams that refused to cough up a base price for him for this year’s auction. Not a big shock, one would say- unless buying Rahul Dravid at his base price and Irfan Pathan for a Saudi-Arabian price’s random does not add up to mild senility from the country’s in-form ‘businessmen’.

As demonstrated, Gayle more than makes up for the aberration formerly known as T. Dilshan- also known as the captain of the second best sub-continental team (in suitable conditions). No names, please. A good start is being provided by the newly-crowned Virat Kohli instead, and that does not leave much to do for the rest (or so they seemed to have been thinking, when exposed against the explosive Morkel). Dan the man, the captain under fire, finally came to the party with a useful knock of 18 to make sure that the Challengers remained just that- Challengers- and not Spooners or Chokers (or Delhi) instead.

And with Zaheer Khan finally managing to concede less than 10 an over, things look to be back on track for this glamorous team.

Player to watch out for: T. Dilshan
The dip (in form) which has now turned into a full-blown dive into the deepest depths of the Indian Ocean- has to end somewhere. With the most important international tour of his career just 2 weeks away, Dilshan needs to step up and prove atleast to his club team that he is, indeed, the second best Sri-Lankan in the side after Nuwan Kulasekera. Forget the Dilscoops and the reverse sweeps, a quickfire 20-odd followed by a bowling spell that restricts the Pune batters to less than 7 an over- would be a start. Of sorts.

What? He wants to leave early for the England tour? Team-bonding, you say? Hmmm. Wonderful.

Prediction:

Pune might just be the first team to be played out of the tournament. Bangalore are on an inevitable roll- unless they decide to take forward what they started against Delhi and go one step further and do a ‘South Africa’.

As of now, RCB will want to savour the fact that they have been blessed with an outing against the ‘stronger of the debutants’. Royal Flush, we say.

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