Exit Wounds

Match#60: Kings XI Punjab v/s Delhi Daredevils
Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association stadium, Dharamsala
Form: KXIP- Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Win, Win, 
            DD- Loss, Loss, Win, Loss, Win, Loss, Loss, Win, Loss, Win, Loss, Loss, 
To derive comfort out of Deccan being right at the bottom (atleast for now) will be foolhardy. Punjab will know that- for they were deceived similarly last year when DC made the Mama of all comebacks and reached the semis- taking even Steve Slater by surprise. Unpredictability is exactly what teams like Delhi and Deccan have used to their advantage at times, and Punjab do not really look as formidable in those stakes. Consistent brilliance (like the game against MI) is not appreciated much nowadays.
But the emergence of DC from the ashes last year could give Punjab due inspiration for a similar riches-to-rags-to-riches story this year. Could they be this year’s Dark pink horses? They will definitely not be competing for the wooden spoon anymore- that is for sure. Well, almost.
In this basement battle, it will be all about who blinks first (after already having blinked enough to doze off by now). Punjab look stronger on paper and on rediscovered form (by far), but we all know what that means. Hence, Delhi will start as favorites. 
Kings XI Punjab: (semi finals 2008)

After a late surge that has seen them destroy Mumbai and suffocate themselves to a victory against Kochi, the Kings XI (with the maximum games left) will need no less than a bloomin’ miracle to pip either Kolkata or RCB to the final four. On current form, one does not see any of the top 4 losing anymore- but the fact that they may be facing eachother will obviously mean a slight slide in rankings. Out of most of the other teams, Punjab- inspite of an absolutely incompetent and ageing captain- look the most likely to even come close to causing an upset. Kochi, Rajasthan and Delhi are finished for the year, but Punjab seem to be living on love and fresh dimples. 
Wait for me, Warney. On my way.
Wait for me, Warney. On my way.

With Dinesh Karthik playing an absolute blinder that may have had the selectors reconsider his position as India’s third best wicketkeeper-batsman (not counting Fat Rob) and Marsh seeming to develop the consistent-40s syndrome, their batting strength looks to be a bit more balanced, especially with a Hussey coming in to finish off games at the end. 
On the other hand, Piyush Chawla- now that he has been spared from the ignominy of being the worst national team pick in recent history (by being dropped)- has promptly re-entered his IPL team and is amongst the wicket (one a match) immediately. Any wicket he takes or every run he saves must be worth its weight in Punjabi-gangster-imported golddust. 
With Praveen Kumar not playing against Kochi, someone had to take over the reigns as far as the bowling was concerned- and true to form, nobody did. That their batsmen decided to come good with a professional bottom-defying performance- will do Gilly’s dead-and-buried career a world of good. 
If Punjab manage to win this one against Delhi (which seems to be the easiest of their last 3 games), Gilchrist might consider drafting in Rohit Sharma and Andrew Symonds citing lack-of-match-practice reasons now that Sharma has made it back into the ODI team- and try to pull off another heist that may go down in the IPL recordbooks as ‘downright ridiculous’. 
Player to watch out for: David Hussey
Lack of opportunity so far has seen the younger Hussey perched in the weakest middle-order of all the teams- and yet seen him come out unscathed without much insult or hurt to Aussie pride and dignity. But the time may have just arrived- to promote him to the top, and hopefully replace a completely hopeless  Gilly (who himself might be considering the transition from captain to coach in one quick game)
Delhi Daredevils: (Semi finals 2008, 2009)

The inevitable has happened. The Daredevils have officially crashed out of IPL 2011 in considerable style- against the champions, no less. After yet another backs-to-the-wall performance that may have briefly created an illusion of making a miraculous comeback without their chief-marauder Sehwag, the DD management are desperately on the lookout to commission high-tech scientific labs around the world for the production of a time-machine that may help them return back to the day of that fateful auction. Senses were numbed and common sense was at a premium back in February- as duly demonstrated by a wounded but Dada-boosted Pune. Of course, the Daredevils went one up and selected a team that defied belief- so much so that even their own fans were waiting for this day so that they could play without any unwanted pressure of making the playoffs. Ha, petty things indeed.
The Human Centipede
The Human Centipede
Joining Deccan at the bottom of the heap, Delhi will now look to make the most of their divorced status and probably pull down their North-Indian neighbours with them. It is quite ironical that the DD batting line-up did not look as directionless or moronic without Viru as they did with the presence of him a few games ago. Life is much simpler now, and now that their destined path is clear- the Devils can turn on the style and kill off a few million more hopes with the sheer strength of their mediocrity.
Coming back to the players, Irfan Pathan is peaking just at the right time- much like South Africa during ICC tournaments. When all is said and done, and the dust has cleared- Pathan has decided to make his presence felt, with the bat, no less. The ball will always remain a mystery in his hands, or vice versa- as he seems to have inspired Ajit Agarkar to spout venom and still bowl like Nicky Boje on crutches. 
With Andrew McDonald and Colin Ingram getting games now, believe it or not- but DD look like a decently balanced line-up, much like Rajasthan- without a single superstar running the show. Of course, Warner is your Watson and Pathan your Warne, but never mind. 
Disillusioned youngsters like Rao, Nagar and Aaron will do well to forget about cricket for the time being and inhale the fresh (ahem) air of the extremely scenic  new venue that parades as Punjab’s new ‘home’ venue (more like a retirement home)- Dharamsala. Philosophy and finding oneself should be top of the list for most players of these two beleaguered teams that really have nothing to play for but (Shastri takes a deep breath) PRIDE. 
Player to watch out for: Colin Ingram

Finally being able to call himself a regular of the Daredevil team may not seem very prestigious right now, but the talented South-African batsman will look to create a base of sorts- and play along with the logic that may have knocked SA out of the World Cup: Play one good innings- just one- and get selected for the national team just for the ‘promise’ you have displayed. Ask Faff Du Plessis.
After all, a few more ‘fighting’ performances (still going down with honour) won’t do much harm to Delhi’s laughable reputation. It won’t do much good either. 
Come what may- to see Delhi even take the field without Viru feels like watching Karan Johar make a film without SRK as the lead. Failure is imminent, and success is but a distant companion. Punjab will look to carry forward their momentum and apply some much-needed pressure onto the bottom 2 of the top 4. That they might find themselves solely in 5th position after this game- might be quite the comeback already. After all, finishing last in 2010 had to have some perks. 

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