NOKIA CL T20: A FINAL REVIEW

The final weekend clearly belonged to the underdog. It wasn’t only about Mumbai Indians, but it was also about the Australian Rugby team, the French Rugby team, Andy Murray and Jenson Button. Maybe it had something to do with that very popular Rocky tribute film: Real Steel. 

3 finals, 3 shattering losses for Dilshan this year

The writing, some say, was on the wall as soon as the Royal Challengers Bangalore beat two Australian Champion teams back-to-back in sterling fashion, chasing down 200 both times in contrasting circumstances. There was never any pacing of the innings, playing oneself in or time to get ‘your eye in’ if you’re chasing 200+ against an Aussie outfit, hence, it had to be a brutal onslaught that either came off, or didn’t.
It came off, twice in a row for RCB, with each of the top 3 batsmen scoring atleast 60% of the total score. They were always a top-heavy team, but that was a risk that Mallya was willing to take long back, and with the absence of AB De Villiers, things in fact balanced out a bit in the middle order. To be frank, there was no middle order. It was the top 3 and the lower middle order. The bowling remained inept, except the captain of course, as they conceded runs aplenty. But the batting clicked, and how- with little known Indians like Arun Karthik making a mark on the world stage. They were, in fact, the mother of all run-scoring machines- and in this day and age of pro-batting pitches in the country, to beat them would actually require the top 3 to fall in 3 consecutive balls, or a miracle of that sort.

Zero to Hero in 14 days

But in a massive case of stage fright, and considering the fact that Bangalore were YET to pace an innings and chase a score that was less than 200, the batsman couldn’t be blamed for playing outrageously ambitious shots against the most effective bowling unit of the competition. All they had to do was chase down 140 to be on top of the world, finally, but they made the target look like 240- and had NO idea how to NOT play those big shots in order to score runs. Singles? What are those? It’s either a four, a six or goodbye, trophy.
It wasn’t only about Malinga’s unrelenting consistency or Harbhajan Singh’s ‘statement’ to the selectors, but mostly about the RCB line-up’s absolute lack of conviction, including the fist-pumping, expletive-spewing youngster Virat Kohli, while chasing a sub-par score on a relatively difficult pitch that required someone like…an AB De Villiers. So it did come back to haunt them after all, in the last game, against their sworn enemies.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, they say, and Mumbai Indians winning the tournament was a prediction that could have put many experts and bloggers (including yours truly) out of a job. Their playing ELEVEN was reduced to a playing FOUR at the beginning of the competition, and the only bright piece of news was that Sachin Tendulkar would not captain the team. Face it, he is NOT a good captain- with that team of theirs, they should have had 2 IPL trophies in the bag by now. Not that Bhajji is a better captain himself, but the news of him being dropped from the national team seems to have awoken a Shane Warnesque monster inside him. If Rajasthan winning the first IPL edition was the ultimate underdog story with a ragtag team of local players, then Mumbai winning the Champion’s league is an achievement akin to winning the 2007 T20 World Cup- where the team was supposed to just make up numbers in a league of experienced and ex-champion sides.
Malinga came good with the bat, Franklin became the batting mainstay, Pollard made his presence felt on the field as usual, Blizzard played the gems when it mattered, Rayadu was filling in for Dravid (as wicketkeeper-batsman), youngsters like Chahal and Nechim had their moments of glory without choking, and Harbhajan bowled in a manner that actually got him wickets- something he can only do when he is limited to 4 overs and the batsman have no choice BUT to go for him. Nevertheless, he showed great skill and guts in the final, and his wickets of Gayle, Kohli and Vettori made up for all the toothlessness he had ever showed prior to this series. He bowled with heart, with something to prove- and led a young team in a manner reminiscent of Shane Warne in 2008.

Owner and Mentor, best remain like that

They barely beat T&T (whom they should share the trophy with, to be honest) and scored a first game knockout of Chennai SuperKings (thanks to Malinga and his bat), apart from an extremely lucky washout with the Cobras- which helped them sneak through into the knockouts. They defended a sub-par 160 against Somerset, thanks to Franklin and Malinga once again, and defended 140 in the final. As the old Indian cliché goes- it was a TRUE team effort, in vast contrast to the 3-man firing squad that RCB turned out to be.

To be fair, Bangalore lost half their matches in the competiton (3 out of 6), and Mumbai lost just one- arguably against the best team in the world (NSW Blues- who, despite Warner, were knocked out by Gayle and Kohli). It was a freak competition, nonetheless, where two IPL teams were certainly not expected to make the final, least of all Mumbai and Bangalore.

Why do they bother putting stumps there?

But this may have only extended the shelf life of CL T20 for another few years, inspite of the empty stands, and things picked up when Indian teams came to the fore with pressure-defying performances that lit up the competition. That this is Mumbai’s first piece of silverware EVER, tells the story- while Bangalore continues to play eternal bridesmaids, slowly entering the mould of South African genetic history. Maybe Ray Jennings needs to go. Not his fault, it’s just his ancestry. The South-African blood never works wonders for teams in the knockout stages.
Need further proof of the whole scientific mumbojumbo? Look here, and do NOT stop yourself from believing in the power of genes anymore. Remind you of something?

That’s a wrap!
The best team may not have won, but the most effective team may have won- thereby opening up avenues for rights to be bought by Mahesh Bhatt to create this ‘inspiring underdog story of a team in tatters’.

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