QUALIFIER 2: THE LAST HURRAH

Delhi Daredevils v/s Chennai Super Kings

Chepauk, Chennai
Brothers Grim
 
Just when we thought we had seen everything in IPL 2012, and when we thought that the playoffs couldn’t possibly live upto the enormous hype, well, here we are. 
Two apparent ‘upsets’ in two days- and we have a surprise finalist already, though if you carefully observe the performance trend of every team in this league, this is barely a shock result. 
 
Shahrukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders are in the final- their first final in five attempts. It wasn’t an against-all-odds win, it wasn’t a fairytale come true. It was a simple, basic, mechanical performance that earned them what they deserve- the tag of the most consistent team in IPL-5. By beating leaders Delhi Daredevils, outplaying them over a period of 3 exciting hours, KKR have proved that there is a lot more to the Indian Premier League than off-field controversies and politics. Year after year, after failing to strike a balance between their overpaid superstars, the team has found a leader that is trying hard to make us forget about his flaying-outside-off-stump-antics that made him the butt of all jokes Down Under. An aggressor by nature, not unlike his opening partner and Delhi captain, the man has risen to the occasion- and has dragged his underperforming team all the way to the final. His X-factor, Sunil Narine, attributes the team’s sudden rise to his leader setting the example at the top of the order, which does make the job a lot easier for his bowlers. 
 
At the Sahara stadium in Pune, a turning pitch that makes pacers feel like they are bowling on French Open clay, Gambhir made the common-sense call of going in with four spinners. Nothing pathbreaking about this decision, though it was made to look like sheer genius, when brainfrozen Sehwag went into this crucial game with four fast bowlers…and NO Shahbaz Nadeem. 
What a lovely honeymoon!
 
Needless to say, Delhi’s back broke as soon as Gambhir came out all guns blazing. Yusuf Pathan’s final burst was possibly the boost KKR needed, because one of the most overrated, underperforming, overhyped players of T20 cricket had finally arrived, at a crucial time, no less. 
Then came Viru’s amazingly daft move of promoting left-handed Negi ahead of- hold your breath- Ross Taylor, when they were required to score around 45 off the last 4 overs- with Narine bowling two of them. It was too little too late, when Taylor, who himself looked baffled at his demotion, came and went after a flurry of boundaries. 
Kolkata Knight Riders were smug as a bug in a rug, finally on the right side of the equation- no chokes and all that jazz- waiting for their opponents to slug it out over two games. A princess waiting for her Knight to win a duel for her. 

And so it was, in the most bizarre eliminator tie at Bangalore, a Yellow-themed team took the field- the possibility of which was exactly .0004 around a week ago. The Blue guys, Mumbai Indians, came in as favourites after a smashingly one-sided 10 wicket win over the Royals in their last dead-rubber league game. As previously forewarned by yours truly, promoting Smith up the order to ‘protect’ Sachin Tendulkar, wasn’t exactly a winning move against stronger teams. The other batsmen were still not exposed enough, and one was left wondering what they’d do if they faced a better quality attack than an erratic Tait and an ageing Hogg. And though Chennai sneaked through the back door into this game, there is no team with a better knockout record than this Champion squad. 
 
Champions League holders v/s Champions of IPL. Cup holders v/s League winners. Dream setup for most neutrals. An eliminator to end all eliminators. 
Chennai batted first, and Murali Vijay and Suresh Raina seemed least interested in proceedings- quickly giving away their wickets to an impressive Kulkarni. Then came the most shocking selection of the game, Badrinath, back in the scheme of things after going untried for majority of this year’s league. Big risk, but captain MSD must have put some thought behind this one. It showed, because Badri and Hussey blasted Chennai to a formidable 13 over score, and then left it to the blazing helicopter-shot-inventor to finish things off in long-haired style. The Rockstar was born again, for a few overs, and his team couldn’t have asked for a better stage for this to happen. 

Set a demanding target of 187, Mumbai Indians were off to a brisk Smith-aided start. But, as predicted, their move that destroyed the Royals, proved to be their downfall in their most important game- because, despite Smith keeping the run-rate in check, he ran his legendary partner out- a partner for whom an entire team balance has been established time and again, just so that he can play his ‘own game’. Apparently, Sachin Tendulkar ‘sacrificed’ his wicket for Dwayne Smith to carry on- who duly holed out in the next over. That was it. Spirits were broken. Shoulders sagged. 
Dhoni and his merry band of chaps, who were just thrilled to find themselves back in a familiar position at a familiar time in a familiar tournament, went for the kill. They never looked back. Pollard was choked, Sharma was frustrated, and Kartik- clueless. 
 
 
Rotation Rivals
Chennai Super Kings reach yet another semi-final. They face ‘surprise qualifier 2 opponents’ Delhi Daredevils- a team that surely must be shocked to find their yellow-shirted friends in the SAME situation as them, despite outplaying and outperforming every other team for two long months. 
What a strange world, this IPL is. A team that had an uninspired captain, a tired ‘been there done that’ attitude and every batsman woefully out of form, is suddenly amongst the final three of the tournament. And what’s more, the momentum’s with them. And dare I say, Chennai are favourites. 
Again.
 
Prediction:
When destiny comes knocking at the door, there is only one answer. If this edition is to have a fairytale ending- a climax that has two delightfully contrasting teams with contrasting fortunes on the same stage- there can only be one winner tonight. Destiny thy name CSK. 
 
Being the best when it counts, is all that matters at the end. And this is not the English Premier League, this is a league that MUST have a knockout stage, just so that the fans get their money’s worth- and so that the weaker teams get a better run. 
I wouldn’t dare call CSK weak, but not even Dhoni would have expected his team to come this far this year. And going further, to face KKR in the final, will be the match the Gods will tune in to watch on Sunday.
Oh, and the Super Kings play at Home. All the Way Back Home.

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