Match#31: Pune Warriors v/s Chennai SuperKings
Dr. DY Patil stadium, Navi Mumbai
Rematch: West Side Story
Form Guide: PWI– Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss | CSK– Win, Loss, Win, Loss, Loss, Win
The Warriors face the Super Kings once again for the Reverse tie. For the second time in 3 days. This time, at Mumbai (same difference)- Much like when Rajasthan faced KKR twice and got finished off in quick time- just for the sake of moving on and sampling other teams instead.
To preview a game that has just taken place and is hence fresh in everyone’s mind (especially the captains)- may sound a bit ambitious, especially considering the fact that Pune are making these ‘predictions’ quite simple now that they are doing their best impression of a Wooden-spooner. Too early, we think, and they can go nowhere but up from here. (which is what we thought after their game against Mumbai too)
One wonders what is going wrong with a considerably-strong-looking Pune outfit inspite of the greatest start by any debutants in the history of the IPL (barring 2008).
For precisely this reason, we shall look into the last game in detail:
When Yuvraj Singh took off his helmet on Monday night to suck in some much-needed O2, just the mere sight of him- sweaty, chiseled and infinitely lighter- seemed to have sent every married woman in India into a tizzy. For obvious reasons. More than that, the signs were ominous. 50 runs to get in 5 overs- with Yuvi still at the crease. Tailor-made, as Shastri barks. But then, the unthinkable happened. No, he did not get dismissed against the run of play. In fact, he made sure that he took his team to a point of absolutely no return- and only once he was sure of his team’s concrete position (for the first time in the match)- did he give away his wicket- a nothing shot of a wide ball that gave Albie Morkel more reason to portray himself more of a bowler than a useful batting all-rounder. It was a shot (and an entire innings) of a man plagued by fatigure- more emotional than physical after making one of the greatest sporting comebacks on the world stage. The infamous Chennai heat and humidity did not help in any way- and by the end of it, many a Yuvi fan was relieved to watch him walk back after a torturous innings remnant of struggling Rahul Dravid test knock nowadays. Needless to mention- Pune stuttered to their third loss in a row- and allowed this famed Chennai outfit to get back into the groove of things. Exactly what the IPL needed- the champions back on track. Hmmm.
Pure statistics: Pune were so disillusioned by their captain’s unusual stay at the crease that they went from 5 wickets down to 9 wickets down in exactly 6 balls. Dhoni, on the other hand, looks like that familiar captain at the helm of a sinking ship that has just been given 14 extra lifeboats and a submarine as a bonus. One just cannot imagine Dhoni (in the current scheme of things) actually letting things slip away for his team this early into the tournament. Nope. It is just not the man’s style.
Clearly, the team seems to be affected by their leader’s apparent inability to push himself one last time before a deserved break (also called the West Indies tour of 2011). Someone must take over the mantle of acting captain and inspire this talented bits-and-pieces team to show the form that had cemented them as one of the pre-tournament favorites along with Mumbai. Instead, Kochi are crashing everyone’s party and fast kidnapping their reputation.
With the almost-forgotten genuine West Indian quick Jermaine Taylor back in their team, their bowling line-up looks a lot more assured and slightly higher on substance- which was the need of the hour. But what is really letting them down quite surprisingly and consistently over the last week is their middle-order batting. With Ryder more often than not providing decent starts, the rest of the Pune batters look pretty clueless- instead following Robin Uthappa blindly into oblivion once again (also known as the place where everyone produces an inventive new way of getting bowled)
With their top 4 all cleaned up by Morkel and Ashwin within 5 overs, it is safe to say that the gap between bat and pad of the Warrior batsmen is starting to resemble the gap between Uthappa’s talent and actual execution of his abilities.
All is not lost yet for this team- but they need to lift themselves up and maybe take a leaf out of Chennai’s book with regard to playing on a decent pitch suited to the home team. The problem is- their curator, in all probability, is a Mumbai Indians fan.
‘Spot the keeper’
Player to watch out for: Nathan McCullum
The younger of the McCullum brothers had, before this game, carved a niche out for himself as one of the decent finishers of a limited-overs game and as a pretty effective off-spinner who can control the middle overs well. Somehow, Yuvraj’s spirit may have seeped into him while trying to rescue Pune from the jaws of defeat- and the only thing that looked worth ‘finishing’ was his innings. He will look to hit back in typical McCullum fashion- where he may not even need to bother coming in with the bat and actually finishing a game.
Chennai SuperKings: (Winners 2010, Finalists 2008, Semi-finalists 2009)
As expected, this team was not going to give up- even when it seemed very likely after a rather tame batting effort at home which left Pune only 143 to chase. But such totals seem to be more defendable than the 180-odds, simply because T20 teams are just not used to chasing such moderate scores on sub-continental pitches. The score defies the conditions- and hence throws the opposition into disarray.
The fans aren’t complaining- it is much better to watch a good balance between bat and ball instead of a Delhi-Punjab game- where more than 440 runs were scored and the play started to resemble a multi-player Playstation console where one gamer may have discovered the ‘cheat code’.
With Chennai clearly back in the reckoning (purely because the other teams except Mumbai do not believe in ‘momentum’), things may look quite depressing for an on-the-rocks Pune outfit that look a lot like they would have been happier had the standings have been decided on the basis of team strength on paper. A semi-final place cannot be taken for granted- especially when there are now 10 teams fighting for 4 spots- not 8, unlike previous editions. The permutations become much more complicated- with 18 games per team deciding the group standings.
(Off topic: What would really be ironical and off-the-charts would be the famous underperformers KKR actually managing to finish in the top 4 in 2011- when they have not finished above 6th in the previous 3 editions that included only 8 teams)
‘I want Rohit Sharma to be back in the Indian team too!’
Player to watch out for: R. Ashwin
The aggressive (only on form) off-spinner looks to be back to his best- especially after cleaning up two of Pune’s top batsmen and making them resemble a clueless VVS Laxman who looks down accusingly at the pitch when his stumps fly out of the ground. To watch off-spinners bowl batsmen and clearly beat them out with plans set by a smart captain- is top quality stuff- and Chennai will hope that he does not have too many off days from now on. For Team India’s sake.
It is still difficult to look beyond a Chennai win. A Pune backlash would be likely if they were an old team playing on reputation and not trying to pull results out of the air. Raina is yet to hit form, and that big one from Vijay looks just around the corner. Unless Pune find a savior- with an unimaginable moment (or ten) of individual brilliance- the SuperKings will look to cement their position back on top of the table. Where, some would argue, they truly belong.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of them returning to the stadium (of South Indian dreams) where they had slowly decimated Mumbai in last year’s final.