South Park: Battle of the Damned

Match#32: Kochi Tuskers Kerala v/s Deccan Chargers

Nehru Stadium, Kochi

Form Guide: KTKLoss, Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss |  DCLoss, Loss, Win, Loss, Win, Loss

Fresh from a hopeless Sunday that hurtled both these teams down back to earth (with Deccan closer to hell right now), the Sri-Lankan ex-captains (who look like orphans when they do not play together in one team) will now face eachother with little choice but to afflict pain and depression on the other.

Kumara looks low on inspiration and more of the jaded out of the two- albeit with a slightly stronger team (on paper atleast). But his team- the Chargers- were always determined to not fall into the age-old trap of overestimating themselves. Not amounting to any kind of estimation at all with 4 losses in 6 games is also a bit of a trap. Not playing at home for a change will come as a soothing relief to them today- especially after their loyal supporters (not unlike West Indians- who hope against hope) turned against them in favour of an unusually downcast and overly aggressive Sachin Tendulkar. That they were a bit confused when he skied one off Mishra to hole out- only typified the status he holds all over the country.
 
Kochi, in the meantime, went a step further and decided to test their bowlers even more by shrewdly setting Rajasthan a target of less than 120. A target of 133 seem to have worked against KKR, and there was no reason why this score could not be defended against a weaker batting line-up. For once, Mahela may have made a slight miscalculation- and they crashed to defeat (in the process, helped to rebuild the fortress in Jaipur) after looking in convincing control for atleast 2% of the game.

Going by the current IPL script, this was bound to happen. Kochi simply had to lose to a team like the Royals, and blow open the points table once again. This is a must- and one has to simply be submissive to such competitive strategy used by most teams in this tournament except for the perennial party-poopers Mumbai Indians. How were they to know they would emerge as the best team (by a village mile, at that) for the second year running? It is not their fault that Deccan decided to do a Delhi and offload two of their best (but unfit, according to reports) players during the auction. That Mumbai snapped up both of them and then released them like hungry wolves (also due to the fact that they rarely get an opportunity to bat nowadays) on their own ex-team. Fate is cruel indeed. But nothing is as cruel as pure dumb coincidence.

For the first time in years, the names Jayawardene and Sangakkara will be separated by a ‘versus’ in between. Do not expect their teams to look a little baffled when both of them decide to discuss their marital problems and Arjuna Ranatunga (not related, we hope) over a cup of tea during the strategic timeout.

Kochi Tuskers Kerala:

With their batting order sensationally exposed for the third time in six games, Mahela will be a little worried about the lack of firepower without McCullum propelling them to a half-decent start. One simply cannot expect their bowling- spearheaded by the now-I’m-here-now-I’m-not RP Singh and the born-again Ravindra Jadeja- to defend a target that was considerably lower than Rohit Sharma’s IPL batting average this year.

Hence, after an impressive streak that began with them handing the Mumbai Indians their only loss so far (and probably for the next 10 games) and culminated in them being responsible for a familiar sickly feeling in SRK’s guts, Kochi are now victims of their own giant-killing reputation. It is difficult to imagine them sustaining a winning momentum for 7 more games without the consistently brilliant services of their openers- much like the Daredevils. Nevertheless, they still do have an impressive array of all-rounders and proven T20 specialists (of the last decade)- and the spirit that Mahela instills in his underdog side is the stuff that lifts tournaments single-handedly. With nobody ready to claim an undisputed second place behind runaway leaders Mumbai, this is Kochi’s opportunity to put forward their case and march on to the knockouts against all odds- though that can be said for atleast 8 other average-looking teams right now.

Nevertheless, the scary prospect of S. Sreesanth building a considerable case to be included back in the side on pretext of their waning performance- might drive the Tuskers to greater achievements in the near future, starting with a mouth-watering clash against the mother of all underperformers.

 VVS Laxman:’Running as gracefully as he bats’

Mouth-watering, simply because all the games from hereon (however insignificant the teams may seem) will have an added edge to them- firstly because the reverse battles will take place, and also because of the fast-approaching knockout stages that will have meaningless what-if statistics and probabilities accompanying every group game leading to them.

For example: Kochi needs to win atleast 4 of their next 8 games to stand a strong chance of making the knockouts- and win 5 to ensure a place in the semis. (Okay, I sold out too)

Player to watch out for: Mahela Jayawardene
Cometh the moment, cometh that one innings. The moment may not have arrived yet, but we all know that there is atleast one visually-orgasmic innings of pure masterclass due from Sri-Lanka’s classiest batsman since Arvinda De Silva. Invariably, it may result in a century devoid of all that is ugly, violent and cross-batted- simply adhering to a combination of philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa.

Of course, Brad Hodge or Ravindra Jadeja may need to give him good company during an innings like this- and Vinay Kumar will need to bowl at considerably less than 8 an over to keep a certain break-dancing slap-happy emotionally-inclined superstar on the bench.

Deccan Chargers: (Winners 2009)

After an expectantly insipid performance against a Rohit Sharma-propelled (see the irony? No?) Mumbai side, Deccan find themselves at a position that only Delhi seemed like rightfully owning till the end of this league. Bottom. Dead last. After 6 games. Almost the half-way stage. Things do not look too good for this Southern team that refuse to head North. They may have Chennai for company right now, but one suspects that the situation might change soon. And no, Deccan Chargers will not be the ones responsible for that change.

Sangakkara may take consolation from the fact that Deccan were never fast-starters and always tend to lag behind on the front 9 (purely in golfing terms)- but a few lucky swings and some wild performances generally put them back on track when most teams are tiring out and barely holding onto their positions upfront. What may discourage Sanga though, is the fact that this Deccan team is unlike the team from the previous 3 editions- and not in a good way. While the previous Deccan side’s only competitors seemed to be themselves- where they were the ones capable of winning or losing a game on their own, this side depends a lot on the shortcomings of other teams to move forward.

Shikar Dhawan: ‘Poster-boy for team Deccan’

With Dale Steyn and Daniel Christian refusing to prove their credentials on a consistent basis (maybe hoping to take teams unaware AFTER the group stages? Wait, what group stages?) the Chargers need a star- an overnight sensation- not unlike Punjab’s Valthaty to lift them into the limelight and not be written off as consistently as Ishant Sharma bowls bouncers.

Which takes us to our next point- Ishant Sharma is a much improved bowler. Three years under Wasim Akram for KKR did not seem to help him much, but 6 games bowling as Dale Steyn’s partner seemed to have fired up the lanky giant to a few 150 kmph deliveries. Promising stuff for Indian cricket. But the joke may not have been lost on Sangakkara- simply because Dale Steyn himself seems to have inherited the spirit of Ishant Sharma of old- complete with the clueless stares and shocked grimaces.

And that man Cameron White. What can one say about him that has already not been said over the last 6 months? Never before has a middle-order batsman forgotten his skill-set and role so sensationally in such a short period of time- managing to look as mediocre as mediocrity can allow. His one-way pilgrimage to oblivion is on its last leg now- and one hopes for the sake of Australian Cricket- that someone like James Hopes and Callum Ferguson decide to take their opportunities more often and close out the debate of who the most overrated ‘big-hitter’ in the world is right now.

Player to watch out for: Daniel Christian
Maybe the man should bowl a bit lesser and stick to extending his batting stay at the wicket to more than 2 overs at a time. Of course, an opportunity is needed- for he seems to be stuck in the time-warp that has already consumed Pollard and Yusuf Pathan. With the top-order (and sheet anchors or grafters) of most teams consuming more than half of the overs every game, batting records are not exactly being broken- with the score of 200 now looking like an unconquerable mountain. Yes, we mean Jacques Kallis.
Amit Mishra continues to look like the best spinner of this IPL- more consistent than even the great Shane Warne. Unfortunately, he has no support from his more-prominent starry bowling line-up.

Prediction:

A Deccan backlash is on the cards- just so that the league bears a startling resemblance to the Cricketing World Order from 1999 to 2010. Or the golfing order from 1997 to 2010. Or the Tennis Order from 2003 to 2010. Or…Well, something of that sort.

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