Southern Samba: The battle within

Match#39: Chennai Super Kings v/s Deccan Chargers

MA Chidambaram stadium, Chepauk, Chennai

Form Guide: CSK- Win, Loss, Win, Loss, Loss, Win, Win,
                         DC- Loss, Loss, Win, Loss, Win, Loss, Win,

The Super Kings and the Chargers, who were all but out of contention just a week back, have bounced back in their own imitable manner- complete with a Rajnikanth pallu-swish and moments of unbelievable logic-defying action. What will really spice up matters here at Chepauk tonight, apart from the heroic emergence of two forgotten Indian ex-players- one a bowler, and the other a batsman from either team will be the sheer prospect of watching two familiar captains face off once again after an unforgettable all-Asian World Cup final exactly 30 days ago.

Yes, it will be Dhoni v/s Sangakkara again- and expect them to steal the limelight in a tense clash that will see one of them live to fight another day- unlike the heartbreaking deathly prospect of instant exit experienced by one of them on April 2nd.  It will be a bit of an exaggeration to say that Sanga will be aching for revenge- simply because he is leading a team of people he had probably never met before April 9th. In contrast, Dhoni has bonded with atleast half of his team over a good period of 3.5 years and atleast 4 different hairstyles.

That Kumara Sangakkara will want to prove his captaincy credentials in this form of the game for one last time against the World’s greatest captain (at this moment)- will be reason enough for a massive dogfight on our hands.

What is truly heartening from an Indian point of view is the sudden leap back into limelight of two almost-Irfans (yes, that is the term we use now)- S. Badrinath for Chennai and Ishant Sharma for Deccan- proving to be the best batsman (and no more overshadowed) and bowler respectively for their sides. That is quite an achievement in itself- with the likes of Michael Hussey, Raina, Dhoni, Vijay, Steyn, Mishra, Ojha and Morkel present in these line-ups.

With Mumbai having sensationally surrendered their ‘best batting lineup’ tag on Friday with a massively inept performance against an inspired Rajasthan, Chennai now take over that mantle- and aptly so- as they face the team with the best bowling attack in the league- not unlike the more-than-league-class teams under these two captains around a month back.

Chennai Super Kings: (Winners 2010, Finals 2008, Semi finals 2009)

Having already achieved so much in less than 4 years as captain of all sorts of teams, it would be easy for Dhoni to take a chill pill and sit back on a yellow beanbag in an air-conditioned mansion and gleefully accept all kinds of awards and citizenships offered to him by different heads of State down South. But as we all know (inexplicably!), champions are made of sterner stuff. This is not you and me we are talking about.

We are talking about a man who has created a Legacy of sorts in arguably the shortest period of time afforded to any great in sports history. Mahendra Singh Dhoni can be forgiven for forgetting a lot of smaller mistakes that he has committed in his life- like choking on contaminated cow milk and stealing toy helicopters (symbolism) from the town bullies when he was a kid.

Driven to Down Deccan

But he will not have forgotten what the Deccan Chargers taught him in IPL 2009- a fact of life- that the best team in the league will, more often than not, be dramatically upset in the knockout stages- unless you have an Aussie captaining your team (with the word ‘upset’ duly eliminated from their vocabularies).

After dominating most of the league with the Daredevils, both of them whimpered out in the Semi-finals to the wooden spooners of the previous year- thus catapulting IPL into the miraculous category of tournaments where ‘anything goes’ (not unlike the famous post-match parties back then).

So is it Revenge time for Dhoni and co? Maybe not. But no harm in building it up that way- simply because this extended league stage desperately needs a breath of fresh air. And apart from the odd Ishant Sharma spell, the teams seem to be playing ‘you and me’ through the long-drawn mid stages of this tournament.

What will comfort Dhoni is the fact that he possesses two of the most consistent bowlers this year (with Ashwin and Bollinger), and a batsman who is desperate to make it back into the Indian team. No, not Raina, silly.

Player to watch out for: S Badrinath
Many said that he was not cut out for the shorter (and shortest) version of the game- what with a complete technique and straight-batted obsession. But a hustler like Badrinath- however attractive his batting has now become- is destined to finish as the underdog who has to prove himself time and again just to be in serious contention for the national team. He is one of the many almost-greats of World Cricket – perennially lurking in the shadows of a MS Dhoni or a Virat Kohli- simply because the game of cricket is not unlike life, complete with the cruel reality of being discarded without that bit of ‘spark’ or ‘chutzpah’.

He will want to carry on his almost-legacy and take his superstar team to the brink of glory- and maybe go a step further this time. Immortality could have been his against Mumbai- and an innings of miraculous proportions awaited his grasp…but he fell agonizingly short, much like the story of his dogged career.

Deccan Chargers: (Winners 2009)
Ishant Sharma’s dwindling reputation before IPL 2011 seems to have worked explosively in his favour- so much so that batsmen do tend to drop their guard a bit and relax their concentration after facing the first over from Dale Steyn. That this bowling combination looked as lethal as a Wasim&Waqar and a V. Raju-V. Bharadwaj (in a slightly lower league) against Kochi the other night- will send shock waves through the rest of the teams with brittle batting line-ups short of confidence and energy-sapped (approximately 9 teams)

4 absolutely breathless wickets (with not one bad shot, contrary to Kochi reputation) in 7 unplayable balls seems to have catapulted Ishant back into the league of extraordinary gentlemen. Yes, this is the same bowler that terrorized Ricky Ponting and his strong Aussie batters back in 2008-09, both at home and down under. Welcome back, Ishant- we hope your second innings is longer than Irfan’s Pathan’s current stay on the sidelines.

Dale Steyn firing a ball in to uproot and actually shatter the off-stump of R. Vinay Kumar at the end of the innings topped up a perfect day for the Chargers that had started in tatters- with them at 37/3 at the end of their first 10 overs.

Season of Sharmas

But that man Sangakkara rescued his team once again- and gave them a respectable target to bowl at. That the target seemed like double the actual runs scored to Kochi- was purely due to the superhuman efforts of Ishant Sharma and Steyn.

If they decide to replicate even half the bowling form displayed against the helpless Tuskers in today’s game against Chennai, we will have a match on our hands. Having said that, their top order batters need to produce runs out of somewhere (thin air, currently)- and facing Morkel, Ashwin and Bollinger will not be any sort of respite from their Graeme-Smith-inspired form.

Player to watch out for: Dale Steyn
As far as the world’s best test bowler is concerned, playing third fiddle to Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra will be a bit of a letdown after consistently terrorizing comfortable and pitch-slapped sub-continental batsmen in their own dens. He will make sure, sooner or later, that batsmen (in yellow jerseys, hopefully) will be see a red cherry against a background of white headed towards them in the otherwise-colorful IPL environment.

No, this is not a Wimbledon strawberry-and-cream metaphor either. Test lovers will know what I mean.

Prediction:

Chennai seems to have a more balanced team with their batting strength consistently rivaling their bowling strength. Deccan’s explosiveness with the ball may come to the fore- much like Pakistan in the World Cup. Hence, an upset might be in the making- with the Chargers making sure that neither of the South-Indian outfits zoom ahead to the top of the table.

Keeping Kochi back down may not be much of a problem though.

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