Curtain Closer: A Final Call

Match#70: Kolkata Knight Riders v/s Mumbai Indians
Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Form: KKRLoss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Win, Win, Loss, Win, Win, Loss, Win,
             MI- Win, Win, Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss,
Well, well, well. The last game of the league- and until 24 hours ago, it was the most important. It was to be a Perfect climax. Wonderful. Apt. Brilliant. Sadly, Shikhar Dhawan decided to play his most meaningless innings to date in a completely meaningless game for Deccan against a charged-up Punjab- and Amit Mishra finished things off in true Warne style. Punjab are finished. The dream run has ended. Adam Gilchrist could not pull off a miracle, much like Ricky Ponting in World Cup 2011. As is the story with most gutsy Aussies, they will fade away bravely into the sunset. Thanks for the memories. One more win would have put Mumbai under deservedly tremendous pressure- considering how utterly ordinary the team looks right now. 
Just a few days ago, the world was ready to tear SRK and his jolly chokers to shreds with the sudden possibility of an exit looming large. Redemption happened in the form of a crushing and classy win against Pune under tremendous pressure. Atleast they were put under pressure. 
Punjab have just given Mumbai a lifeline. They can afford to lose one more game and still make it. That’s it. One more loss, and to be honest- not a citizen on the streets of Mumbai will care. And that is how it should be, post World-Cup. 
The Indians were the first team to ‘virtually’ qualify for the playoffs- and the only chance of them not making it was purely ‘mathematical’. We never really gave credit to this word ‘mathematical’- for it was more of a fraudulent way of giving hope to no-hopers. Yes, MI have done the impossible- and from being the first team to reach 8 wins, they are probably going to be the last team to qualify the playoffs in stunning fashion, come what may. 
Of course, all those potential leaps into the Bay of Bengal might now be replaced by full-blown dives into the Arabian Sea- and Marine Drive might just lose its charm after tonight. 
KKR still fight the battle for 2nd here (which is highly advantageous according to the new format)- and because this post has been written a day before the CSK-RCB game, by now, one may have a clear idea as to which South-Indian team has topped the league. MI have a lot more to lose today (A Champion’s league position), but try telling that to Shahrukh Khan after 3 absolutely dismal years of T20 cricket that has driven him to ridiculous forms of redemption- like banning himself from games and playing a Superhero in a film. Yes, we understand. Much like Oprah growing up to be famous after a traumatic abused childhood. 
Kolkata Knight Riders:
Safely out of the danger zone now, the Knight Riders will set their sights on the larger picture. In a few days (if they lose this one), they might be facing MI again in an eliminator game. But that is what the playoffs are about- beat the best (or worst) consistently and that trophy will not elude you (unless you are MI in 2011, or South Africa in an ICC tournament)

‘How to drop a catch and look ridiculous 101’ 

With Yusuf Pathan proving to be the handy all-rounder (and value for money) they craved, and Gambhir displaying his ballsy, gritty, workmanlike qualities to lead from the front and open the innings (or field at silly mid-off) with Kallis inevitably breaking down, KKR look good to pull a massive fast one over Mumbai- which might just make up for the horrific 3 years they have had so far. Might. Maybe not. But nice try.
SRK risks losing Mumbai box-office collections for Ra.One if he so much as exposes half that dimple when KKR takes a wicket or two, and he will seriously be contemplating a bit of savvy spot-fixing so that ‘You win, I win, we all win’ situation arises. After all, lose today and Mumbai are also happy. Then MAUL them in the eliminator and get MAULED in the next eliminator. Simple. True to reputation. Everyone happy. Ra.One super hit.
This will be the final league game of a historic (by their standards) campaign for the Knight Riders, and that sadly means that SRK (and other movie stars) will continue to own teams- happy to have made the knockouts atleast once in four years (Punjab and Rajasthan being the other starry cases)
Player to watch out for: Brett Lee
The ‘Good Aussie’ is yet to fire- and has been unusually low-key this entire campaign. Could be the heat. Or the exhaustion (back to back tours). Or sheer boredom. Or the KKR jersey. One is not too sure, but a big one is due-and as we know, Aussies LOVE waiting right till the end to unleash their true powers upon an unsuspecting league. Never mind if it is too late. Gilchrist and Watson still leave us with performances to remember. A 5-for tonight? Or a 3-for with an economy rate of 3 and a maiden? Whatever it is, SRT will look to ‘play’ him out- and retain the elusive Orange Cap once again (now that Marsh and Valthaty are safely finished).  
Mumbai Indians: (Finals 2010)
With SRT and co. successfully sticking to their strengths of being the worst batting team in the powerplay overs, and promptly losing the plot while bowling the middle-overs, the MI management must be in a deep state of complete befuddlement. Malinga and Munaf are the top two wicket takers of IPL-2011. They belong to this team. With a bowling attack as effective as that, how can one possibly go wrong? 

Taking you down with me, mate. 

SRT is a legend. He is the best batsman ever to talk this planet. He is everything, but a great leader. Unfortunately, his captaincy skills are blatantly exposed in a wham bam league like this- with his lack of innovation and instinctive decisions visibly affecting the morale of his clueless team. Looking like an excited schoolboy while batting may be a great sign, but looking the same while marshalling your troops on the field is not a comforting visual. MI have been given the fright of their lives with an unexpected 3-game losing streak that puts them in danger of being known forever as the ‘team that choked sensationally (read lose 5 games on the trot) in the closing stages of a tournament’.
Only appropriate, a cynic would argue, considering their support staff is made up of 3 famously infamous South-Africans. Pollock (class of bad mathematical skills of 2003), Klusener (Class of panic-stricken 1999) and Rhodes (Class of his own) must be wondering if it is a cruel take on management Déjà vu all over again. 
After yet another disastrous outing against the Rajasthan Royals that gave Shane Warne the finall hurrah he deserved (but not needed), the Indians must make some brave and bold decisions for their team. That SHOULD include dropping dead-weights Symonds and Harbhajan (whose moments of madness are not laugh-worthy anymore)
For a change, Sachin should consider playing a naturally aggressive game rather than concentrate on constantly trying to ‘build’ the innings when it needs nothing of that sort- with the aggressive Sharma and destructive Pollard to follow. Over-complicated thinking by the little master, indeed.
Player to watch out for: Lasith Malinga
Expect the smiling assassin to wreck havoc after being carted all around Wankhede by a beaming Shane Watson who seemed to smile even more when sledged (unsuccessfully, at that). The toe-crushers were missing, probably a sign of over-strategizing by the ever-thinking Tendulkar- who must have laid out ‘plans’ to get Watson. Not only did that not happen, but RR also won by 10 wickets- putting MI in an almost-negative unfamiliar run-rate situation. But points still matter, and Malinga will know that more than anyone else- especially now that he has just unleashed his smart ‘purple hat’ on us fashion-savvy viewers.
Does it really matter? Sadly, this game could have meant a lot more if not for Punjab’s sensational choke yesterday. If only Piyush Chawla waited a game more to show hie ‘true’ class- 
Having said that, expect Rohit Sharma to step up to the occasion today, and bless us with a special we may never forget. 
Hence, A KKR win it is.  

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