Princes and Paupers: The mismatch

Match#38: Rajasthan Royals v/s Pune Warriors India

Sawai Man Singh stadium, Jaipur

Form Guide: RR- Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Draw, Win, Win,
                       PWI- Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss,

Rajasthan Royals: (Winners 2008)

The Royals are back- and how. Beating table-toppers Mumbai Indians in a one-sided game (who, to their credit, played so ordinarily that a Pune-kar living in Delhi would be relieved) only showed that Shane Warne can, at the ripe age of 43, pull a rabbit (or even a horse) out of a hat with considerable poise. That Liz Hurley was not back in England to encourage British aristocracy in the form of a Royal Wedding at the cost of 7 pence per person (yes!)- was proof enough of her sole commitment to Jaipur and its people.
Winning the battle against Tendulkar and Co. will only prove to be a small stepping stone in their ultimate quest to win the war- and hopefully reach the knockouts after 3 long patient years. Warne’s commitment is second to none- and his risk-taking peaked to a new level of ridiculousness when he got Ashok Menaria to open the bowling for them.

Scoff at your own risk, mere mortals, for this man has now discovered yet another talented left-handed all-rounder – not wanting to be left too far behind his old friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-and-foe Adam Gilchrist’s similarly inspirational decision-making skills. That both their teams and bits-and-pieces and operate more on a team scale (apart from Valthaty) is a tribute to the vision of both these famous captains that Australia never had.

Age? What age?

With Menaria getting Tendulkar to look like Rohit Sharma while being dismissed and Warne getting Sharma to emulate a Tendulkar dismissal, the writing was on the Royal walls. Of course, Botha rediscovering the real reason for his existence on this earth (of being a bowler) and backing it up with clinical Bevan-like finishing skills- the Royals seem to have convinced Tate that he is being a team-man by warming the bench. Cruel, but true.

On a much-needed do-or-die winning streak, the Royals will prove to be tough opposition to beat- especially when they are chasing at home- for they seem to know the pitch and the ground conditions more thoroughly than Robin Uthappa’s knowledge about the back-and-beyond Madrasi eating joints in the lanes of Pune.

Beating the Warriors will ease things considerably for the Royals- and convert them into instant front runners for a spot in the semi-finals. But if Yuvraj Singh succeeds to convince Uthappa that averaging 30 in T20 cricket does not necessarily mean scoring exactly 32 and 28 in every alternate game, the Warriors may just make a game out of it.
Only a game, mind you- not a match!  
Player to watch out for: Johan Botha
The South-African spinner playing alongside 3 Australians in the team (see the irony?), will be looking to balance out his bowling and batting capabilities with Mumbai-like performances that may virtually assure him a place in the national batting line-up now that Graeme Smith has decided to emulate Jonty Rhodes and be known only for his fielding (of a different kind).

Of course, the cool youngster Ashok Menaria will look to do exactly the same- with his newfound bowling abilities attributed to the fact that he landed up at Dhaka airport by mistake en route to a failed meeting with the KKR management. Coincidentally, 50 % of the Bangladeshi team was present at that airport and 100 % of them were left-arm spinners. The rest, as they say, is pie-chucking history.

Pune Warriors India:

After another miscalculated (and often clueless) chase against a team they were clearly better than two weeks back, The Warriors are well and truly in the dumps- along with the Daredevils. On a losing streak unmatched this year, Yuvraj and co. seem intent on packing their bags and heading to the hills as soon as possible. One is not sure the younger promising players like Rahul Sharma, Manhas and Pandey might be keen to do the same, but the way things are going- spending some time and concentrating on being one with nature might just be what these aged youngsters may need.

It is disappointing- simply because players like Sharma have begun to show some potential- but are duly being cancelled out by erratic and notoriously errant pace performances by Kamran Khan and Jermaine Taylor. The experience of Thomas, Ryder and Singh does come handy- but not at the same time, and sadly, Pune need more than one of the warhorses to step up and deliver.

Warriors to Whipping Boys

That Uthappa was being preserved until Christmas in a gift-wrapped package of complete senselessness against the Challengers and sent in so late that the game was well and truly over by then- demonstrates Yuvraj’s complete lack of familiarity with immediate leadership of an alien team. Granted that it takes a season to bond and figure out the strengths and weaknesses of each player in the team- but a barrier like this can be overcome within a game or two as duly demonstrated by Shane Warne in IPL 2008. The Royals lost only 3 games in that whole campaign- with one of them being the inaugural game itself. That is all the time one can afford in this format of the game. Nothing less, nothing more for sure.

Losing 5 games on the trot and falling back into the category of true ‘debutants’, is something that might cause a grimace or two on Yuvi’s otherwise-beaming face. Maybe next year, when the problem may escalate to inescapably large proportions- the management may consider handing over the reigns to someone with lesser pride to lose.

Not an entirely bad idea. Remember Mahendra Singh Dhoni and T20 World Cup 2007?
Ah, if wishes could be horses…

Pune may need to redefine the word ‘miracle’ if they are to get further in this year’s edition- a prospect very unlikely for the team that arrived with a swagger, but are looking to exit like S. Sreesanth’s latest hairstyle (quick and painful – for the fans).

Player to watch out for: Jesse Ryder
Once again, the big man from the little country is making his presence felt in a struggling team with nowhere to go but up. Defying the laws of nature (and gravity), Ryder continues to score big runs at the top of the order (even bigger in the context of Pune’s game) and is as close to acquiring citizenship to a country more befitting to a man of his stature (and size) as Piyush Chawla is to the mere thought of acquiring another wicket (or half). 


Coming in at the point of no return and displaying his murderous batting skills for all and sundry- is not what might help Yuvi win the confidence of the Pune crowd. Although foolish to bet against anything ‘Royal’ at this moment, a massive upset in the form of a Pune win (and an Uthappa explosion) might be just what this dipping IPL needs.
After all, even ‘party poopers’ need to prove their worth nowadays. 

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