Royal Flush: The Final Farewell

Match#66: Mumbai Indians v/s Rajasthan Royals
Wankhede stadium, Mumbai
Form: MI- Win, Win, Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, Loss, 
            RR- Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Draw, Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, 
This may be billed (yet again) as the clash of two legends- but it holds the intensity of nothing more than a ceremonial routine farewell game for one of them (again). Yes, Shane Warne has come and gone, and come and gone again- but Sachin is still going strong in all 3 versions. Quite a statement, this, but in no way does that prove that Warne is a lesser mortal- for he has given us memories to last two more lifetimes. He is to bowling what Sachin is to batting- and it is only apt that he faces his good friend and relentless tormentor (of the 90s) in his last semi-professional cricket game (if one does not count the off-field ‘matches’)
Unfortunately he will be leading the Royals into oblivion- after a couple of tainted, short-tempered games that have led to bitter battles between the man and the management. With only five wins so far, and the potential to lose one more and probably finish below Pune and Kochi (or even Deccan)- the Royals will complete yet another season where they have fizzled out faster than Graeme Smith’s cricketing skills. 
Mumbai, on the other hand, have a game in hand to earn back the respect that they had initially commanded when they were runaway leaders with not a yellow or red jersey in sight. South India has revolted, and the Indians find themselves fading faster than Rohit Sharma’s talent-temperament ratio. 
Mumbai Indians: (Finals 2010)
With Andrew Symonds proving to be the worst business pick of the auction so far (Irfan Pathan is peaking- albeit too late), MI are stuck with a middle-order that has started to resemble that of the Royals- which makes for an even match-up today (initially unthinkable). With both teams holding the honours of being the ‘only’ teams with two scores of less than 100 this year, this will be a fascinating battle between two equally effective bowling attacks (and lost-in-translation batting line-ups)

‘Atleast sledge a top-order batsman, MP.’

Sachin Tendulkar has finally proved that he too is susceptible to overachievement and boredom- and is indeed batting like he has nothing else to prove. One suspects that he feels the need to innovate a bit too much and ends up looking a bit like Robin Uthappa (on reaching the 30s). The format may call for innovative batting, but SRT has enough in his artillery to survive the game without resorting to inane stroke-making. His inability to chase down a score (with not much support on the other end) was there for everyone to see- and he may have finally shifted his sights to greater goals (like holding the Test Ranking). T20 batting seems to be below him, and rightfully so- with the likes of Sharma, Pollard, Rayadu and Symonds present in the same team. 
With most of them failing sensationally in the last two games (against weaker opposition), SRT must be a worried man- simply because Munaf Patel is the best player in the team right now- with his lack of sledging ability brutally exposed by a pumped up Amit Mishra (you don’t take street pangas with Delhi boys- and the Munaph seems to have learnt that the hard way)
Today, MI (with a misfiring Malinga- by his own high standards) face another wounded team that have nothing else to look forward to except this one last game in the Coliseum of dreams. 
Finishing 3rd or 4th in the standings will be quite a disaster for the Indians after their dominating start to IPL-2011, and they will probably convert the playoffs into a knockout zone for themselves. 
Though one cannot help but wonder if this is a new strategy employed by the Mumbai thinkthank just to take the pressure off themselves and attract less attention- only to win their semis in an ‘upset’ performance that may propel them into the final against a ‘stronger’ team. Hmm, learning from MSD, are we?
Player to watch out for: Dhawal Kulkarni
The impressive local seamer will look to make the most out of his team’s dip (dive) in form and look even more impressive among some flat-footed caught-in-the-headlights performances that can only provide him with utmost confidence (speaking relatively). He will need to drag his underperforming teammates (along with pal Rayadu) to the playoffs- and then take it from there. 
Rajasthan Royals: (Winners 2008)
Say what you may- Warne has something that even SRT does not, and he could probably exploit this fact to no end when they face off in this historical game. An IPL title is all that is missing from SRT’s cabinet, and Warney may feel good to know that he is bowing out with atleast with one of those. Never mind that the previous 3 seasons have seen other teams learn the art of this format and promptly catapult above them to leave the initial pace-setters at the same level- much like England and all the sports that they have ‘invented’.
Too little, too late
Too little, too late

The fact that he did not even bowl against Kochi may have demonstrated his current disgust with the team management (that has decided to play Godfather to Warne’s Scarface)- and clearly lacked the motivation and will to even want to complete on the field. As expected, his teammates ate off his negativity- and crashed to one of the heaviest defeats in IPL history to a weak Kochi team that has no business being above them in the latest standings. Shane Warne will want to, for the sake of his legacy, bow out with a performance that has defined him throughout his checkered career. No, a cellphone will not be required. No, not pills, either.
Before he goes, he will want to inspire Watson and Menaria to live upto their potential and cream the ex-favorites to an extent that Mumbai might consider pulling out of the race altogether citing mismanagement of resources. Ross Taylor is beyond hope- and that spells success for the future NZ captain- for captains are rarely meant to lead from the front nowadays. Right, Misbah?
Botha must be brought back in place of Oram once again, and maybe Watson should be ‘rested’- just so that the Royals can come full circle and re-live the pre-Watson 2011 glory days (100% success rate!)
With the players set to be rotated once again, one wonders if this whole preview might turn out to be a joke if Warne opts to rest himself and watch his legacy live on. 
Player to watch out for: Rahul Dravid
The best batsman of the Royals campaign- believe it or not- is looking to be in supreme limited-overs form much after he has been dropped from the national side. Great batsmen can never be kept away from any format- as proved by SRT- and Dravid (along with Dada) will look to carry on the ageless legacy of Indian batsmen refusing to retire until they are unceremoniously kicked out. Dada holds a Ph.D. in that aspect of cricket, and Dravid is resisting his captors for yet another season. Also, he has proved to be the ONLY inspired pick by Warne this season- with Botha developing a severe case of an identity disorder which may see him hack Smith to pieces when he re-enters the national team again. 
Player to watch out for: Shane Warne
For the sake of cricket, Warne should open the bowling to Sachin Tendulkar- a sight for sore eyes and hearts throughout the world. One last throw of the dice, maybe- but it will help many a purist fan to travel back in time and re-live on of the greatest rivalries in world cricket. Even if it means watching the current Sachin looking to only turn one away on the leg-side to accumulate yet another run to his name- and Warne reduce his already-reduced run-up by one more stride. 
Mumbai, at home, will hope to not be blessed with another turning track- and will look to exact revenge on a limping Royals team that may not care much about the result either way.
Expect Pollard to come to the party in a game that might light up the dim stage of the last leg of this never-ending league phase. Though it would be interesting to watch SRK root for KKR in Kolkata when Mumbai travel there for their last league game. Equally interesting will be the first week box-office Mumbai collections of his new superhero film a few months from now.

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