The Last Supper

Match#63- Kings XI Punjab v/s Royal Challengers Bangalore
Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association stadium, Dharamsala
Form: KXIP- Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Win, Win, Win,
            RCB- Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Draw, Win, Win, Win, Win, Win, Win, Win,
How things have changed in a matter of a week- the invincibles Mumbai have now generously taken over the mantle of the team that is supposed to have a pathetically bad week (Losing to Punjab and Deccan- both were bottom at some point). Pune have actually won two more games, while Kochi are still in with a shout. But the in-form teams right now (apart from the predictable CSK) are undoubtedly the two teams that face off today. This is the last leg for most teams- and surprisingly, the banished have risen while the stronger teams are struggling to ride the glory wave into the knockouts. 
RCB are literally unbeatable right now- and even late nights, parties and other substances are not really slowing down Chris Gayle. Kings XI, on the other hand, have bounced back splendedly after helping Mumbai begin their losing streak and promptly going on to beat Kochi and Delhi. 
This game promises to be a splendid display of showmanship with Gayle and Valthaty battling it out head to dreadlocks for the Orange cap- and Kohli’s guts clashing with Marsh’s good old consistency. 
Kings XI Punjab: (Semi finals 2008)
One mistake and they are finished. But Punjab have been hearing this for 3 tough games now, and they have held on in style. In fact, I am still convinced that it was the ridiculous schedule which allowed a week’s break for them (totally unnecessary) after their first 3 consecutive wins. Valthaty has re-discovered his form combined with a bit of temprament, and Gilchrist continues to encourage consistency by leading from the front (refusing to reach double digits for 8 of the 11 games). Marsh, of course, has been having late night soul-searching conversations with Uthappa from Pune, and it shows in his utter stubbornness regarding his refusal to cross the 40s. Whatever it is, it works for his team- and he makes sure they never lose the momentum.

Non playing captain
Non playing captain

And wonder of true wonders- Piyush Chawla took not one, not two, but THREE wickets- at 4 an over. If dropping a player from the national team has this effect, I suggest dropping Rohit Sharma from cricket altogether so that he performs formidably in those Azad Maidan Sunday afternoon matches. Praveen Kumar, meanwhile, is on song- managing to bowl atleast one maiden every two games- and he has actually begun to bring Ryan Harris out of his Aussie-induced identity crisis. 
All in all, they are doing well- and are battling it out with Kochi right now for 5th place. But if SRK continues to lecture his team on the ills of not ‘chasing your dreams’, a choke of Kallis proportions might take place- duly handing over the advantage to the Kings XI (who have a game in hand)- exactly what this script-doctored tournament needed. 
If somehow, by some quirk of miraculous fate, Punjab manage to convince Gayle that his national team needs him (damn you, Pakistan!)- Bangalore might find themselves to be mere mortals again- and Sid Mallya can go back to his lucky white pants and fevistuck hairstyle just to begin the mind-games and resort to visual disintegration tactics once again. 
Player to watch out for: Adam Gilchrist

Once the laughing fit has subsided, we can actually discuss the role Gilchrist can still play to make sure that Punjab finish IPL-2011 on a high (apart from fluke-captaining his side to yet another miraculous comeback after Deccan 2010)- All he needs to do is see the new ball out (read first 15 overs) and then begin to pace his innings, slow reflexes be damned. Forget the fact that left-handed batsmen turn Zak on more than Bollywood starlets- and that Gilchrist himself has started to resemble Michael Schumacher. Maybe, just maybe- there is one big innings left. He is Australian after all- and they will never cease to amaze the sporting world. Remember Ricky Ponting?….Who? 
Royal Challengers Bangalore: (Finals 2009)
If Chris Gayle continues to do what he is doing, one suspects that most bowlers in the IPL will go on strike and point-blank refuse to bowl to the man. There is no point talking about anyone else in the team right now- because technically, we are talking about the entire team. Nothing wrong in it. 

Look Ma, No feet!
Look Ma, No feet!

Here are some cold and hard statistics that might change the way one looks at T20 cricket altogether (and might arouse test purists to an extent of complete lunacy- ‘batting is a joke here, we say!’):
7 games. 436 runs. No, this is not even Test Cricket. But what really takes the cake is his average and strike rate: An average of 87.2 at a rate of 202. Take deep breaths, calm down. It is not over yet (much to the chagrin of the palpating WICB members right now). Top it off with 6 wickets with that two step run-up that makes a mockery out of someone like Murali. Okay, we’re done.
Never has the fate of any tournament been dependent so entirely and blatantly on one single player. No, not even Sachin of 2003. Not even Mcgrath of 2007. This is plain ridiculous- because AB De Villiers (due to Gayle’s total boredom and respect for Brett Lee) finally held a bat in his hand after 3 games. Yes, he bats at number 4. For all the hype and hoolah that surrounded the damned auction in February, Chris Gayle has promptly put everyone present in that auction to shame and has cast a massive doubt over how much the franchise owners actually know about the game altogether. The words ‘strategy’, ‘value-for-money’, ‘sold’, ‘structure’ and ‘mentors’ all seem like a haze and a complete scam now- and even with him not playing the first 4 games, surely he was worth atleast his base price. Of course, Mallya has had the last laugh- but even he must not have expected Gayle to unleash his happy frustration so effectively on this year’s IPL. And he is not even a slogger- he opens the batting, he times the ball sweetly and makes violence seem quite unnecessary in the midst of the obligatory fours and sixes.
RCB are following their script to the T nowadays- with them invariably chasing a score (masters at that now), Gayle coming in and blasting away the difference between runs and balls in less than 3 overs- and Kohli inevitably executing the snoozefest of the chase that remains. Of course, the brittle middle-order was blatantly exposed against a top team like KKR (unlucky, at that)- with only AB managing to survive the storm. Those are ominous signs just in case Gayle decides to show up sozzled from last night’s party. Praveen Kumar will not like it one bit.
Player to watch out for: S Aravind
With an unreognizable spirit of Zaheer Khan bowling in IPL-2011, youngster Aravind (who bowls first change in Ranji cricket) has gobbled up the opportunity that arises when a top star is completely out of sorts. (much like most of Pune’s youngsters) You’d wonder if the kids hope for their idols to get bored and look mediocre- just so that they stand out and shine. Too harsh? Maybe. Aravind has been impressive- especially when he comes back with a wicket time and again after getting smashed for a few sixes. Mental strength counts, especially when players like Gayle and Sehwag make sure that skills don’t matter much nowadays. 
The biggest turnaround of IPL-2011 will be complete- with Punjab doing the unthinkable. Yes, they will bowl out Chris Gayle before he reaches double-figures and expose Bangalore’s ‘those who we never speak of’ players against Piyush Chawla’s guile and balls (no pun intended). 
Nobody said anything about a win though. 

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