Transformers: Part One

Match#24: Kolkata Knight Riders v/s Royal Challengers Bangalore

Eden Gardens, Kolkata

Form Guide: KKR- Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, RCB- Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Draw,

Before the logic-defying loss against Kochi, the Knight Riders were on a streak that was being matched result-to-result by only two other teams in the league- one being the perennial Challengers Bangalore- never mind that one streak reads ‘3 wins in a row’ and the other reads 3 games without a win. After all, it could have been worse- if not for the rain Gods hovering over Bangalore on Tuesday night. Having happily split the points with current underperformers (on form) Rajasthan, RCB now look forward to an inevitable revival that must start with their game today at Eden Gardens- against a hurting KKR team that still look like the best all-round team in this league. (atleast so far)

It may help matters that the middle-order of KKR was finally revealed, much like Mumbai decided to play in a few more batters on Wednesday, and they duly failed the test put forth to them by the formidable Tuskers with flying colours. With Kallis and Gambhir finally doing what Sachin should be doing more often (playing to the law of averages), the rest of this ‘young team’ (in the words of their business-star owner) experienced the sort of pressure that was previously alien to them in their string of hopelessly one-sided games. (against the Royals)

If there is any sort of logic- even a bit- associated with the game of T20 cricket, RCB are bound to fire soon and probably swallow a few opposition teams with a glint in their eye and vengeance in their red blood. If such a performance comes too late (like three more games later), then they can gladly live with the now-overused term that is diplomatically used for teams that are just not good enough (with no chance in hell): ‘party-crashers’ or ‘giant-killers’.

After all, not everyone likes to call a spade a spade. Right, Mr. Mallya?

Kolkata Knight Riders: (6th place 2008)

Fresh from a close loss (with no psychological points gained whatsoever) to Mahela’s Oranje (who is systemtically shooting down his Indian targets one-by-bloody-one), KKR will look to get back on the path to a far-away land- a land where no Knight Rider has ever stepped foot on previously. With their owner cheering them on at every single game with a visible vengeance (to rival a certain ‘friend’ who showed up at India’s most important world cup games?), KKR will hope to repay the man’s undying faith before he flashes his dimples with a sad smile and shoot off a ‘I maybe a good actor, but my team doesn’t seem to think so’ line with puppy-dog eyes.

‘Dreaming of home…’

Gautam Gambhir, who refuses to acknowledge his startling resemblance to Mr. Bean, is starting to feel the heat- especially if he gets out cheaply. After yet another choke-ridden chase that seems to be the only weak point of this otherwise-consistent outfit, Kallis will start to wonder if there is a South-African fake IPL player hidden somewhere amongst their ranks- forgetting to rule out a high probability of the imposter being none other than Kallis himself.

With Yusuf Pathan nicely setting into the role of a bowling all-rounder (not dissimilar to Yuvraj Singh before the World Cup), expecting to be blessed with a Yuvi-style comeback soon- KKR still look like the most convincing bowling outfit in the competition by a country mile. The spinners Shakib, Yusuf and Abdullah are doing a great job in the middle overs (8-15) strangulating most teams that panic and collapse in a wicket-infested heap at the end of the innings. Rajasthan, having done that twice, seemed to have convinced Kolkata that most teams will play similarly. Kochi were not as generous, and with a little more experience and some painfully-slow-but-effective ‘pace’ bowling by the Azhar Mahmoodisque Vinay Kumar, managed to halt a winning streak that they have now laid claim to themselves (3 consecutive wins)

Of course, facing an utterly incompetent RCB will help matters for the Knight Riders- who are now banking heavily on Kallis to quickly forget two poor outings and carry them through an innings, even if it means him just standing at the crease.
This year, one does not think SRK will be mentally prepared to use the line, ‘After all, it is the journey that matters’ once again.

Player to watch out for: Shakib Al Hasan
The young all-rounder who is responsible for almost 50 % of both runs and wickets for his national team (of which he is, incidentally, captain) seems to be enjoying his time with the Knight Riders while simultaneously enjoying the variations of a turning pitch that is not very far away from his native Dhaka.
With two left-arm spinners in their team, KKR are clearly looking to emulate Bangladesh’s recent bowling performance against New Zealand. All they need is 4 more left-arm bits-and-pieces spinners and 3 half-medium pacers- and they are set.

Royal Challengers Bangalore: (Finalists 2009, Semi-finalists 2010)

A washed out game against the Royals back home meant the end of a very consistent streak for the Challengers- that threatened to spiral speedily further into a doomed race for the Wooden Spoon with the explosive potential to go (in Shastri-speak) right down to the wire!

But a point shared with the equally-inspired Rajasthan Royals will have had Vettori and co. more than grateful for the much-needed break from their self-destructive project. Somewhere up North (in the capital), thousands of disillusioned and desperate fans must have turned religious overnight and taken to various forms of rain-dancing, sure of the fact that it will definitely result in a similar upward climb sooner or later (in the points column)

‘Don’t use those white pants as a distraction today, son.’

But somewhere between managing to lose games with utmost confidence and mourning the loss of their strike bowler Nannes, Bangalore have sneaked one up on us unsuspecting diplomatic fans. They have further strengthened their super-effective (only on paper) batting line-up by roping in the currently out-of-work Chris Gayle. The cool Jamaican can now safely join the league of many a ‘freelance cricketer’ exhibiting their skills in impoverished and talent-starved lands. This may mean better things for the languishing team with an introverted owner, but this could also be a worrying sign- simply because their results seem to be inversely proportional to the quality of foreign firepower in the squad.

But if there is still a way to lose, trust Daniel Vettori to successfully find a way- with some inspired captaincy that is directed more towards helping the opposition teams than his own. How else would one explain the promotion of Zaheer Khan or Asad Pathan to pinch-hit inspite of the presence of the madly-talented AB De Villiers and the ultra-aggressive (especially in body language) Virat Kohli?

Sometimes, things need to be kept simple- and true class and experience will eventually make an appearance more often than not. When a team is blessed with an enviable combination of Zaheer Khan, Dilshan, Gayle, AB, Kohli, Vettori and Tiwary, a script needs to be followed- unless they want to emulate the Deccan class of 2008 (when the on-paper combination of Gilchrist, Gibbs, Symonds and Jermaine Taylor had most opposition teams contemplating pullout pre-IPL to avoid one-sided massacres). As things turned out, it was Deccan who inexplicably managed to peak even before their first match and go on to lose 85% of their games inspite of the best efforts of little-known Indian players like Rohit Sharma and Venugopal Rao.

Bangalore will do well to learn from their neighbours- and maybe look at the brighter side: There is only one way to go from here- and that is upward. Unless you are a Daredevil…

Player to watch out for: AB De Villiers
It is impossible to look beyond the future captain of South Africa if Bangalore need to come good. More often than not, he has lent respectability to their losses with his outrageous and highly skillful brand of batting. He might need some support though, from one of the 4 other world-class batsmen in this team.

Also, we cannot help but think that if T. Dilshan carries on his continuous dislike for all things IPL, the towering presence of Chris Gayle might appear at the top of the order very soon- casting a shadow of Bob-Marleyesque gloom over most opposition bowlers with his intimidating stance and lethargic swings.

A Royal explosion- which could work both ways actually. But one way or the other, RCB is the team which will live upto their enigmatic reputation and either win or lose the game on their own- not leaving much for KKR to do except play basic clean cricket.
Simply because the Challengers have a lot more to lose. (apart from being the rare chosen few that are unaffected by the rising beer prices across the country)

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