The Contenders: One Semi-Final Twist

Qualifier 2: Royal Challengers Bangalore v/s Mumbai Indians

MA Chidambaram stadium, Chepauk, Chennai

Form Guide: Irrelevant

Down to three. And many will say- I told you so. One did not really need to be an expert (read Shastri) to predict the best 3 teams of IPL 2011 before a game was played- but given the twists and turns that finally led to this straight line in the end, these Nostradamuses can pat themselves on the back and start competitive little super-selector leagues between themselves to feel even better about their new found knowledge.

But wait, how would we have arrived at this point without the tragicomical Shakespearean demise of none other than KKR (in perfect sync with the roles their owner takes up)? They defied expectations in the beginning by simply putting themselves in a position to cruise into the final four- and then once again defied expectations in the end by somehow finding a way to exit without even clinching that ‘special mention award’- a Champions League spot for 2011. So many of us waxed lyrical about the supposed danger of a new-look KKR team and how they would, atleast this time, live upto the dreaded ‘dark horse’ curse. A curse they lived upto indeed- for the difference between them reaching (probably) the final and CSK facing Mumbai on Wednesday night was just one ball (Okay, one over if you’re a Balaji fan).

Sadly, Mumbai pulled a fast one over them once again in the eliminator- inspite of doing their best expression of a SRT-led competitive outfit (read losing the plot midway). Somehow, the writing was on the wall within the first 4 overs of the KKR innings- where they lost 4 of their top batsmen. Mumbai, of course, had to make a game out of it- for their beloved (overpaying) Wankhede fans. What is an eliminator if it does not go down to the last over with a senile North-Indian and the new ‘Symonds’ at the crease?

Expectations were fulfilled- with the sheer (lack of) quality on view- so much so that neither team wanted to lose…or WIN too convincingly. Anyhow, MI decided to stick to their original promise of relegating every KKR fan to the doomed depths of depressing dumbness that is generally familiar to every Arsenal fan (or South African cricket fan) on this planet.

The deed has been done. Time to face the ex-favourites RCB in a pulsating repeat of last year’s Semi-final. Revenge is in the air, and for once- Bangalore start as favourites (with Pollard and Rohit Sharma seemingly non-existent for the last 2 Mumbai wins)

Royal Challengers Bangalore:

Gaye failed. AB failed. They still scored 175. How can they possibly lose? Ask Zaheer Khan- for he seemed to be using the same formula as he did in the World Cup final. The only way to make sure he wins you a game is to make him bowl 4 overs on the trot- without a damned break. 2 overs- 3 runs. Next 2 overs- 30 runs. Just a zero more, he would argue later.



I stole Shahrukh’s pads and Pollard’s technique.

Unfortunately, Dhoni was on the other side this time- and inevitably, that led to a red meltdown that may have matched the mother of all chokes in a crucial IPL game. CSK scored 44 runs in the last 17 balls to make sure that they remain favourites and dispel any notions of this being a one-man tournament. With Mithun, Aravind and Vettori showing their inexperience (er…), it was all down to the most prolific T20 players in the history of T20s- Raina and Albie Morkel- to make sure that the yellow sun stayed within its temperature limit and refused to turn red. (or blush at the sight of handsome old Kohli)

Even Dr. Mallya began to down a few shots, and was visibly excited with 4 overs left (and 53 runs to get). Of course, it was not a must-win game- hence, they duly went on and lost it in style.

A must-win it is, now- and Mumbai could find themselves in trouble because RCB with their backs to the wall is like facing Arnab Goswami after 3 days of laryngitis. Relentless, brutal and violently determined to crush.

With Kohli proving why he (and not Rohit Sharma) should be called ‘beautiful’ and ‘the next big thing’, Raina seems to be in the same boat- fighting for a solitary place in the rest squad with his own version of unRohit-Sharma-type of batting. Brilliant innings by both of them, and there was only one Dhoni-led team in the end.

RCB will do well to forget their demoralizing loss to a better ‘team’ (by joining all of us for a minute of silence and mourning for the KKR demise)- and will look forward to beating a scrappy Mumbai team that look anything but favourites this year (and hence, are favourites by default)

A magical performance (or two) by a player like AB won’t really hurt- and one can’t help but relate his failures to his sudden relegation back to keeper status. It is not a coincidence that the best fielder in the world (by far) ended up with more catches in the outfield in 3 games than his entire 9 game stint behind the stumps. Time to rethink, Danny- you need a livewire like AB on the field, and maybe then you will be able to decipher the complex codes that form part of Kohli colourful ‘Godfather’ vocabulary.

Player to watch out for: Chris Gayle

Big games, big players. Difficult to single out anyone else- for Gayle made up for his failure with the bat by bowling out of his skin to restrict Raina and Dhoni initially and set them up for the final go-for-broke onslaught (which unfortunately for him, came off)

One way or the other, the mighty Jamaican will want to leave his final pugmark on the measly league that had rejected him outright in the auction- and probably set the stage for the highest bid in sporting history for IPL-2012. No guesses for who that owner might be. (No, not Mallya)

Mumbai Indians:

It was all part of the plan. That is what SRT may have told Gambhir as they walked off the field on Wednesday night. Surreal, indeed- and MI are still alive after two contrastingly erratic wins over perennial bridesmaids KKR. James Franklin has found himself (in all forms)- and is the ultimate finisher for a team that prides itself on losing its way every game and then making an exciting match out of nothing. What else can explain their stubbornness to not have an early dinner after blasting away to 85-0 in 9 overs and chasing only 147? Dinner had to wait (and so did poor old journos and bloggers)- for it went down to the last over and the inevitable visual of a jovial Sardar looking a lot like a toned-down version of Sunny Deol in Gadar. All is well that ends well- and MI will look forward to a repeat of last year’s semi-final and then promptly hope to avoid a repeat of last year’s final (away from home this time. Phew)



Taking Reliance to an all-new level

They do not particularly savour the prospect of playing in front of hungover Mumbaikars that crave for nothing less than a miracle every game at home- and will like the fact that the pressure will be on the South-Indian side for once. Lasith Malinga still hasn’t clicked- and they have still won the last few games. Not bad for a team that has Munaf Patel breathing S. Sreesanth fire-pellets while jogging down the pitch after taking a wicket. They finally seem to have got their opening combination right- and it showed, with SRT playing with carefree abandon and Rohit Sharma running with carefree abandon.

MI will feel good about the ‘knockout’ experience and momentum that they seem to be carrying into this eliminator with Bangalore- and hope that the only ‘Kingfisher’ that will be uttered on Saturday night would be in relation to the fairplay award to Chennai (for the 187th year running). Seriously, do they really need any more awards? Really?

The plan will be simple: forget building an innings. Get Gayle. Get rid of Malinga’s unlucky purple ‘hat’- and hope that he fires before somehow relating his incompetence to bowl Yorkers to his ever-present injury that seems to surface in crucial games.
They will also hope that they NEVER have to see Bhajji hold a bat again in this tournament.

Player to watch out for: Lasith Malinga

After a relatively dry spell (1 wicket in 3 games), the purple cap holder will look to dispel all notions of group stage bullies becoming knockout pussies as is the case in most world cricket tournaments. One 3-for can do the trick, and destroying the toes of Kohli and Gayle will do no favours to the already-Gambhirless West Indies tour that is to take place when atleast 4 more top Indian players feign injury and decide to ‘rest’. It is disheartening to see Slinga not bowl even one toe-crusher over the last 2 games- and simply practicing them with deadly accuracy in the nets just to intimidate (read fool) the opposition batsmen into expecting the same during the match. Doesn’t always work, really- not when Gayle clears his front leg and makes a bowler feel much like a certain woman did when Strauss-Kahn recently cleared his front leg for different reasons altogether.

Prediction:

Logic says RCB. But I will stick to my initial pathbreaking (and career-threatening) prediction of the Winner of KKR and MI going on to not only win this game, but the entire tournament.

Atleast the playoffs are making IPL-2011 worth all the boredom and trouble- regardless of the withdrawal symptoms many are already starting to feel once the clock strikes 4 or 8 PM.

Mrs. Dhoni cannot be blamed for freaking out when she sees her husband walking out of their bedroom on Sunday night not unlike an Alzheimer’s patient unwilling to let go of his past and crouching in the middle of their drawing room with his pads on.

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