All those permutations and combinations, all the analysis and predictions, combined with plenty of ‘what ifs’ and ‘NRR’-related discussions- they have all added up to give us a cracker of a semi-final lineup. As expected, there are surprises- not surprising in itself considering the fact that this tournament has, as many test purists would hate to admit, lived up to its initial billing. Just when we thought that CL T20 was a redundant league that nobody really bothers with anymore, the final games of most teams on Tuesday and Wednesday slapped the competition back into the limelight.
Truth be told, we all watched it. And we did, grudgingly, enjoy it. The English team (newly-arrived) can, in fact, combine their practice and conditioning sessions with a bit of T20 watching on the sly- because for the first time, an English team has made it to the knockouts. But first things first-
Warning: Hot when it matters
Trinidad and Tobago went down all guns blazing, knocking South African favorites Cape Cobras out of the tournament. Now, it is easy to dismiss the incessant failure, yet again, of South-African teams that need to perform or perish.
The Warriors (Group B) and the Cobras looked like early favorites, with crushing wins in their first games, but slowly and ever so steadily- they began to stick to their roots. You see, the blood running through their veins is South-African. Hence, the Steyn-induced choke for the Cobras against T&T and New South Wales was not entirely unexpected, as was the post-Smutts collapse for the Warriors, and this only sealed that age-old adage: The C-daddies are back in town, yo.
The point being- whatever ANY South African team ever qualifying for this competition does, they cannot escape their destiny…and their destiny is to choke, and choke on the biggest stage possible, and choke till they can choke no more. There, we said it. Hence, one is not really surprised that there is no South African team in the final four. And to think, the Cobras were pre-tournament favorites.
T&T deserved very much to enter the final four, more so than the Mumbai Indians- with every game of theirs going down to the wire. Their ‘choke’ at the crucial moments though, cost them their first two games- and finally, a spot in the knockouts. They will definitely walk away with their head held high, for they are certainly one of the better T20 teams in the world- as they have proven time and again. They did Mumbai a big favour by sucking the venom out of the Cobras in sterling fashion- with a new hero called Kevin Cooper born. The future looks bright, if only in one version of the game.
New South Wales, of course, did what most Australian teams do when they have their backs to the wall. They won big and handsome, with Warner breaking all sorts of T20 records against defending Champions (no more) The SuperKings- and relegated Dhoni to a smirk and a ‘blessing in disguise’ comment in the post-match conference. They finished dead-last in their group, not even putting up much of a fight over the last week. The yellow Submarine, indeed, knows how to sink.
Group B, though, was the group that single-handedly lowered TRPs for Bigg Boss 5 for one night. Somerset are through to the last four, as expected, inspite of losing badly to a rejuvenated Royal Challengers side in their previous game. The rained-out game against South Australia helped them reach a total of five points, and their NRR never came into question. The Warriors lost their way midway through a moderate chase of 140, and served their English counterparts a fresh semi-final spot on a platter.
The second game of the night was the game of the tournament, year, decade and T20 in general. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining game of cricket as long as you live, with runs flowing and bowlers contemplating early retirement.
Why do you think I am playing for Somerset?
An explosive South Australian side decided to emulate their more illustrious neighbours NSW by scoring even higher than they did, in the first innings. A score of 216, with a chartbusting century by opener Daniel Harris, seemed to suggest that Mumbai Indians would probably be the only IPL side in the final four. Gayle never chases scores for his side, he sets them. And even if he did fire, they needed him to keep firing right till the 19th over. A long shot, after an 86 in his previous game. And seldom does a T20 century ever come in a losing cause- unless, of course, you’re Chris Gayle playing for the West Indies or Sachin Tendulkar playing for Mumbai Indians.
The stage was set, nevertheless, for a runchase that atleast promised excitement on a night that seemed to be lit up by the sheer whiteness of Sid Mallya’s white pants. But it wasn’t Gayle, or even Dilshan who took the game to the final ball. It was our very own sweet, quiet, polite boy Virat Kohli. He played a blinder, and made Dilshan look quite good at the other end.
But no Australian side ever goes down quietly after putting up a record score on the board. Nobody expected them to lose, and you had a feeling that they were just riding out the wave, waiting to pounce. The time came, when Kohli was sent back- and Shaun Tait’s over (the 19th of the innings) pretty much shattered every heart in the stadium. 3 wickets, 4 runs. That was it, then. Little-known Arun Karthik, their pint-sized wicketkeeper, was at the crease with tail-ender Aravind. Finally, in a desperate last over, it came down to six of one ball.
An Indian team, an IPL outfit, with no history of high run chases, coached by a South-African (mind you) and captained by a New Zealander. Who would have thought? Karthik claims that he watched the ball till the last moment, but replays suggest that he had a good old-fashioned blind heave over mid-wicket. And in those two seconds, he entered the record books. How many spectators and fans can actually claim that they have ever watched a match where a SIX was hit of the last ball to win the game, when SIX was what was required- not four, not two, not five. That’s what makes it a miracle. What makes it sweeter is that KKR, on 4 points as well, were 0.02 behind in their NRR. And that, an Australian side choked off the last ball- with Daniel Christian delivering six slower balls in the last over.
Calm, composed, level-headed as usual
So, the Royal Challengers, after two sapping losses in their first two games, pulled off a heist- and are in with more than a shout-in when they face New South Wales in the first of two Semis tonight. They are probably still riding high, and need to calm down, focus and forget that their owner is the biggest beer baron in the country.
Prediction: New South Wales will execute revenge on the Challengers for what they did to their South-Australian friends. One doesn’t see Bangalore pulling off another miracle, unless this is their fairytale tournament or Rajni sir makes an appearance at the stadium. Unlikely, but mind it.
Mumbai Indians, meanwhile, surprise packages themselves, will face a strong Somerset side- that always looked like they were destined for the final four once they went through qualifying without a loss.
Prediction: Mumbai will run out of luck and steam. It is high time that their brittle middle order is exposed, and who better to do it than a KKR Reject- Murali Kartik. And anyhow, a strong and experienced domestic side stands more of a chance than a hastily-assembled IPL team that has more players in the hospital than on their benches. A Somerset win, it is.
Come Sunday- we will either have the first two-time winner of the Champions League or a brand new Champion side.
And then, there were two.