… I guess it wasn’t a surprise that the tournament that saw teams choking away had to end with the biggest choke of them all. Just when you thought Bangalore had the game under control and were in cruise mode, harakiri struck and they crashed like a house of cards. And the man to falter happened to be one who has soaked in the pressure more often than not and come out on top.

They don’t call him the wall for nothing but on Sunday it crumbled.

I thought there were two turning points in the big final and Dravid happened to be at the forefront of both of them. The safest slip fielder in world cricket dropped a dolly and then as Harsha Bhogle put it, every thump that Symonds gave to the ball post that was like a dagger through Dravid’s heart and by the time Kumble spun his magic the second time around, Symonds had made an invaluable contribution of thirty runs which proved to be quite significant.

The second time around when it seemed like Dravid would guide the ship to the shore just as Bangalore was threatening to falter came the most uncharacteristic shot by the man – the paddle sweep of all shots, coming from the most sound batsman in the game, a shot that would fetch only a single – and he lost his stumps. And i think that was the turning point of the game even though people might say Symond’s brace is what turned the match. But I feel that when Dravid got out is when the slide started, the anchor had come off and Bangalore hurtled towards disaster with Ross Taylor going courtesy his mad bash style, Virat Kohli losing his balance and his wicket, Boucher slashing his stay and the rest just followed.

It was a testimony to how the mighty can fall in the face of an occasion and it was quite ironic that the grittiest captain of them all who rose to the occasion and soaked in all the pressure and turned in his finest performance was left standing alone at the bridge as the ship went down.

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… that really has been the theme of the last two IPLs. IPL, a tournament that throws kids into the deep end with the masters, and where kids draw confidence from the legends in their team, has shown that teams with the finest leaders, where captains have led by example have made it to the deciding stage of the IPL.

Last year saw Shane Warne inspire unknown names to the pinnacle of the tournament by winning it against all odds and this year we have two finalists, ironically the two teams that formed the bottom last year, set to fight it out in the final tomorrow and it is no surprise that their captains have been at the forefront of their fantastic run.

Deccan has been the more flamboyant of the two teams with a great start to the tournament led by fiery batting by Gilchrist, inspiring performances by the likes of Rohit Sharma and RP Singh at the business end of the tournament and when the time came for the knockout punch, Gilchrist stamped his authority on the most consistent team of the tournament.

Bangalore, however has been a revelation. They have a similarity with the Royals of last year, not in having a bunch of kids ride their way to victory but having put in a team effort all the way in bringing about their resurgence when it looked like they were heading towards the same fate as last year at the beginning of the tournament. Ray Jennings has not stopped gushing about Kumble’s captaincy and his faith in Manish Pandey has given a rising star the opportunity to shine while Kumble has gone about his job of handling his bowlers and pushing his team to keep going relentlessly at the opposition efficiently while himself turning in admirable spells in pressure situations.

So, that is where we stand. Two teams led by legends of the game who know how to turn on the heat when it matters most will meet tomorrow to lift that trophy full of diamonds in the rainbow nation. The sun indeed has come out after the storm last year and it will be one beautiful rainbow tomorrow.

Cometh the hour …

May 23, 2009

… Cometh Gilchrist!

There is no other way to describe it! Yesterday, my friend and I were discussing the semifinals and we both thought that in normal circumstances Delhi should take the game but then one could not count the great wicketkeeper out of the game. More often than not, Gilchrist has risen to the big stage and destroyed the opposition singlehandedly. The 2007 world cup final is a classic testimony to this and we both had a feeling that Gilchrist was going to take off in the semifinal, and i guess taking off is an understatement of what happened yesterday. As Ravi Shastri put it, hurricane Gilchrist blew Delhi away!

That is the hallmark of greats isn’t it? Rising to the occasion when it matters most and delivering the knockout punch! Maybe there is a reason why they say Tendulkar hasn’t done that too often. Sharjah comes to mind and then the tri series in Australia last year but Gilchrist has probably delivered the knockout punch much more often. But then he could probably afford to with the batting line up Australia had so its debatable but even if we take this IPL, Gilchrist took the game by the scruff of the neck and killed it in less than 5 overs while Tendulkar failed to take Mumbai to the semifinals.

The other thing that struck me was how Delhi missed out on their big match players. When Nannes got stroked for 21 in the first over and Delhi never recovered after that, I was thinking to myself, this is the difference between a Mcgrath and a Nannes. The great like Mcgrath would have recovered if in the same situation and figured a way out to deliver a counter punch. But unfortunately Delhi did not play Mcgrath or Vettori. The two finest bowlers in the world were sitting on the bench as inexperience got blown away.

There is something about big matches. Doesn’t come to everyone. The greats fail at times. So when you go into such matches, its important to have big match players in the side who know how to deal with it no matter what the situation.

I guess Delhi learnt it the hard way. I hope Delhi learnt it the hard way.

… I was reading an article today in Cricinfo about how Mcgrath might not come back next year because he did not get to play this year in any of the games and it kind of made me sad!

Arguably the world’s finest fast bowler for 15 years, who signed off from international cricket as the leading wicket taker in the 2007 world cup, had an immaculate IPL last year, who felt fitter than ever before and was raring to go having not played for a while (look at Gilly and Haydos!) didn’t even get a chance when the other teams would have killed to have him. Ask Chennai, ask KKR, ask Punjab.. ask anyone but Delhi!

Having Nannes perform the way he has obviously mean’t Delhi persisted with him but the question was why wasn’t Mcgrath an automatic choice in the beginning? Cos he was supposedly not fit when he said he was fit ? I can’t help feeling sorry for the great.

I think one of my friends hit the nail on the head when i was wondering how wierd it is to keep Mcgrath and Vettori on the bench. I asked him why buy so many internationals when you are not going to play them? Collingwood went home without a game. Then he said, and it did seem to make a lot of sense, that sometimes teams are not buying these guys to play them, sometimes they just buy them to keep them away from the other teams who would kill to have them and use them against you, so might as well buy them and keep them! Maybe IPL should think about this …

… and to top it, these players then get to sit on the bench and watch out of form indian players ( read, particularly a bangalorean who moved from mumbai) in the field who are paid 3 times their salary just because they are indians…

… and we say we are not racists … But then the argument is that these guys knew the deal before joining and still came in for the money which they did make despite being on the bench so I guess the world ain’t that bad eh … I doubt the Pigeon feels that way!

The BIG choke …

May 21, 2009

… probably wrote my last post one day too early . Had not counted for what happened yesterday when two teams, in a do or die situation, did everything that put them out of the tournament!

Rajasthan dropped Graeme Smith !!! – yeah, you don’t drop Smith even if he has scored only occasionally , especially for Tyron Henderson, not Gilly, not Sachin, not anyone colossal – and then they caved in . KKR tried outdoing them and people were almost raving about Warnie but thankfully sensibility prevailed and the champs were knocked out.

As if this was not enough, Kings XI decided to put in their worse performance of the IPL and could muster only 92! in 20 overs! One just had to see the look on Yuvi’s face.

In this entire IPL, I haven’t understood the strategy behind the chases, 90% of the games! No matter what the chase, except when it was a phenomenally high scoring, the chasing team has allowed the runrate to spiral out of control hoping everything will fall into place and more often than not it has backfired. The classic example is Rajasthan where they have left everything to Yusuf to pull off a 12 plus asking rate! Come on guys, give it a break, he is not going to do it everytime! Then Sachin tried pulling off the impossible against Rajasthan but then the ‘choke’ prevailed. And yesterday, Punjab meandered for 4 runs an over, Yuvi supposedly got himself in and then got a shooter!

Why can’t we plan the chase better instead of being extra cautious in the beginning and then hoping for a perfect finish? One will never know …

Choke ’em …

May 19, 2009

… the last few matches have been absolute humdingers and invariably one team choked to give victory. There is no other explanation for it!

I guess the choke of the IPL was when Mumbai failed to make 6 off 9 balls against the Royals. Nothing gets worse than that in a T20 match and that surely killed Mumbai’s desperate, sometimes messed up, sometimes nonsensical approach to march, rather stutter towards the semi finals after taking off like a hare in the beginning.

And ofcourse there is KKR! sometimes i feel sorry for them. No matter what Mccullum did, victory stayed away till yesterday! A whirlwind by Ross Taylor blew them away and that nightmare last over by Mortaza! Poor Mccullum, he could not believe what was going on and I think he almost felt like bowling himself! How could someone go for 25 in an over; well KKR could! And then there was the super over! Ofcourse Munaf and others proved it too that it ain’t that difficult to leak runs and Munaf’s over has pushed Royals to the brink!

And then there are a couple more like Hyderabad failing to chase a small total against Punjab when they were cruising and even though Rohit almost pulled off a miracle, it wasn’t enough for them, Bangalore almost not chasing 130 against Chennai and yesterday as Dhoni put it, we saw the worst bowling display by the Chennai bowlers in front of a barrage of sixes by the Knight riders riding into the sunset!

Chokes can hurt! Ask Tendulkar how much it hurt having been through it the second year in a row. Ask Gilchrist who is in a do or die now after that failed chase. Ask Dhoni yesterday which has Chennai now in slight trouble of making it through. Ask Shane Warne about that Munaf over. But don’t ask Mccullum, poor guy, don’t think he ll ever figure out how his team managed to do it, match after match after match. As they say, sometimes it just aint your day, or week or the entire tournament!

Inexplicable Mumbai !

May 15, 2009

Not sure how they manage to do it year after year, but yesterday Mumbai’s strategy seemed inexplicable. The commentators have gone on and on about it and Sachin tried defending it by saying sometimes things work, sometimes don’t but one move didn’t seem to fit no matter what.

J P Duminy is not a big shot player. He is a very steady player who needs to settle down and then play his shots and guide the ship to the shore. Now, when he walks in at No. 6, it does not seem to fit at all. It is a 20 over match. So whenever J P Duminy walks in it will either be the slog overs in case Mumbai is batting first or the closing stages of a tight chase (like yesterday!) where he will have to play his shots and score at 10 an over! Either way, his style doesn’t fit. Maybe Jayasuriya fits. Maybe Sachin fits. But Duminy, Nay! The only time it makes sense for him to walk out at the position maybe is when Mumbai faces a phenomenal collapse (and no point of that in the 2nd innings, he can’t pull it off anyway from such a dire situation) . Now do teams cater for that? No, I do not think so.

Maybe I am over-reacting, maybe i have got it wrong but sometimes Sachin doesn’t seem to make sense as a captain. Maybe he is just better off being the master with the wand in his hand and leave the thinking to someone else.

Yesterday was sad, and twice in two years. Something is definitely amiss!

… i guess that is the story of this team. Nothing explains this team better. Not those many superstars as the others, not a batting or bowling line up to make you shudder but when they all come together, when the heart drives them to take that extra step, when passion pushes them to pull off something magical, Rajasthan Royals is always there to cross the finish line.

Led by a great great captain, one of the most inspirational ones I have ever seen across sports, one who just makes his team give that extra something, around whom they feel like rallying till the end of the world, Rajasthan Royals has pulled off matches like no one has . Last year saw Warnie pull off 17 runs off Symonds against Deccan, take the most underrated team all the way to the trophy, super over against Kolkatta this year, bludgeoning sixty by yusuf against Delhi, Abhishek Raut pulling off a match out of nowhere and then today, perfect field placements in the death, four magical overs despite an injury and bagging the masters, sachin and sanath and Munaf bowling an unbelievable last over; i don’t think magic happens too often by chance.

This is what a team should be like, a real team where every drop in the ocean counts, where everyone is backed to pull more than their weight and they always do and where the heart and inner will drives them on and on to newer heights.

And saluations once again to the greatest captain I have seen ever since I started watching cricket!

Cricket and Poker…

May 3, 2009

Just finished watching the Knight Riders vs Kings xi and couldn’t help thinking that there is such a striking similarity between poker and cricket.

The last ball was being bowled by Agarkar and 1 run was required by the Kings xi to win and I think the entire world and of course the batsman, Irfan Pathan knew he was going to bowl a yorker and guess what he bowled – a yorker indeed! And obviously Irfan got that run and Knight Riders went down yet again!

Now, you can sympathize with them and feel sorry and all that but lets pause for a moment and think. The world expected a yorker, Irfan expected a yorker so it might have been nice to bowl a bouncer ? I know it is difficult to bowl a bouncer but so is a yorker and maybe kings would have still won but maybe the unexpected could have worked too?

And that is where cricket is like poker. The best in the world in poker don’t just play their own hands, they play the other person, they read the other person’s moves more often than not and outplay them and Cricket is exactly like that.

Cricket is as much a mind game as a game of skills and whosoever ends up reading the other player better, bowler or batsman, comes out on top. The difference between the good and the great in Cricket is simply that. I remember Aamir Khan mentioned that last year when he sat watching an IPL match with Sachin, Sachin could predict every ball that was going to be bowled and that is what makes him a genius.

Maybe playing poker should be part of practice as a cricketer, maybe one should be trained to read the other player as much as trained to bowl or bat better. Who knows, it might just work!

Somehow this IPL has been far more pleasing to watch than the last one. Last one was mostly about the big bang but here with lot of low scoring matches happening, it has been more about setting the pace of each innings. And for me, that is what has stood out in the present edition of the IPL. More than the occasional assaults by some monstrous men, the teams that have paced their innings well have managed to cross the finish line. And that is what cricket is really. It is not just brute power but a mind game too, knowing when to slow it down, knowing when to step it up.

Build. Take off. Win!

Sachin set the tone in the first match of IPL with a controlled knock that set up the Mumbai total beefed up by the Nayar Assault. Dravid played himself in to set up Bangalore’s first win. Herschelle Gibbs played a beautifully paced knock to knock the stuffing out of Chennai. Dilshan set up two wins for Delhi, Ganguly paced himself beautifully against the Royals before taking off against Munaf Patel and despite Yusuf Pathan’s big hitting, it was Graeme Smith who anchored the innings and kept the opposition worried by staying put and day before JP Duminy almost pulled it off for Mumbai.

When T20 took birth, people always thought it was going to be a mad sprint and it will be pure unadulterated hitting and the big hitters will rule the roost in this version. But looks like this IPL has proven that there is a method in this version too. 20 overs is still a long time to change gears and get to your destination without anything drastic.