Mumbai, Chennai prepare to bow out
The Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings squads were sitting in a hospitality suite in the top tier of the Wanderers Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It is one of the best places to watch cricket in the ground but it may not have been that pleasant for them that day.
As they looked down on Lions' Jean Symes mowing the ball through mid-on for four, both sides knew that no matter what they did, the rest of their time in South Africa would be inconsequential. With that one shot, Symes took Lions into the semi-finals and knocked out three other teams, including both IPL representatives in the group.
Without much time for their elimination to sink in, Mumbai and Chennai took the field in what seemed like a daze. Faf du Plessis looked like he had been given a licence to go wild, then Lasith Malinga reined it all in. Chennai retained control though, until Dinesh Kartik began pulling away. He tugged and tugged and eventually the rope snapped and Mumbai were left holding the short end.
The contest was one of the best of the tournament. The advantage shifted throughout, audacious shots were played, extraordinary catches taken and a healthy crowd had remained in the ground to see it. But it was difficult to get excited about any of that, as it will be when Chennai play Yorkshire and Mumbai take on the Syndey Sixers in their final acts of the event.
Three of the four IPL teams will not participate in the knockouts, a surprise considering how loaded the format was in their favour. Their failure can be put down to an inability to adjust to early season South African pitches, bad weather (Mumbai and Kolkata had a rained-out encounter each) or as, Karthik said, simply being worked out by better opposition.
"We should put it down to the fact that we haven't played good cricket and that other teams have played better than us," he said. "It's been hard because we were looking pretty good in terms of batting in the one game [against Yorkshire] and then it was washed out. That's how this tournament goes. We had a great start against the Lions but it was a game we could have played better."
Karthik denied there was any other explanation for their performances, and he thought there had been enough preparation time. "All the teams were here a week before and we acclimatised," he said. "These days international cricketers travel around the world and it's the domestic cricketers who don't know a place like South Africa. The pitches are a little different to those in India but we even played practice games. They have been good wickets, and good teams could play well on them. One whole IPL was held here."
Ben Hilfenhaus, the Chennai Super Kings fast bowler, shared that sentiment. "With so many good players and so many good competitions around the world, when you get the best teams together, you've got to expect some good cricket. It doesn't matter where those teams come from," he said. "I don't think there's any extra pressure on IPL teams. It is 20-over cricket, and results don't necessarily go to the favourite team."
As defending champions and the most successful franchise in the IPL, Mumbai and Chennai were two of the fancied bunch. Now, they have nothing but self-respect to salvage, and that kept them motivated when they played each other. "Both teams have a rich tradition. We've played each 12 times and it was six wins each, so there's a bit of history there," Karthik said. "Both the teams played with a lot of spirit and a lot of energy. We didn't play thinking that it was okay if somebody loses. Both our teams came hard at it."
Whether they will have that same enthusiasm against non-IPL opposition in their final matches is doubtful. "The feeling was probably a little flat during the warm-ups," Hilfenhaus admitted after the game against Mumbai, hinting that Chennai may have some feet on the plane already.
For Karthik and Mumbai, the hope is that only remaining IPL representatives, Delhi Daredevils, can restore all of their reputations. "They are a team well suited to these conditions, and being an Indian team I would love to see them win," Karthik, who was once a Delhi Daredevil, said. "If Delhi goes on to qualify, it will be a great thing for the CLT20 because you will definitely get a lot of viewers from India watching them pretty keenly, and I will be one of them. It will be great to see Delhi do well."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent