Whimpering exits, errant tweets and the third left-hander
The whimpering exits
Not even Ravi Shastri's booming proclamations of the IPL's global success, or the iridescent saris of Set Max's presenters could draw attention away from a sobering truth: with two weeks to go, the four play-off qualifiers had already been more-or-less decided, leaving a slew of largely-pointless encounters to be played out over the fortnight.
Such is the IPL's unwavering commitment to drama though that, apart from Deccan Chargers and Delhi Daredevils, who were decent enough to firmly eliminate themselves, all the teams were left with the slimmest of chances to qualify for the play-offs. The number crunchers salivated over the permutations: if this team beats that one by a landslide, and the other loses all their games and has their net run-rate hijacked by a bout of incompetence, and if so and so match is abandoned due to an invasion of hyenas, then …
Unfortunately, no-one had informed the teams of the valiant recoveries still possible. In Indore, Rajasthan Royals were already giving their fringe players a turn, making six changes as they lost to Kochi Tuskers Kerala by the second-largest margin (in terms of balls remaining) in IPLs. Rather than be buoyed by the outside shot that win gave them, Kochi rolled over for Chennai Super Kings, with even the usually-belligerent Brendon McCullum scoring at less than a run a ball. Pune Warriors made the least pretence that they were still in it - captain Yuvraj Singh looked about as upbeat about things as Munaf Patel does when diving on the boundary - and duly lost to already ousted Deccan Chargers. The fact that Sourav Ganguly was dismissed for a five-ball duck encapsulates how completely unromantic the week was. By the end of it, the same four teams who looked likely to qualify at around the halfway stage were all but through.
The IPL turns into an after-school special
One team that did keep their hopes alive was Kings XI Punjab. The catalyst for their resurgence from five-straight losses was not Adam Gilchrist's renaissance, nor the change in location to Dharamsala, nor even the Australianism that permeates through the side. It was, as David Hussey will stand testimony to, a pep talk from their franchise owner Preity Zinta. And she wasn't just offering them cash bonuses to win. She was, in fact, reminding them of what wonderful human-beings they all were, and how proud she was of them. "Everyone's so talented, we can match up with every team in the world … it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, you just have to put on a great show," a poker-faced Hussey quoted her as telling the team. The result of that speech was a four-match winning spree; what an effect a little reassurance can have. Perhaps, the franchises should prepare for the play-offs by giving their players some cookies and warm milk accompanied by a bedtime story.
An argument against Twitter
There hasn't been anything pretty about the public fallout between Shane Warne and the secretary of the Rajasthan Cricket Association, Sanjay Dixit. From Dixit pompously writing an article branding Warne a flawed genius to Warne suggesting he should have gifted Dixit his new brand of undergarments, it crossed the fine line between a difference of opinion and a puerile spat. The ugliest repartees, though, were saved for the Twitterboards.
Shane Warne has been a lot of things in his career, but he's always maintained a certain level of machismo. Imagine then what a young fan must think of Warne's whining that he is going to tell on someone to a blue-fronted Amazonian parrot. "@PingPongHurley but just wait till end of IPL and I will say everything he promised and went back on his word about to the royals ..." Warne posted. Dixit, meanwhile, has chosen to take on the persona of a self-appointed superhero. "Fighter of the bigger battles" his profile on Twitter reads before linking to a resume in which he claims to have "masterminded Rajasthan's cricketing revival" and "brought discipline to the IPL."
And of course, the past-master of controversial tweets could not be excluded. Warne's statements that the IPL was missing Lalit Modi, sent the former IPL commissioner into a tweeting tizzy.
Ambush in the mountains
During the World Cup, Chris Gayle broke the story of West Indies' team bus being hit by stones in Bangladesh on Twitter. His reaction was a bit alarmist: "This is some b*******," his tweet read. "Bangladesh stoning our bus!!! Freaking glass break!!! This is c***, can't believe ... what next bullets!" After Royal Challengers Bangalore's loss to Kings XI Punjab in Dharamsala, he tweeted: "Boy .. Kings Punjab ambush us in the Mountain :-) we walk into a serious trap … bullets flying all over from sniper gilly [Adam Gilchrist]!"
It is unclear whether or not Gayle intentionally used the metaphor as some sort of twisted jibe at the Bangladesh incident, or whether he has an unhealthy obsession with gunfire. Either way, the reference was disconcerting, if not insensitive, considering events in Pakistan in 2009. Kiss teeth Mr Gayle.
The third left-hander
Before that game in Dharamsala, there was a spotlight drawn so tight around Gayle it barely cast a shadow on the rest of the players. With 436 runs in seven innings, he had earned it. Adam Gilchrist scratched around for eight balls before exploding in a burst of light that immediately drew attention away from Gayle. By the time the game was done, Gilchrist's 106 off 55 balls, and Gayle's subsequent duck had combined to result in a clear shift of the limelight.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the background, in a dim cut, Shaun Marsh continued the form he seems to have been in since the first season of the IPL. Marsh's 79 made him the leader in the race for the orange cap this season, a prize he won in 2008. Just how Marsh's achievements in IPLs seem to go unnoticed is a mystery. With 1254 runs in 27 innings, he is the only batsmen to average more than 50 in IPLs (minimum of ten innings), and his 12 scores of fifty or more are second only to Jacques Kallis' 13. Kallis has played almost twice as many games.
The Wankhede does a Jaipur
A statement from Sachin Tendulkar about the state of the Jaipur pitch after Mumbai Indians' match against Rajasthan Royals was the first frame in a series of events that has culminated in Shane Warne being fined $50,000. Mumbai, quietly, bowed out of the fracas early in the piece, but the irony of the state of their own pitch for their match against Deccan Chargers was inescapable. The ball turned, kept low, and Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha bowled eight overs for 34 runs between them, as Mumbai fell 10 short of Deccan's 135. "The ball was gripping quite a bit, and that was not to our liking. It was stopping and coming," Tendulkar said of the track. It remains to be seen whether the IPL's pitch inspection committee will be represented at Mumbai's next home match.
The No. 2s
MS Dhoni has been rested for the limited-overs leg of India's tour of the West Indies, and with the amount of cricket scheduled for the next year, it is likely he will be judicious with when to play. That opens a spot for a second wicket-keeper in the India squad. Parthiv Patel and Wriddhiman Saha are the current picks for the Windies tour, but Dinesh Karthik showed glimpses of the batting form that once made him India's first choice, with his blazing 69 off 33 balls in Punjab's game against Kochi. If one went by price-tags, the $2.1mn Robin Uthappa might be considered in the running. His last three scores, though, are 1, 4 and 12.
Parthiv and Saha had their shootout in Chennai, and it couldn't have been more one-sided. Parthiv, captaining Kochi, missed a catch and two stumpings, one of Saha. Saha went on to score a vital 46 off 33 to take Chennai Super Kings to a winning total. In response, Parthiv managed six runs in seven balls.