'Twenty more minutes and we would have gone through' - Muralitharan
The city where they were crowned IPL champions last year was the same city which wrecked their hopes this year. Sunrisers Hyderabad arrived in Bangalore late last month and saw a potential win against a struggling host slip away because of rain. Now, in the Eliminator, they were 20 minutes away from having a shot at Qualifier 2 and perhaps even defending their crown as it rained for a better part of three hours immediately after they posted 128, numbers-wise a sub-par score at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. But then it stopped, making way for a six-over chase in which Kolkata Knight Riders had to get 48.
To not get there, Knight Riders needed a serious meltdown, and they almost had one when they lost three wickets in the first seven deliveries, but the advantage of a truncated game always favours the chasing team. Gautam Gambhir demonstrated as much with his unbeaten 19-ball 32, which helped Knight Riders home with four balls to spare. Muttiah Muralitharan, Sunrisers' bowling coach, said it was his team's "destiny" to not progress.
Asked if prior playing experience on this surface, which they were denied because of rain during the league phase, might have helped approach their batting better this time around, Muralitharan said with a laugh: "Had we played and won [against RCB], we would have been in Mumbai [for Qualifier 1]. It's destiny. Twenty more minutes and we would have gone through. It's all about destiny. It's part and parcel of the game."
Muralitharan isn't a stranger at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, having spent two seasons with Royal Challengers Bangalore. But he may have well been mistaken into believing it was his first time here, upon looking at the 22 yards for this game. The ground where Royal Challengers nearly chased down 209 to beat Sunrisers in the final last year was now throwing up vastly different conditions. The reasons attributed to the sudden change in the nature of the square are many.
A change in composition of the soil and a reduction in thickness of clay to aid bounce hasn't worked because of the dry heat, according to the ground's curator. This has also caused the tracks to break down faster because of cracks opening up. Unlike last year, where five totals of 200 or more were scored, the average first-innings score here this season was 148, something Sunrisers were targeting upon being put in to bat.
Knight Riders' Nathan Coulter-Nile kept bowling cross-seam and got the ball to stop on the batsmen. Manufacturing strokes was hard as David Warner and Kane Williamson found out. It was only when the bowlers pitched short did they have any leeway. Despite having seven wickets in hand, Sunrisers could only manage 30 off their last five.
"The wicket was not great to play shots, we would've been bowled out for 70-80 if we tried to play shots," Muralitharan said. "We were thinking of 140 and finished 10 short because they bowled well. We had the bowling to defend it across 20 overs. Had we taken two or three wickets early, they would have struggled. We've seen how teams have defended 130-135 here. It's unfortunate. They won the toss and so they deserved to win."
Muralitharan chose not to focus on the playing conditions. A regulation cut-off time for this match - the cut-off time for play to begin in the playoffs is one hour more than the cut-off time for the league-phase games - would have meant Sunrisers would have qualified. Asked whether a reserve day, instead, would have been the way to go, he laughed it off.
"We all prefer 20 overs. We didn't expect it to rain. Anyone can win or lose, but we had a great season," he said. "The batsmen played well, the bowlers who we picked at the auction did well. Overall we are satisfied with the performance - eight wins and five losses before this. It doesn't always go your way.
"We are all disappointed not getting through, but we had some great performances. Unfortunately you can't win every time. We made sure we gave our best and our best was not good enough. We have to take it on the chin. Let's see, hopefully if we can get the same team next year - I don't know what the rules are going to be - we can once again try and win."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo