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Bangalore are not yet in crisis territory. But if they lose in Delhi on Wednesday, they just might be
April 28, 2008
About three overs into the Bangalore innings there was a grim suspicion - one which would come back to haunt them later in the evening - that Rahul Dravid had actually chosen a Test team looking as much like a Twenty20 franchise as the bearded women resemble men in The Life of Brian's stoning scene.
Bharat Chipli, seemingly the umpteenth opener tried by the Royal Challengers in their four matches, was being jeered by the Chinnaswamy faithful for failing to break Jacob Oram's shackles, while at the other end Wasim Jaffer was batting like a latterday Ken Barrington, apparently booking in for bed and breakfast.
Poor Bangalore. Jaffer, Dravid, Jacques Kallis, even the hastily discarded Shivnarine Chanderpaul (two in nine balls against the Rajasthan Royals on Saturday) - it was hardly a line-up to strike fear into Twenty20 opening bowlers. Moments later, Chipli was bowled by Manpreet Gony and local eyebrows were raised with knowing resignation.
And then the Royal Challengers got a stroke of luck. Gony dropped Jaffer at long-on. It was a sitter as boundary catches go. Gony wrung his wrist in pain but the bowler, Palani Amarnath, looked like he wanted to do a Sreesanth (burst into tears, that is, rather than collect a slap in the chops). The mood, already faintly surreal with the looming clouds and the swirling wind, changed.
Taking his cue from Ross Taylor - who, remember, was not even snapped up until the second, much cheaper, round of auctioning - Jaffer decided to play shots no one knew he ever had. He went inside-out to drive Amarnath over extra cover for four, and even managed to make the stroke look elegant. He pulled Albie Morkel for six and then played an imperious pick-up off his pads to deposit Joginder Sharma for six more. His half-century, from just 32 balls, came courtesy of a cheeky shuffle across his stumps and a flick to fine-leg for four. Amarnath could barely believe it.
But old habits die hard, and that is Bangalore's fundamental problem. The ball after reaching 50, Jaffer - man who has played two one-day internationals and only two Twenty20 innings of any kind before tonight - drove Amarnath to long-off and the wheels began to loosen on their axels. Nine overs and nine wickets later, they had come off completely.
Jacques Kallis nicked one from Sharma and did his best to con Russell Tiffin by walking full circle with his back to the umpire; Taylor, a star in the making, slapped Amarnath to cover; Mark Boucher skewed Gony to third man, where Mike Hussey made a tricky catch look easy; Dravid failed to get the benefit of the doubt - Gony's shout looked high - and departed first ball; and Virat Kohli lost his leg-stump to the deserving Albie Morkel. The rest seemed determined to run themselves out. "It was one of those days," said Dravid. The locals might be forgiven for thinking it was actually one of the Groundhog Days.
In all, nine wickets fell for 63 in 52 balls. When one of the advertising boards collapsed just before the post-match ceremony, knocking over a trophy in the process, it seemed strangely symbolic. This is a side that might still be scarred from the pummelling it received from Brendon McCullum here nine days ago. But the problem goes deeper than that. Well though Jaffer played, there is only one genuine Twenty20 batsman in the side and that's Taylor, who is about to join up with New Zealand's tour of England. Pugnacious he may be, but Boucher can't be expected to win matches on a regular basis by himself.
The sight of Dravid coming in at No. 7 after he had opened in the previous three games suggests the kind of muddled thinking that does not befit a side with Dravid and Martin Crowe at the helm. The Super Kings, by contrast, were able to slot in Mike Hussey and Mahendra Singh Dhoni after Matthew Hayden, and have Stephen Fleming still to come - batsmen who hit the ball in different places and hit it very hard indeed. If just one of them had been playing for the home side tonight, Bangalore might have won.
Instead, they have now lost three games out of four and Dravid, who - as an icon player - had a say in the selection of his squad - is scratching his head. Bangalore are not yet in crisis territory. But if they lose in Delhi on Wednesday, they just might be.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge