Kolkata's sorry saga continues
Poor Brendon McCullum. What do you do when you have 21 runs to defend in the last over? Have three men inside the circle to concede a no-ball, argue with the umpires, watch your bowler hurl wides and full tosses and lose the game. Can he ever snap the losing streak?
Whenever Kolkata have run that last lap, they have stumbled and fallen just before the line. If they believe in destiny and fate, McCullum could head to Durban to find an Indian astrologer to have his palm read. Every time he has scented victory, his team-mates have discovered new botch-up artists. Ajit Agarkar has been a guilty couple of times, Ishant Sharma too and today the villain was Mashrafe Mortaza, playing his first game in Kolkata colours. There will also be questions about why he was given the final over but he bowled a wonderful 18th over and there were few others available who hadn't choked at the end, so the choice was quite justified.
Poor Agarkar. That description is almost an oxymoron, considering he is easily the most mocked among modern India bowlers. He has been the villain in previous games but today with 27 runs needed in two overs, he bowled a tight over, that included two yorkers, giving away just six runs. Yet incredibly it wasn't enough. Fans have wondered about his numerous comebacks, have talked about his tendency to lose a close game with full tosses and in-the-slot bowling.
One of the most enduring images of his career has been Agarkar standing in the middle of the pitch after being hit for a boundary in the end overs. His right hand is on his hip, his left ruffling the back of his hair. It's as if he is wondering, How did I do that? Again? But he is an amiable, likeable sort with a sense of humour. Returning to Australia after a series where he was nicknamed the Bombay Duck, he raised his bat after scoring a single. He would need that sense of humour to survive today - and, indeed, through the rest of Kolkata's sorry season.
Poor Murali Kartik. Once again he was Kolkata's best bowler and once again he had to end up on the losing side. And in this year's IPL, he has bowled really well without much luck in pressure situations. Against Punjab, he nearly won the game but a plausible lbw appeal against Mahela Jayawardene was turned down at the end overs and Jayawardene went on to win the game. Today, he gave away just 12 runs in his four overs and would have been hoping that his seamers didn't screw it up. If Agarkar has had many a comeback, Kartik has been dropped many a time in his career. He has been perennially the bench-warmer or the man who just missed the selection.
His attitude is modern Indian, confident and aggressive, but his art has something that is reminiscent of an earlier era. With his trademark rudraksha mala woven tight around his neck, he jogs gently diagonally across past the stumps, the pivot is even more gentler, and it appears as if he doesn't rip the ball enough. But he is a very clever bowler, one in control of his art. Today, as he has done through the tournament, he hit the right lengths and varied his pace and always, found spin to keep the batsmen in check. But not every day can one man win a game alone.
Poor Mashrafe Mortaza. Bought for a bunch of dollars that surprised even him, he was benched through the tournament, to the consternation and anger of his millions of fans back home in Bangladesh. He got his chance today but was laid low by a mixture of nerves and the Kolkata virus. He is actually a decent bowler in the death as he showed in his penultimate over. Yorkers, slower ones and even a dot ball. But it all turned downhill in the last over.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo