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May 23, 2009
And, so, after 36 days, it has to come to this. Royal Challengers Bangalore v Deccan Chargers. The nightmare of 2008 has turned into a dream 2009. It's a contest between Bangalore, a disciplined team that has begun to add flair, and Deccan, a team that has reduced its flair to add discipline.
The Bangalore story is known. A new coach, a new captain, a sense of hurt from last year and a desire for redemption. Deccan's resurgence runs along similar lines. Adam Gilchrist did captain a fair number of games last year but perhaps he didn't have the same sense of ownership that he possesses this year. Last year's Deccan were a team of superstars trying to strut around the park and they fell flat.
This year, Deccan returned to earth and to the basics. They reduced their ambitions to living in the moment and playing as a team. It's such a cliché that one doesn't take it seriously. At the end of the first week of the tournament, their coach Darren Lehmann had this to say: "We are trying to live in the moment and play it ball by ball. If anything that's our mantra. We are playing as a team. It's very difficult to achieve. You have to get everyone to buy it."
That's what they couldn't do last year, but have perfected this year.
Pragyan Ojha, who has bowled superbly this IPL, too spoke about the transformation. "No one is complaining about each other now," he said. "Sometimes it happens, you know, when you are playing and losing... lots of differences crop up [between people]. There is nothing like that now. We are gelling well together."
That they have done. The batting now revolves around Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Symonds and Rohit Sharma. The bowling is led by RP Singh and Ojha, and Gilchrist has used Rohit, T Suman and Venugopal Rao liberally with the ball.
Deccan's batting is dynamic while the bowling is disciplined. Bangalore's batting is growing into a confident unit while the bowling has been always disciplined. The two teams are led by captains itching to prove their own points. Anil Kumble has talked about his desire to do well in Twenty20s and Gilchrist has spoken about how bad last year's results hurt him.
Kumble has led from the front, has never shirked from doing the tough things that he might ask others to do. He has opened the bowling, brought himself on when Matthew Hayden and Yuvraj Singh were attacking and has bowled at the death. Gilchrist has shown trust and faith in youngsters like Harmeet Singh and Suman and has used his irregular bowlers very smartly.
Both teams have had openers in Jacques Kallis and Gibbs who have shown a great desire to compete hard. Ray Jennings spoke to Kallis before the tournament about his role and mindset; Kallis assured him that he was not only hurt by last season's efforts but was aiming to end this tournament as the best batsman in this format. Similarly, Gilchrist made sure that Gibbs was in the right frame of mind to play before the tournament started. He spoke to a few people and was confident that Gibbs wanted to prove a point. Slowly, things started to fall in place for both teams.
The final could come down to whether Deccan can stick to their "living in the moment" philosophy. Especially after their thumping win in the semi-finals, they need to be wary of overconfidence. Bangalore are unlikely to go that way. Deccan start as favourites but if they return to being Superman instead of playing as Clark Kent, Bangalore will bring them down to earth.
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala
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