Punjab end disappointing campaign with defeat

Yuvraj Singh skies a catch Indian Premier League

While MS Dhoni was hammering Juan Theron in the penultimate over of the match, Irfan Pathan grew restless at square leg. He began stretching his hands and was soon waving them up and down. He squatted on the grass, folded his right leg horizontally while simultaneously stretching forward, trying to get his forehead to the left knee, and repeated the exercise with the other leg. As the umpire handed Theron his cap, Irfan had raced to the other end, removing his jumper and walking to his mark to bowl the final over. He had 15 runs to defend.

Irfan had already done it once at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, bowling a tight final over to force a tie and a Super Over, which Kings XI Punjab won. Dhoni had predicted at the time that the loss would cause a lot of misery for Chennai. It did, and only victory today would secure a semi-final spot.

The pressure was shared by batsman and bowler. As the chase approached its climax, Dhoni had managed to sway the home support and a full house at the HPCA stadium had started chanting "Dhoni, Dhoni".

The brief in the final overs is simple: bowl yorkers. Irfan bowled an angled delivery on off stump and Dhoni made room to drive it into the gap between sweeper cover and deep extra cover for four. Irfan did not recover and his lengths were lengths were easy for Dhoni to pick up. After conceding two consecutive sixes to end the game, Irfan collected his jumper from the umpire, shook hands with Dhoni and walked towards the dressing room with head bowed.

"I was hoping he [Irfan] would make a mistake and bowl in my area more than me playing an extraordinary shot. He did that thrice in four deliveries and it went my way," Dhoni said later.

Tom Moody, Punjab's coach, gave credit to Chennai for staying strong even though Punjab were in control till the 18th over. "With two overs to go, you would have probably felt we were slightly in favour, but we didn't execute our yorkers as well we should have done in those last 12 balls," he said. It was not the first time Punjab had lost the plot from a winning position this season and Moody admitted failure on all three fronts. "Unfortunately there were too many games like tonight, where we had winning scores and we couldn't defend them. We failed consistently in all three - bat, ball and field."

Barring Mahela Jayawardene, who found form mid-way into the season, the rest of Punjab's batsmen struggled. Yuvraj Singh, who came into the IPL with a wrist injury, was the most consistent failure and that generated gossip and condemnation. So much so that Moody and Kumar Sangakkara had to perform damage control after every loss. "What simply was the case was we had a number of players out of form," was Moody's assessment. "It was not until the back half of the season that our batsmen came into form. The second thing we had is a number of injuries which really affected our strike power more than anything else."

Compounding the failure of the batsmen was the absence of an impact bowler, such as Dale Steyn or Doug Bollinger, capable of clinching tight matches. Brett Lee's injury troubles made it worse, while James Hopes and Jerome Taylor failed to arrive due to injury.

As for the Indians, Sreesanth, who had sarcastically announced on his return to the Indian team that his maverick self was 'his-story' - turned out a sad story, roaming around aimlessly in training sessions, as he found little support from team management, who reportedly decided to keep him out on disciplinary grounds. Moody admitted the Indian domestic players couldn't raise their game to the level that players in the other teams had managed to.

Responsibility fell on youngsters like Theron, who while impressive is still learning the craft. "Rusty did a great job but his role was towards the back-end of the innings, not as a frontline strike bowler. Our frontline lacked teeth," Moody said. "Tonight was a good example where our spinners put us in a wonderful position but our medium-pacers gave away plenty."