A cool head on his shoulders

M. S. Dhoni … a turn-around in his leadership fortunes is not far away.-V. GANESAN

Chennai Super Kings' loss to Mumbai Indians was skipper Mahendra Dhoni's defeat number nine in recent times (which also includes the reverses his Indian team suffered in England). But the man has the remarkable ability to stay calm whatever the situation. He neither gets dismayed in defeat nor delirious in victory. By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The beginning was muted and, in a sense, it was like watching a deferred-live telecast of a big event. The Champions League had actually started in Hyderabad on September 19 with a string of qualifying matches. The official launch though happened in Bangalore on September 22 while host Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Warriors prepared for their game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.

The function strangely happened at the Palace Ground with its regular staple diet of laser beams and a music concert while all the captains were in attendance. Next day, Warriors defeated RCB and the upset reiterated the tournament's core strength — the nerve-jangling frenzy of Twenty20 cricket. The Chinnaswamy Stadium had a decent turnout, but the buzz was missing in the stands.

Defeat's cold grip and the Bravo act!

Eyes narrowed, bat aloft, the ball soaring and defying gravity. This was M. S. Dhoni's signature moment on April 2 when he helped India wrest the World Cup. Those minutes will gain incremental value through anecdotes and the soft focus of nostalgia in the coming years. But just as it happened to Kapil Dev, the first Indian to lay his hands on the cricket World Cup in 1983 who then immediately suffered the horrors as the West Indies exacted revenge during their subsequent tour of India, Dhoni too has watched victory's effervescence turn mouldy in the damp air of England.

Losing 0-4 in Tests, the only Twenty20 match and then the One-Day series 0-3 in Old Blighty seemed to be the ultimate nightmare but thankfully the return flight was boarded at Heathrow on September 17. It was time to slip on the yellow jersey and lead the title defence of Chennai Super Kings (CSK). Defeat's shadow somehow continued to confound Dhoni as CSK lost to Mumbai Indians at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on September 24 with Lasith Malinga driving in the nails with his gambler's instinct and swivelling bat, which is so intrinsic to tail-enders.

Michael Hussey (81) in the beginning and Dhoni (22 n.o.) at the end had played their parts as CSK scored 158 for four and the match seemed sewed up when Malinga walked out with 53 required from 4.4 overs. His multi-coloured mane was matched by the sheer variety of his shots that defy description. To make it worse, Dhoni muffed up a stumping and the Sri Lankan (37 n.o., 18b, 3x4, 3x6) helped Mumbai Indians through. And that was defeat number nine in recent times for captain Dhoni, but the man has the remarkable ability to stay calm whatever the situation. He neither gets dismayed in defeat nor delirious in victory.

A turnaround in his leadership fortunes is not far away and a brief glimmer was seen when four days later, Dwayne Bravo (46 n.o., 25b, 3x4, 2x6) guided CSK to a four-wicket victory over Cape Cobras on a night when the West Indian ensured that Dale Steyn could not sting. Bravo clattered 17 in a Steyn over and at last his skipper heard those much-awaited words at the post-match presentation — ‘It is time for the winning captain Dhoni to come forward.'

Lumps in the throat

West Indies triggers twin facets of nostalgia — awe and dismay. The ‘how-they-were' exclamation is often followed by the ‘how-they-are-now' lament, and for many Indian fans who fell in love with cricket during the 1970s and 1980s, the West Indies remains a favourite team. As a fellow scribe said, “They are everybody's second team.” It is a phrase that could be apt for Trinidad and Tobago (T & T) too as the team suffered heart-break twice.

In Bangalore on September 26, T & T seemed resigned for a caning after mustering 98 against Mumbai Indians. Harbhajan Singh's men had hardly settled into their dug-out seats when the tide turned and before you could say ‘amchi Mumbai', Ravi Rampaul had yorked Andrew Symonds. The wickets kept tumbling with the speed of ‘idlis' vanishing into hungry mouths at the innumerable ‘darshini' restaurants that dot India's tech-city.

On fire…Dwayne Bravo (46 off 25 balls) guides Super Kings to victory against Cape Cobras. He ensured that Dale Steyn could not sting.-V. GANESAN

Luckily for Mumbai Indians, the sheer vulnerability of T & T's total meant that the winning strike was just one big hit or a mad scramble away and while Sherwin Ganga brooded and Rampaul held his head, Yuzvendra Chahal ran the biggest two runs of his life so far! A fuming Harbhajan later said: “We did not deserve to win.” It was no consolation to losing captain Darren Ganga.

T & T's propensity to drag in the tears was again on view later in Chennai as the match against New South Wales (NSW) careened to a tie at 139. Rampaul, who could do nothing wrong in the previous razor-edge clash, failed to keep Moses Henriques quiet at the death. NSW drew abreast of the target and in the super-over, again bowled by Rampaul, Henriques lent the rapier touch as 18 runs were pocketed. In reply, T & T managed 15!

Besides the regularity of dishing out ‘so-near-yet-so-far' climaxes, T & T also fell into a rut at media interfaces as Denesh Ramdin appeared in three conferences. And he is not even the captain. Talk about over-kill!

The Kolkata chromosome

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) has confounded fans and critics alike. Owned by Shah Rukh Khan and having had characters as varied as Sourav Ganguly, Ricky Ponting and Shoaib Akhtar in the past, it was a team that drew eye balls and also made revenues in the first year of the Indian Premier League while its on-field performance remained average. The team has evolved now and under Gautam Gambhir has a certain solidity that cuts through the star-spangled dazzle of its owner.

KKR struggled a bit in the qualifiers and also lost two matches on the trot in the league phase before pulling away in its last two jousts with Gambhir and Kallis swatting aside RCB and Warriors. Gambhir's objectives were: a) to guide his squad, and b) prove to himself that the knock on the head in England was an aberration. He did well on both fronts and as he said after putting it past Warriors in Bangalore: ‘It is fingers-crossed for the semifinal.'

The cocktail of cricket and commerce that cuts across nationalism was also visible as bowling coach Wasim Akram measured Brett Lee's run-up with a tape and there was warmth in the manner in which they walked away while fans at the Chinnaswamy Stadium cheered the two distinguished members of the fast bowlers' club.