Down but not out

Sachin Tendulkar greets Chris Gayle after the second play-off. Tendulkar's decision to put RCB in to bat after he had won the toss, came in for much debate after the match.-

Ravichandran Ashwin, who was hit on the head on his follow-through by a shot from Saurabh Tiwary, sat in the dug-out with a bandage on for the remainder of the match where he wasn't required to bat. Over to Arun Venugopal.

Half way into his delivery stride, Ravichandran Ashwin would have barely given a thought to the ensuing sequence of events or the quick-as-wink manner in which it would pan out. Saurabh Tiwary, summoning his inner rage pent up during the passage of an IPL season underscored by poor form, thunked one back at Ashwin with primeval ferocity. The Tamil Nadu off-spinner had no time to react and the ball made solid contact with his head.

Ashwin came down in a heap while the ball deflected off him and went down to long-off. Memories of the cruel Raman Lamba episode returned to haunt for a brief while. Even the frosty M. S. Dhoni would have experienced a shudder or two as one of his prime enforcers went down.

Ashwin, for his part, stood up manfully albeit a little startled. He then sat in the dug-out with a bandage on for the remainder of the match where he wasn't required to bat. And if you thought this was the only incident in the contest that made you say ‘Ahh that would have hurt', think again. During the Chennai chase, which was gaining steam towards the latter-half, Kohli and Luke Pomersbach pursued doggedly a Suresh Raina-pull from deep mid-wicket and deep backward square-leg like men possessed. If the impending collision wasn't dramatic enough, the ultra slow-motion cameras made it look more theatric. As Pomersbach's nose banged into Kohli's knee, the latter leapt up and came crashing down with a somersault. The beefy Aussie covered his nose and mouth which had started bleeding while Virat got up in a daze. Unfortunately for both, the ball had reached the boundary. The match was clearly no advertisement for on-field safety.

Umpires in the spotlight

This year's IPL has in many ways been a simulacrum of all those things that look devoid of finitude. With the tournament stretching on for an eternity, the glitz and gloss have permeated deep making everything seems larger than life (Who knows, the organisers may even get the Backstreet Boys to croon it live!).

Extreme close-ups of the cricket ball being lined up near the camera before the umpire picked them up, smiled, and strode triumphantly towards the middle, was one of the familiar sights especially during the play-offs. With players being given on-field mikes for their interactions with commentators, umpires have followed suit as well.

Umpire Simon Taufel (left) was his usual best during the tournament.-AP

Simon Taufel has been one of the more regular umpires and his comments have mercifully gone beyond the banal. His discussion on-air with third umpire Kumar Dharmasena during the Bangalore vs Mumbai match was laced with plenty of mirth.

After the celebrated Aussie umpire had made the right call on an incredible catch by Abhimanyu Mithun at the boundary line to dismiss Pollard, Dharmasena voiced out his appreciation immediately. Taufel merely smiled.

Elsewhere, the umpire-related action in the Kolkata-Mumbai eliminator didn't go down too well with Ambati Rayudu. After Rayudu missed a cut off a bouncer from Kallis, wicket-keeper Srivats Goswami went up for an excited appeal. Kallis joined too, as an afterthought. Rayudu smiled with a ‘what's-the-fuss-all-about' expression. Moments later, that would metamorphose into shock.

Asad Rauf raised his finger after considerable deliberation. Rayudu stared in utter disbelief. As if to accentuate further his claim for justice, he took off his helmet, stared again, and then walked off stupefied.

The Tendulkar conundrum

That Sachin Tendulkar has one of the most active cricketing brains is a fact widely recognised and seldom questioned. What has continued to flummox followers of the game is his imagination or the lack of it, as a captain.

After winning the toss against Bangalore in the eliminator, Tendulkar put the opponent in on a Chepauk track where teams batting first have won six of the seven games in IPL-4. While pundits pondered over the merits of such a decision, Sachin's left them gobsmacked with his choice of Abu Nechim as Mumbai's opening gambit. The over yielded a record 27 runs and the move seemed to have an uneasy eeriness about it more so because Sachin had Malinga, Harbhajan and Munaf at his disposal.

Whether it was a ploy to catch Gayle by surprise or a bold gamble gone caput, no one other than Tendulkar would know but what followed during Mumbai's batting was inexplicable. After Blizzard fell, Harbhajan came in at No. 3 in a bid to reprise his whirlwind cameo against Kolkata in the last league game. The plan didn't work and Sachin continued to throw more surprises. Franklin came in at No. 5 ahead of Rayudu and Pollard. Rayudu came a cropper and Pollard, coming in at seven, found himself in a similar situation to last year's final when he was held back till the very end. Pollard got out, Mumbai choked, and Sachin came up with a stock “We ended up giving 15 runs extra” remark. At the post-match press conference, poor James Franklin was left to fend off awkward questions.

Ashwin 2, Gayle 0

Throughout this season's IPL, Ashwin has weaved a recurring pattern of picking up wickets immediately after a batsman has hit him for a six. Gayle became a victim to the trend in the first qualifier when he was trapped in front the very next ball after clubbing a six over midwicket.

The massive waves of yellow in the audience swayed in delight as Chennai Super Kings performed a lap of honour.-V. GANESAN

Ashwin continued to be a worthy nemesis to Gayle as he dismissed the one man run-machine for a blob and set up Chennai's title defence. With two big spinning off-breaks ruffling Gayle's feathers, the lanky spinner sneaked in a skidder. M. S. Dhoni snapped up the edge and shrieked in delight. The contest had effectively been put to bed.

“I was always confident to go up against Gayle and take him on,” Ashwin said later. Talk of being in a positive frame of mind.

The curtain call

It was that time of the tournament again when commentators clad in ‘sherwanis' try desperately hard to showcase an atmosphere of carnival.

Ravi Shastri began booming away introducing the long list of guests and thanking the longer sponsors' list.

Harsha Bhogle remained his sedate self, speaking to the achievers with freshly-minted enthusiasm while Mike Haysman reiterated the action from the commentary box. In addition to the mandatory orange and purple caps and the man-of-the-tournament prizes, a few more awards were introduced this time around.

And, there was no closing ceremony; a huge relief when you consider last year's kitschy affair where giant replicas of batsmen and bowlers traipsed around waywardly. One man who was grinning from ear to ear was N. Srinivasan, BCCI Secretary and President-elect, member of the IPL governing council, and owner of the Chennai Super Kings. Evidently delighted at his team's second title victory in a row, Srinivasan gave away the prizes.

Later, the massive waves of yellow in the audience swayed in delight as Chennai Super Kings performed a lap of honour. Dwayne Bravo and Bollinger took the opportunity to come up with a few impromptu jigs while Dhoni remained a picture of calm as usual. It was indeed a ‘whistle podu' time for the Chennai team, which according to R. Ashwin, wants to be the Manchester United of the IPL.