Gilly does a Gayle

Loyal Rajasthan Royals... captain Shane Warne (right) and all-rounder Shane Watson. Warne announced that this was his last IPL season as a player.-AP Loyal Rajasthan Royals... captain Shane Warne (right) and all-rounder Shane Watson. Warne announced that this was his last IPL season as a player.

Prior to that whiplash 106 (55b, 8x4, 9x6) that left RCB short by 111 runs, Gilchrist had scored 226 runs in his earlier 12 IPL innings this season at an average of 18.83. Over to K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

At a venue with the eternal Himalayas on its fringes, Adam Gilchrist turned the clock back. Dharamshala, a salubrious retreat where monks and tourists search for inner calm, witnessed an audacious assault that was thankfully restricted to the cricket ground. On May 15, against an upbeat Royal Challengers Bangalore, the Gilchrist of yore finally came to the party and the Kings XI Punjab skipper was in his primal elements.

Until that moment, Gilchrist had flickered and faded. A few times he promised much in the company of Paul Valthaty but largely it was a case of diminishing returns while his fans sought refuge in nostalgia.

Prior to that whiplash 106 (55b, 8x4, 9x6) that left RCB short by 111 runs, Gilchrist had scored 226 runs in his earlier 12 IPL innings this season at an average of 18.83.

Gilchrist, had in the previous three seasons, led Deccan Chargers and also guided its championship triumph in South Africa in 2009. And when he was snapped up by Kings XI at the player auction, brighter things were expected from him. Gilchrist floundered a bit with a new-look team but gradually found his voice while the squad strung a series of victories to gift smiles to one of the owners — Preity Zinta.

At Dharamshala, Gilchrist smote with power, pulled with panache and in a few minutes of unbridled mayhem, struck the usually niggardly Charl Langeveldt for three successive sixes. Gilchrist also shared a pivotal 206-run second-wicket partnership with the ebullient Shaun Marsh (79 not out), who matched the heat from his skipper's bat. Marsh hammered Johan van der Wath for 6, 6, 4, 4, 4, 6 in an over and as the night stretched, RCB shrunk with Chris Gayle ironically stranded on a duck.

The little man with a big heart

Since its inception, Kolkata Knight Riders has played out a script that largely reflected owner Shah Rukh Khan's blockbuster movies which often goaded fans to reach out for their hankies while eyes turned wet. But unlike most Shah Rukh Khan movies where the climax is all feel-good and sunshine, the Bengali diaspora spread across India and the world, had limited opportunities to break into a smile. The light at the end of the tunnel seemed strangely reticent.

Fortunately for the diehards who hang around the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, IPL's latest season has offered enough opportunities to say ‘Joy Bangla' and relish some welcome victories. The turnaround has been effected by the quiet but steely presence of a little man with a big footprint. Gautam Gambhir has marshalled his resources well ranging from the experienced Jacques Kallis to a ‘I-belong-to-the-big-stage-atlast' Manoj Tiwary. And Gambhir has led from the front with 366 runs from 13 matches to lend ballast and bite to the Knight Riders.

Gambhir's influence has partially assuaged the ire of the fans who felt Sourav Ganguly was slighted after being ignored by his former team. Even against Pune Warriors that featured Ganguly, Gambhir played his stakes well in a game that rode on emotion while the fans in Kolkata swung between team and individual loyalties. Gambhir, with pluck and poise, remained unbeaten on 54 (46b, 7x4) in a winning chase against the Warriors in Mumbai on May 19 and his knock added value to ‘Man of the Match' Yusuf Pathan's efforts with the bat and ball. “I am focussed on the IPL right now,” Gambhir had sternly said when asked about leading India against West Indies in the five-match ODI series.

“Sportsmen tend to live in the ‘now' and it is the same story with me,” he said.

The pendulum might swing both ways but in granting self-belief and helping the team's fan-base to fantasise about a probable berth on the play-offs, Gambhir has had a tremendous impact. Many, many summers ago, a man from Delhi made Kolkata his home and sparkled in domestic cricket. Gambhir may not be Arun Lal and his Kolkata-connection will last for just two months every year but he has done enough for a passionate West Bengal to embrace another sporting hero.

The burly Australian and the big hits

The two Shanes — Warne and Watson — share a close bond. During the IPL's inaugural run in 2008, Warne laughed deep at a late night press conference in Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium and said: “I trust my brain and not some computer.” Watson, sitting in the next chair, guffawed. The easy rapport that the two shared was evident.

Cut to the present with Warne playing a valedictory of sorts after having announced that this IPL is his last as a player, Watson gave a perfect farewell gift to his Rajasthan Royals skipper. On a humid night in Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, Watson silenced a weekend crowd with a quick-fire unbeaten 89 (47b, 9x4, 6x6) that deflated Mumbai Indians.

Watson's duel with Lasith Malinga was straight from the top-drawer. The opener carted one over the bowler's head, Malinga then retorted with a bouncer that pinged Watson's chin, the Australian then finished the over with another big hit. Later when Malinga returned, Watson struck straight down the ground. Tendulkar's last throw of the dice was silenced and with Rahul Dravid (43 not out) giving him astute company, Watson chiselled out a 10-wicket victory for the Royals though it came late in the tournament after Warne's men had pressed the exit button.

Meanwhile in a week of bruising bats, men like Piyush Chawla and Amit Mishra reaped wickets. The two leg-spinners proved that there is some space for bowers of their ilk.

That sinking feeling

Mumbai Indians was on a roll for a large part of its latest IPL campaign. However three defeats on the trot have dented the team's pride. A batting that has primarily hinged on Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu and a bowling powered by Malinga with Munaf Patel and Harbhajan Singh being able allies, has meant that a large part of the squad is yet to fire. Game-changers like Kieron Pollard and Andrew Symonds have been tepid despite bolstering the team's fielding standards. For Mumbai to reach glory, the team as a whole has to click.

In the lower half of the points table, Delhi Daredevils without an injured Virender Sehwag and Pune Warriors, scraped the bottom. For Pune, much hinged on Bangalore-imports Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey but the duo has dished out a few cameos while Sourav Ganguly after a promising start has displayed rust. The team's captain Yuvraj Singh had been busy grappling with worry lines creasing his forehead and it is a sad plight for a player who rode a crest in the World Cup.