Not feeling at home!

Published : Oct 20, 2011 00:00 IST

The agony was complete for Chennai Super Kings when David Warner's unbeaten 135 bush-whacked the host. New South Wales posted 201 for two and CSK was bundled out for 155. A dream had died for the Chennai fans and Dhoni's ‘Midas Touch' seemed to be a dormant memory. By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Chennai Super Kings always had an impregnable air at its home base — the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium. Add to it the sheer mix of luck, gut-feel and a certain rustic gravitas that M. S. Dhoni brings to his job as the team's skipper and you have a squad that can afford a swagger.

Just that this time around the ingredients suddenly stayed separate and the defending champion was knocked out of the Champions League, much to the dismay of its manifold fans clad in yellow jerseys and indulging in their chants and Tamil Nadu's folk dance — the ‘tappanguthu.'

The downturn started on a sweaty Sunday night as Trinidad and Tobago upset CSK in a Group A match on a sluggish pitch that often figured in ‘comparative studies on 22 yards' and was discussed even in a city like Bangalore, that is 358 kms away. “The wicket was almost like the Chennai one in the sense that once you were behind the (required) rate, it was difficult to catch up with and scoring boundaries also became tough,” said Warriors skipper Johan Botha after one of the games at the tech city.

The pitch may be a factor but the bigger culprit was the sheer lack of runs from a quartet, who in the past had propelled CSK to greater glory. Dhoni (46 runs), Suresh Raina (68), M. Vijay and S. Badrinath (45 each) failed to get going and it was left to Michael Hussey (160) to shore up things.

T&T suffered heart-break in the previous games against Mumbai Indians and New South Wales and the cricketing gods seemed to have had enough of dabbing tissues on wet eyes. You could also rest your faith on that statistical puzzle — the law of averages — but whatever be the prognosis, T&T thrived on a largely turgid batting that revived itself from its stupor thanks to Adrian Barath and Kevin Cooper's slogs. The visitor mustered 123 for eight, a score that may not have upset CSK's appetite at the dinner break.

Strange things have happened in cricket and soon CSK was on the mat. Hussey departed with Ravi Rampaul striking early and then off-spinner Sunil Narine (three for eight) prised out CSK's batting heart — Vijay, Raina and Dhoni — to help T&T win by 12 runs.

The agony was complete for CSK when in the subsequent match, David Warner's unbeaten 135 (69b, 11x4, 8x6) bush-whacked the host. New South Wales posted 201 for two and CSK was bundled out for 155. A dream had died for the Chennai fans and for the moment, Dhoni's ‘Midas Touch' seems to be a dormant memory.

The phoenix-act

During the first week of the Champions League, television cameras panned towards a grim Siddharth Mallya, owner of Royal Challengers Bangalore and the crestfallen look that Virat Kohli often had. RCB was staring at the firing squad after losing two matches but found its mojo to bounce back in style, so much so that the lack of passion in the stands for the initial outings was replaced by full-throated-flag-waving enthusiasm in the galleries.

The tide turned once a man, living in a distant archipelago and overlooked by his own squad made up of various island nations, shook his shoulder and swung his bat. Chris Gayle may be a forgotten man for the West Indies Cricket Board, but he surely packs a punch for RCB and is in fact a cult hero for its fans in Bangalore. His 46-ball 86 powered RCB to 206 for six against Somerset and the home team's lead bowlers — Dirk Nannes, S. Arvind and skipper Daniel Vettori — combined well to freeze the visitor at 155 for six.

That victory on October 3 was just an initial step and RCB also needed to defeat South Australia in the next game on October 5 as Group B was still wide open. RCB's joust against South Australia turned out to be the match of the tournament, putting to shade the theatrics and tumbles that defined T&T's initial games.

Opener Daniel Harris' unbeaten 108 (61b, 17x4, 2x6) for South Australia and the sudden meltdown of its lead seamers — Nannes (0/49) and Arvind (0/69) meant that RCB was staring at a target of 215. Nails felt the heat as fingers twitched in the RCB dug-out while Gayle dished out a cameo. Tillekaratne Dilshan (74) and Virat Kohli (70) lent hope and soon an improbable run-chase seemed plausible. Like a true-blue Aussie outfit, the visitor was not done in yet and Shaun Tait (five for 32) knifed through RCB's resistance before it all boiled down to 14 from six deliveries with Daniel Christian at the top of his run-up.

The final obstacle was six from the last delivery. Arun Karthik, RCB's wicket-keeper batsman, firmed up his stance and in the dug-out, Kohli closed his eyes and beseeched the gods before the crowd's riotous roar yanked open his eye lids. Yes, Karthik had played out a dream and the ball was in the stand overlooking mid-wicket. The match was won and suddenly nostalgia's children of the 1980s remembered a similar act when Javed Miandad carted Chetan Sharma at Sharjah.

Adrenaline was rushing all over and even in the press box, that usual repository of neutrality and cynicism, emotions churned, fingers froze on the laptops, arms were raised and a young scribe gave full vent to his joy. Out on the ground, Karthik was below the pile as his team-mates formed a joyous and clumsy pyramid. Siddharth Mallya drained his glass and ran onto the field and for everyone out there at the venue, it was truly an ‘I-was-there' moment. And Karthik will now nurse a tale that might bore his grandkids many decades from now.

The match's momentum was extended into the semifinal where Gayle (92, 41b, 8x4, 8x6) and Kohli (84 not out, 49b, 10x4, 3x6) helped RCB scale over New South Wales' 203 for two. The visitor found a second century from Warner (123 not out, 68b, 6x4, 11x6) but there was no way RCB could be stopped from booking its flight tickets for the final in Chennai.

Redemption in sight?

Hamstrung by the injury enforced absence of its leading batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma, Mumbai Indians had to draw succour through its overseas players. The tournament committee granted special permission for the team to have five foreign players in its playing XI but even that hardly offered any respite.

Andrew Symonds (26 runs) seemed lost, Kieron Pollard and Aiden Blizzard had their moments but the big-fat individual performance that can lift a team, never happened. To make it worse, captain Harbhajan Singh had to cope with his own inner demons after being omitted from the Indian team and regular performers like Ambati Rayudu failed to last.

Somehow the team held together and sneaked into the final where Lasith Malinga (four for 20) breached Somerset's feverish dreams to script a 10-run victory in Chennai on a Saturday night. Mumbai Indians initially prospered upon Blizzard's 54 to score 160 for five and Somerset failed to survive despite Craig Kieswetter's 62.

Given the lukewarm way the Indian Premier League teams fared during the CL T20's early days, the entry of RCB and Mumbai Indians into the summit clash, was a reality that dawned belatedly.

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