Raina's revival act

Suresh Raina's unbeaten 73 (50b, 4x4, 6x6) powered Chennai Super Kings to a six-wicket victory against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) while chasing 176 in a riveting play-off in Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium.-VIVEK BENDRE Suresh Raina's unbeaten 73 (50b, 4x4, 6x6) powered Chennai Super Kings to a six-wicket victory against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) while chasing 176 in a riveting play-off in Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium.

The southpaw will have to replicate his recent feats in the West Indies too where he will lead India in the ODIs after an injured Gautam Gambhir pulled out. Over to K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

In the larger-than-life world of Indian cricket with its share of sunshine and dark corners, ‘prodigal talent' and ‘terminal decline' are at times two sides of the same coin. Suresh Raina was always regarded as a player to watch out for ever since his doughty days in the Sports Hostels of Uttar Pradesh.

The expectations quadrupled when Wisden anointed him among the five young cricketers who will rule the world. It may have been music to Raina's ears but soon he was listening to another variant — chin music. The fast bowlers club was busy swapping notes with a common theme — ‘bounce Raina and he will wilt.' And the youngster was caught in a bind between the ungainly hop and the feverish pull that was essayed more in hope than with conviction.

Long hours at the nets with Messrs Gary Kirsten, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid lending their valued inputs helped Raina gain a certain measure, though he is yet to fully be on top of the ball angled into his rib-cage.

His career became a series of ifs and buts and a Test century on debut in Sri Lanka was followed by an inadequate run against the South Africans.

Even in limited-overs cricket, his slot was grabbed by Yusuf Pathan until Raina underlined his utility with a timely unbeaten 34 that, along with a 74-run sixth-wicket partnership with Yuvraj Singh (57 not out), helped India defeat Australia in a nerve-wracking ICC World Cup quarterfinal in Ahmedabad on March 24. Confidence regained, belief secured and footwork assured, Raina soon made a mark for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.

His unbeaten 73 (50b, 4x4, 6x6) powered CSK to a six-wicket victory against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) while chasing 176 in a riveting play-off in Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium. Raina's game-changing knock came exactly two months after he grabbed a career lifeline against the Aussies in the World Cup.

Munaf Patel of Mumbai Indians celebrates the dismissal of Kolkata Knight Riders' Jacques Kallis. Munaf took three crucial wickets conceding just 27 runs in the match.-VIVEK BENDRE

It was not easy especially after openers Michael Hussey and Murali Vijay succumbed in quick succession. Being the eager beaver that he is, Raina strung valuable partnerships with S. Badrinath, skipper M. S. Dhoni and Albie Morkel. An inflationary asking-rate was mocked at and it helped that CSK had a cushion of wickets in hand to mount the late surge.

The tipping point was when Zaheer Khan steamed in during the 17th over. RCB's best bowler was caned for 20 runs with Raina and Dhoni raining booming shots. Dhoni fell in the same over but Raina's thumps over mid-wicket changed the course. A psychological brownie point was gained while the RCB attack lost its way and Raina guided defending champion CSK into the final.

He will have to replicate such feats in the West Indies too where he will lead India in the ODIs after an injured Gautam Gambhir pulled out.

Kohli and his consistency

In the same game that Raina wrested into his palms, another youngster reiterated his smooth blend of potential and steely nerves. Virat Kohli has been marked out for greater glory and though he lost his way a bit in the pitfalls of fame, he has done well to emerge stronger over the last two years.

He is now touted as the future captain of RCB and there are whispers that if he maintains his consistency and chutzpah, even the Indian captaincy might sit easy on his head in the coming years. It is also a fact that Kohli has stolen a march over Raina in the sweepstakes for a berth in the Test squad.

Kohli's unbeaten 70 (44b, 5x4, 3x6) proved to be RCB's spine right from the fourth over and his ability to stay busy at the crease without undue risks helped Daniel Vettori's men to dream about upsetting CSK before Raina altered the climax with his mix of sheepish grin and assured strokes.

A fast bowler with a monk's inner calm

Munaf Patel once made scribes scramble around him as Dennis Lillee reportedly said that he was the fastest bowler in India.

Munaf, of the few words and inscrutable face, was perplexed by all the attention that he generated at a camp in Bangalore and subsequently he proved that he does not belong to the scorching company of Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee.

Decisive blow...Mumbai Indians captain Sachin Tendulkar is stumped by RCB's A. B. de Villiers off Syed Mohammad.-V. GANESAN

He may not have the breathless anticipation that trails Ishant Sharma's run-up or a what-next-dilemma that surrounds the blow-hot-blow-cold world of S.Sreesanth but Munaf in his own inimitable ways has become a certainty in the Indian ODI squad. His parsimony was a key component of India's World Cup triumph and in the IPL's eliminator game, the Mumbai Indians' pacer grabbed three wickets conceding 27 runs.

Munaf scalped Jacques Kallis, Srivats Goswami and Yusuf Pathan, all crucial blows that snuffed out Kolkata Knight Riders and eventually paved the way for Mumbai Indians' four-wicket victory that also thrived on Aiden Blizzard's breezy 51. Ryan ten Doeschate's unbeaten 70 did prop up Knight Riders but with Munaf prising out its batting heart, the match soon eased into the Mumbai Indians' grip.

Special nuggets

In the second qualifier in Chennai's M. A. Chidambaram Stadium on May 27, Chris Gayle did his patented bruising-act upfront with the talented Mayank Agarwal giving him solid company.

The base was enough to set up RCB's triumph against Mumbai Indians but two moments added lustre to the Bangalore outfit's entry into the summit clash. Left-arm spinner Syed Mohammad beat Sachin Tendulkar in the air and off the pitch to set up a stumping and RCB was buzzing all over. Later Abhimanyu Mithun defied gravity at long-off to pause a near-six and the catch drew a helpless smile from Kieron Pollard, who trudged back helplessly.

Losing their stride

Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians ebbed away in the IPL's final phase. Knight Riders had done enough to erase memories of low-key returns in the previous seasons while Mumbai Indians again flattered to deceive. Finishing in the top four might just provide a few crumbs of consolation to the respective team owners but the eventual fadeout will rankle both the teams. Gambhir's shoulder injury that stirred speculation within KKR and the BCCI and Kieron Pollard's inability to laugh at sky-scraping required rates while batting for Mumbai Indians, were sore spots for two teams that did enough to hustle into the last four before losing their stride.