The ending is more important

Sitting out with an injury for a few matches and struggling a shade thereafter, M. S. Dhoni stood up to be counted in Dharamshala against Kings XI Punjab with a racy half-century.-ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY

Seeing an innings through to a flourishing conclusion is a skill as specialised as bowling at the death. Finishers, thus, have their own sweet place in Twenty20 cricket, where three good overs — or three bad ones — can heavily influence the outcome of a match, writes Kunal Diwan.

There is nothing so fatal to character than half-finished tasks.

— David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister (1916-1922).

The pertinence of this statement to the Indian Premier League, despite the absence of pretensions of those involved in its running to set moral benchmarks, is indisputable. And if one really were to estimate character, or a lack thereof, on the basis of finishing skills in cricket, the Coolest One will likely tower above the rest.

Playing the endgame well... Robin Uthappa of Royal Challengers Bangalore.-PTI

Sitting out with an injury for a few matches and struggling a shade thereafter, M. S. Dhoni — Chennai Super Kings' helmsman — stood up to be counted in Dharamshala against Kings XI Punjab with a racy half-century. Sixteen were required off the last over — with a semifinal berth on the line — when Dhoni ripped apart Irfan Pathan, bludgeoning a four and a six, before the ball disappeared once more from view togive Chennai the winning runs.

Dhoni set off on a solitary walk across the pitch, mumbling to himself, boxing himself on the jawline to expel the remnant of animation from the task, and was yanked out of his ferment only once a riot of yellow had drowned him in its midst.

Rohit Sharma of Deccan Chargers.-K. BHANGYA PRAKASH

It was a simon-pure display of emotion from a player whose composure under duress has never been in doubt. Dhoni began IPL-3 with a blitz against Kolkata Knight Riders, taking 60 runs from the last four overs of the Super Kings' innings. His 33-ball 66 swung things in favour of Chennai after Kolkata had pegged it down in the middle overs.

And although the Indian captain does it with great nonchalance and regularity, seeing an innings through to a flourishing conclusion is a skill as specialised as bowling at the death (or even wrenching a share in a franchise). Finishers, thus, have their own sweet place in Twenty20 cricket, where three good overs — or three bad ones— can heavily influence the outcome of a match.

The fag end of an innings is endowed with a decisive importance, perhaps more so than the initial, powerplay-aided propulsion, because the way things wind up leaves an after-taste more recent, an impression more directly significant to the final result than how they were initiated.

Late charge... Mumbai Indians' J. P. Duminy who lit up the Chinnaswamy Stadium with an unbeaten 42 off 19 balls.-PTI

With flecks of gray poking out of his 5 ‘o' clock shadow, Sachin Tendulkar said at a recent post-match conference that opponents who bogged Mumbai Indians down in the first few overs would do well to put their rejoicing on hold. “An innings is played through 20 overs. It's alright to dominate in the initial phase, but what is most important is how you end things.”

Performing under a mantle of nigh invincibility this season, Mukesh Ambani's team has been playing its endgame to perfection through a couple of remorseless axe-men. The team leads the tally for runs scored in the last six overs and its late charge has more often than not seen it through.

Against Delhi Daredevils in Mumbai, the home side was on its way to a middling total when its marquee signing Kieron Pollard walked in and blasted 45 runs from 13 balls. The 22-year-old West Indian powerhouse helped Mumbai to 50 in the last three overs, three of his five sixes coming in the 20th over — bowled by medium-pacer Andrew McDonald — that went for 25. Such was Pollard's dominance that the contribution of his associate at the other end — J. P. Duminy, no slouch with the bat — was five in a 50-run stand.

A few days later as the travelling circus hit Bangalore, it was Duminy who lit up the Chinnaswamy Stadium with an unbeaten 42 off 19 balls. Firing in unison, Mumbai's shooting squad — ICL-reformist Ambati Rayudu (46, 27b) and Pollard (20, 7b) — took it once again to a substantial total.

The West Indian powerhouse Kieron Pollard with the Man of the Match award after the Mumbai-Delhi encounter.-PTI

Against Deccan Chargers, Rayudu (55 not out, 29b) and Pollard (21, 10b) reprised their act at 127 for four (16.4 overs) and smashed 50 runs in 20 balls, ensuring a safety-net of 178 for their bowlers. Rayudu had earlier experienced a dream-like IPL debut (55, 33b) when he extricated Mumbai from a potentially hazardous situation against Rajasthan Royals with a 110-run partnership with Saurabh Tiwary.

For Bangalore, another team with an emphasised slog-over boost, Robin Uthappa has been a revelation, changing the course of three games in the space of a few overs. He began against Super Kings with an unbeaten 38-ball 68, inclusive of six sixes, elevating the team to a challenging total from the realms of mediocrity.

Against Kolkata Knight Riders, he scorched a 22-ball 50, adding 60 in under four overs with Ross Taylor to ensure a win. Two of his four sixes that evening were the products of astonishing reverse sweeps against Ajantha Mendis. A few days later, set an imposing 203 by Kings XI Punjab in Bangalore, it was Uthappa (50, 21b) again who exploded down the order after Jacques Kallis had set up the assault. Forty of the Banglorean's runs came in boundaries (4x4, 4x6) as victory was realised with seven balls to spare.

Rohit Sharma and Tirumalasetti Suman have been largely responsible for keeping Deccan Chargers afloat, particularly in the latter half of the tournament, neutralising somewhat the failures of Adam Gilchrist. Sharma's 44-ball 73 took the Hyderabad franchise to the brink of a victory over Rajasthan Royals even as Shane Warne surfaced with his old magic to deny the home side. Against Kings XI in Dharamshala, Chargers' Australian imports failed collectively as Sharma (68, 38b) and Suman (43, 31b) added 66 in 6.4 overs, orchestrating an essential win to stay in the semifinal hunt.

Suman, who currently has five not outs and 303 runs to his name in IPL-3, played his most pivotal innings in the successful chase of 184 against Bangalore, finishing unbeaten on 78 (57b) and plundering 91 in 7.4 overs in an unbroken partnership with Andrew Symonds, another master of the late onslaught.

Southern supremos M. Vijay and Suresh Raina have turned it on for Super Kings, but while Vijay's sparkle has been confined to two ballistic knocks (a 56-ball 127 that pulverised Rajasthan and a 39-ball 78 piled on Bangalore), Raina's impact has been more on the middle stages than on the later ones. Others too have pitched in with blinders: Harbhajan Singh's quickfire 49 against Deccan, Irfan Pathan's disembowelling of the same team at Cuttack, Virat Kohli's fireworks and Kevin Pietersen's occasional eruption.

Who, then, is a finisher in Twenty20 cricket? An opener who races to 75 and drops anchor as the target nears is one as surely is the middle order exponent who times his outburst with the onset of the death overs. Or, how about a backbencherwho decides to cut loose because he has limited willow credentials to damage — a la Bhajji-with-the-big-shots?

With the condensation of the game blurring lines between roles and elevating shorter spans of play to the status of an increased, more determinant proportion of the match, the importance of a player who provides the critical thrust in a few, potentially game-changing overs cannot be overstated. Then again, the art of finishing an innings — whether batting first or in pursuit — is exemplified by those who are perpetually aware of the bearing of their chunk of runs in the grand scheme of team interest. Awareness, however, is one thing. Its translation into reality is quite another, since the best interests of the finisher are perforce in conflict with those of the bowlers, the fieldsmen and the opposing captain.

Prospective game-changers, ostensibly the males of the species, stand to benefit highly from keeping in mind this following nugget of popular, sexist philosophy: ‘What makes a man a man?' wonders Agent John Myers of Hellboy in the eponymous flick, ‘It's the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them.'

Bowlers be damned.