The Indian Premier League has some heat. It's only taken 70-odd games. Considering the dearth of competition and calamitous efforts by giants like Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, one could be forgiven for forgetting that when this competition turns it on, there are none better.
Two games into the play-offs and we have had two belters. And the promise of two more to come. Particularly Friday's final eliminator with Rajasthan Royals and Bangalore Royal Challengers meeting in Ahmedabad.
It could be a classic of the play-off genre. The Royals, possibly the most rounded team in the tournament who made serene progress to second spot, facing off against a scrappy Bangalore who only made it to the last four because another franchise's skipper suffered one of the great meltdowns of all time.
Before the play-offs began, few would have given RCB much hope against Rajasthan. But get this. They are currently 1.9010/11 favourites on the exchange and despite their failings, it's not a price to baulk at. Bet the market here.
Against Lucknow Super Giants on Wednesday, Bangalore finally cast off the shackles. They discarded doubt. They played with joy and freedom. Well, apart from Virat Kohli. Their 'big team' tag has perhaps hindered them in the past but here they were hitting like plucky upstarts, as if they had nothing to lose. And it's darn dangerous.
Rajasthan may recognise that feeling. They approached much of the group stage with a carefree attitude. They relished the notion that they were gatecrashing the big boys' party after a 7-8-7 return over three season. No-one expected much from little old Rajasthan. Least of all themselves.
The devil on their shoulder
Until they came under the pump against Gujarat on Tuesday. The joi de vivre evaporated in the Kolkata humidity. You could literally see it. The droplets of sweat on their brows was a metaphor for the sought-after elixir escaping just when they needed it most.
Panicked and under pressure, the Royals were flushed. They did what every pro sports team dreads in the clutch moment. They didn't trust the process. It was really quite something to watch.
We all know by now that Prasidh Krishna failed to defend 16 off the final over. David Miller went 6-6-6, the mark of the devil which now sits on Royals shoulders, ready to whisper chaos and doubt into their ears. But there was more to it than Miller's muscle.
The Royals thought carefully about how to stymie the left-hander. Sanju Samson, Jos Buttler and Krishna came up with a plan. Probably one which had been discussed in team meetings with data and analysts and technicians all having a say. They picked a strong offside field, leaving only two men out on the leg side. Bowl full and wide of off-stump. A solid plan.
Krishna missed the mark, of course. Yet instead of backing their man and the plan, Royals folded. They changed the field immediately to a neither here nor there setting. Krishna wasn't sure what to bowl, nor was anyone watching. At least before everyone knew the tactic.
Suddenly the death bowler was dying. He didn't trust himself, he didn't trust the plan and nor did his captain.
Bangalore have done it before
In that moment Royals' campaign looked over. Unless they are able to reset ahead of the clash against Bangalore, they are in mighty trouble. And a Bangalore which has just amassed 207 against Lucknow, probably the second most rounded team in it.
Despite Royals' chutzpah there have been persistent doubts about their bowling. Delhi Capitals (twice), Kolkata and Gujarat (again) have taken a liking to their attack. And Krishna has wilted at the death before, too.
In the first week of April at the Wankhede Royals had batted first and notched a decent 169. They then knocked over the opposition's top order, reducing them to 87 for five in the 13th. Job done. Then they lost their way. They hemorrhaged 67 runs from 5.2 overs to lose. The opposition? Bangalore.
It could be that the belligerence of Buttler et al with the bat has been a smokescreen all this time. Methinks they doth protest too much, and all that. Their greatest fear is that they just don't trust themselves to keep things tight in the field. And Bangalore could be about to make that greatest fear come true. Again.
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