Cometh the Moment, Cometh the Man?
IPL 2022 has been a tournament of unexpected heroes, and teams coming to the fore
Faf du Plessis, Virat Kohli, Josh Hazelwood, KL Rahul Harshal Patel, the big guns lined up for the IPL – the Eliminator. Would the Royal Challengers Bangalore cross the hurdle in IPL’s 14th season riding on their good fortune? Would the new team Lucknow Super Giants go the distance? The answer lay in the hands of a replacement player, Rajat Patidar, who became the new sensational story coming out of the IPL.
KL Rahul, like the rest of the 65,000 strong crowd of Indian Premier League fans in Kolkata, waited in anticipation as the Eliminator play off between Lucknow Super Giants and Royal Challengers Bangalore was delayed by half an hour, due to a light drizzle at the Eden Gardens. Labelled opportunistic for jumping ship, Rahul was not the only one in need of redemption by the end of an attrition fuelled IPL season 2022.
There was a star-studded quality to the moment when Virat Kohli walked out, alongside his successor and the current RCB captain, Faf du Plessis, to the middle, his team having been put into bat by the Lucknow Super Giants. Would this be the moment when the RCB, having put their big guns at the top of the order, will rise like a Phoenix from the ashes? Or would they spiral in a heap in a tale of familiar woe?
Three balls. Narrow shaves each for the batsman. The perfect set up, unlikely to be noticed in a fast paced, batsman’s game that is Twenty-20 and the IPL. Except, Mohsin Khan won the battle early when on the fourth ball of the RCB innings he got rid of Faf du Plessis to a virtually unplayable delivery that the former South African captain and prolific batsman could not help but nick behind to slip.
Kohli tapped the ground, quietly looking down, disappointment and grit on his face as he prepared himself. He knew he would have to carry the mantle on his shoulders, if RCB were not to be the bridesmaid and not the bride again. But another man had been waiting quietly in the wings, to shine without being overshadowed by his more illustrious peers. Cometh the moment, cometh the man?
No, this is not about KL Rahul, though he is worth a mention for keeping his team in the hunt with a half century that ruffled some feathers in the Royals Challengers Bangalore dug out that was earlier cheering. Their batting innings had raised the stakes for the chase on a ground where no target could be precisely estimated as being safe or enough.
KL Rahul, the Indian player who will captain a virtual ‘A’ side when South Africa come to India for a limited overs series tournament after IPL 2022, was deliberately opportunistic and not just in the chase of this target. Rahul was elevated to the role of captain at the Punjab Kings. He signalled his intention earlier this year of not wanting to be retained or picked to his team. Instead, he jumped over to one of the two new teams where he was to take up the role of captain.
What’s the difference? Rahul alone would know the answer, just as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would know why they went after Virat Kohli in such a publicly embarrassing fashion. And the Chennai Super Kings alone would know why they thought they could pass off a story that didn’t seem believable. They were exposed for not showing the same faith they showed in Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Faf du Plessis who was their highest run getter when it mattered most last year.
Faf du Plessis eventually found an opportunity in disguise, when the Chennai team could not match the Royal Challengers Bangalore bid at the auctions. While Virat Kohli chose to remain with the RCB, he relinquished the captaincy simultaneously during a tumultuous time with the Indian cricket authorities. This seemed like a strange transition of both loyalty and leadership in an unknown set up for Faf.
Some might say that the BCCI were being opportunistic, using what happened on the eve of the fifth Test in England involving Ravi Shastri, then coach, to drop the proverbial axe on Kohli, the blade being sharpened against the stone for quite some time. Unburdened, Kohli waited, biding his time before he decided to show a semblance of his vintage batting ahead of the playoffs, as did du Plessis, leading a hot and cold RCB to the very brink of qualification, tantalisingly close as a matter of fact.
The RCB too were called opportunists, celebrating supposedly without reason for a place not entirely won on their own merit or so some contended. This, after the RCB found themselves in the pivotal spot, a slipstream of sorts, where the flatlining Mumbai Indians found just enough firepower to pour cold water on the Delhi Capitals’ mercurial ride in IPL 2022. This let the RCB through into the IPL playoffs for a third successive year in a row, poised with just enough points and net run rate when it counted.
Dinesh Karthik found his chance too at one point, after the fall from grace after being the highest earner in one IPL season. That season had seen him subsequently fall out of love with captaincy and batting at the Kolkata Knight Riders to find ambitions reignited for the RCB team this year and also, a rare call up for the Indian team as announced by the BCCI a couple of days ago. This led the wicketkeeper-batsman to excitedly talk about hard work and self-belief paying off.
His cameo at the end of the RCB innings threatened and eventually did send the newcomers tumbling out of the tournament after a phenomenal run. This even as one relatively unknown name was making it his business to see the RCB through to the very end. Thus causing a mad scramble for the opposition chasing leather, and rabble rousing a cricket community that has been, for the large part, indolent to the IPL this year, blaming it on viewer fatigue from the pandemic and a return to an even busier life in its wake.
The other new team, the Gujarat Titans, spelt good fortune for another player fallen on the fringes of the Indian team. Hardik Pandya’s off-field and on television antics had him lose out on fan appreciation, as did his injuries. It got him labelled an overrated all rounder whom team India desperately wanted to fill the void of someone like Yuvraj Singh.
While the Gujarat Titans overtook the table toppers, Lucknow Super Giants, Pandya’s captaincy skills, like much of his swagger, did not make him a fan favourite. That though did not stop the Titans, in the first qualifier play off, from leaping over the Rajasthan Royals who slipped through into the last four largely on the broad shoulders of Jos Butler’s batting blade.
Although the Royals will have a chance in the second qualifier to still claim a berth for the final. This will be a fitting tribute for a team that started out with an unexpected success in 2008, under the wings of Shane Warne who passed away suddenly earlier this year. They have done little to overshadow the two new teams who have not only surpassed expectations but also, set the cat amongst the pigeons for some of the more established teams. This is the case not only on the points table but also, on the sponsorship scorecard of the franchisees.
There are whispers that the Mumbai Indians might have to put their thinking cap on and wonder whether Rohit Sharma’s nascent captaincy of the Indian team is already weighing too heavily on his mind to continue as the Mumbai Indians captain despite their change of fortunes under his captaincy.
Faf du Plessis will see RCB’s opportunity as his own redemption too. He will be grateful for any opportunity to get his hands around a trophy though he had not intended to be deliberately opportunistic in the manner in which the Chennai team let go of him.
Chennai had no qualms orchestrating a whole baton handover story, with Ravindra Jadeja’s sudden rise and equally stunning stepping down. It showed more faith in an older Dhoni, conversely showing no faith in the rest of the squad which has looked brittle without the former South African captain in their ranks.
They are going to find it harder to swallow, being contenders alongside the Mumbai Indians this year, if Faf does get his hands on the trophy on Sunday. Chennai have been made to eat humble pie, toppling down the chart so fast that people have tired of their feeble attempts to save face since their fateful stepping onto the UAE soil when the IPL was shifted there.
Royal Challengers Bangalore were in an ecstatic mood after a match they did not even feature in, on the weekend. But they did make their way to that point on the table, stumbling and climbing along the way with one beleaguered captain whose crown was deliberately tarnished, and another whose national crown was wrestled away, to put them on the path of qualification, even through the backdoor. They kept themselves in the game and were rewarded for standing their ground with all they had. That they might have got there because other teams were not good enough was the way the cards were laid. They played the hand they were dealt.
By the end of the night, which ended with the Eliminator match being won by 14 runs, the Royal Challengers Bangalore were celebrating. Rajat Patidar was the unlikely hero of the night, having found the sweet spot of his bat early on the humid night and playing it to perfection. He was rewarded with an impressive, unbeaten century in half the number of balls on a night where Kohli and du Plessis were silenced early, much to RCB’s unspoken fears.
The way Kohli and du Plessis cheered on the shower of runs in the end said it all. This has been a tournament of unexpected heroes and unsuspecting teams coming to the fore.
Lucknow Super Giants will rue having slipped from the top spot on the table towards the end that put them in the knockout part of the playoffs. Meanwhile the Royal Challengers Bangalore will still have to beat Rajasthan Royals in the battle of old horses looking for lost glory in order to meet the Titans on Sunday.
In the game of opportunity versus damage control, the result has been overwhelmingly in favour of the former. This is, also, where the BCCI has looked for relief after the brick bats they got over how they handled one of India’s superstars, Virat Kohli, while favouring another, Rohit Sharma, who has become a conundrum in himself post the ascendancy. Some would say, this is simply the way the cards landed, the deck was fine when it was shuffled.
None, of course, know what it is to be opportunistic more than the BCCI. This year they played the cautious card after having to take IPL out of the country in the pandemic year. They were then forced to face grim reality in the face of their own apathetic behaviour as the death toll mounted in the country. There were a few covid cases in the teams, exposing their so called ‘bubbles’ as not being fool proof. They had to truncate the tournament in a haphazard fashion and shift out again. Business and bottom lines at all costs being the mantra, was mocked in their face.
All matches in the round robin stage were restricted between Mumbai and Pune and played in front of a controlled crowd. Not surprisingly the business end of the tournament saw the movement to two specific bastions – the Eden Gardens in Kolkata and what was once known as the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad. Rightful cricket magnets in their own right, but is there more than what meets the eye?
Is it pure coincidence that the two men at the helm and in the spotlight, particularly in light of the Kohli saga, namely, Sourav Ganguly and Jay Shah, hail from these places? In much the cliched marketing parlance, it is “bringing the cup home”, the BCCI knows how to play the game, striking gold when opportunity strikes, old team or new.