Royal challenge for Challengers

Indian Premier League: Kumbles men need to win against Rajasthan to keep semifinal hopes alive

Royal challenge for Challengers

HIT MAN: Royal Challengers made a great start through Dale Steyn in their last match, only to falter in the the final stages. PTI

Primed to put distance between them and the chasing pack after keeping the Deccan Chargers down to a manageable 151 for six, the Challengers made a hash of a routine chase in Nagpur on Monday, thereby using up the quota of defeats allowed – for want of a better term!

From now, if Anil Kumble’s men entertain visions of being crowned champions in ten days’ time, every game is a must-win one, starting with their penultimate league encounter against first-edition heroes, the Rajasthan Royals, on Wednesday.
The Sawai Man Singh stadium here is something of a Royals fortress. Despite ongoing problems between the franchisee and the local sports body, the Royals have been well nigh invincible at their original home ground. Indeed, Sunday’s loss to the Mumbai Indians was their first defeat in nine tilts at this venue, hardly music to the Challengers’ ears.

Such extraneous factors, Kumble will be the first to acknowledge, will hardly hold any meaning for a side that began the competition in such stirring fashion but has since gone remarkably off the boil. There has been a distinct lack of all-round consistency in recent times that could manifest itself in early elimination, and questions need to be asked of the approach at the top of the tree, where Jacques Kallis looms as the obvious culprit.
Having started the tournament in a blaze of glory, the world’s premier all-rounder has thereafter flattered to deceive. He is still making runs – indeed, he has been engaged in a fascinating individual battle with Sachin Tendulkar for the Orange Cap bestowed on the highest scorer – but his rate of scoring has left a lot to be desired, thereby transferring immense pressure on the big guns to follow.

There is no debating that Kallis’ 37-ball 27 was the primary reason for the Challengers’ inability to scale down the Chargers’ modest total on Monday. Moping over that, however, will do no good; there is a job to be done on the morrow, and that’s where the focus will be.

The Challengers’ ten-wicket rout of the Royals at the Chinnaswamy stadium 25 days back will not count for even psychological points. Shane Warne’s warriors have dramatically shrugged off their horrendous early-season blues – this without any substantial recent contribution from Yusuf Pathan – and find themselves in the same simple situation as the Challengers, win or perish.

Warne’s wondrous ability to get his charges to play above themselves is the stuff of legend. The legend himself has come into his own with the ball after an understandably indifferent start, though his great mate and opposite number himself has been no slouch. Kumble too has rallied his troops brilliantly, and continues to astound with an economy rate well under 6.5 to the over; the battle of the champion leggies and motivators will make for a gripping sub-plot.

A track that slows down in the second half, the presence of a massive army of flying moths and potential dew even at this time of the year with the mercury levels in the early 40s will provide further twists to a contest with so much at stake.

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