Challengers pay for their inconsistency

Despite an enviable batting line-up, Bangalore side came a cropper on many occasions

Challengers pay for their inconsistency

Heartbreak A dejected Anil Kumble looks on as Mumbai Indians celebrate their semifinal win over Challengers. PTI

A facet that has proved their undoing in the last three weeks – inconsistency – came back to badly haunt Anil Kumble’s outfit; seemingly in control against the Mumbai Indians for more than a third of the contest, the Challengers went off the boil at the most inopportune time to all but gift-wrap the last-four tie to their high-flying opponents.

Not often since the fifth match of their campaign, by which time they had stacked up four wins, have the Challengers found a synergy between their mighty batting and their more than passable bowling. Both suits have seldom fired in tandem. If the bowling has been spot on, the batting has disappointed despite the obvious embarrassment of riches. On the rare occasion when the batsmen have fired collectively, the bowling unit has shown a distinctive millionaire-profligacy.

Against a team as accomplished and in sync as the Indians, the Challengers had to be on top of their game for the entire length of the 40-over showdown, a point reiterated by Kumble on match-eve. The Challengers established a grip of sorts for the first 15 overs, when the Indians limped along to 107 for four. From then on, Sachin Tendulkar’s lads wrested the initiative with a mesmeric batting exhibition that effectively settled the issue.

As well as Saurabh Tiwary and the beefy Kieron Pollard played, though, the Challengers must shoulder the blame for a less than acceptable last-quarter bowling stint. Length balls, long-hops and inviting full tosses were the norm as the batsmen were allowed to do their bidding; variations in pace, the use of the slow bouncer and precision yorkers were conspicuous by their absence.

Poor execution
The plans might have been in place, but the execution was anything but impeccable. No team can afford to concede 77 runs in the last five overs of a knockout Twenty20 game and expect to bounce back. It was no surprise that the wheels came off the Challengers’ chase once they lost Robin Uthappa and Rahul Dravid to successive deliveries.

For all their batting wealth, the Challengers have been anything but regularly destructive with the willow. The last half of their campaign has been a disappointing, frustrating mix of unfulfilled promise and irreparable heartbreak. Jacques Kallis has been unrecognisable as the dominant force of the first five matches, while Ross Taylor was a pale shadow of the six-hitting, bowler-demoralising batterer on show during the Champions League.

It didn’t help that Virat Kohli and Manish Pandey too failed in their quest for meaningful contributions. Uthappa was left carrying the unenviable burden of finishing off things game after game, a task he approached with commitment and determination, but for one man to be expected to bail the team out repeatedly was a damning indictment of the collective inefficiency of a batting line-up that has been the envy of IPL III.

Uthappa’s power-packed batting and his unnoticed efficacy behind the stumps went some way towards redeeming his timidity during a modest run chase in last year’s final against the Deccan Chargers. The exciting right-hander was one of the few from the Challengers’ camp to come away with his reputation enhanced, not unlike phlegmatic medium-pacer R Vinay Kumar, seemingly innocuous but with a perfect understanding of his strengths and awareness of his weaknesses.

All isn’t lost for the Challengers yet. Third place in the overall standings and a slot in the Champions League still beckon.

That might come as minor consolation for a team that had eyed the highest honour, but it will still count for a lot more than finishing fourth.

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