IPL 2016: RPS-KXIP's battle to avoid last place is as interesting as play-off race

In February 2015, I found myself bowling against a batter who was in the 90s. It was a first class game in an inter-zonal tournament, and I was determined to not allow the said batter to get to her century, certainly not off my bowling (all the more so because she was just a teenager). As I brought the field up, stuck to my lines, and dried up the singles, I could see her inexperience get the better of her. She was over-eager to get to the landmark and get it over with. I knew this would lead to mistakes, and accordingly floated a few juicy full balls outside the off-stump, hoping she would chase one after leaving so well all day.

She finally did chase one, and holed out to mid-off. I screamed with joy, having (finally!) taken my first wicket after bowling all day, and more so because I had denied her the milestone. Although I quickly regained my composure and sincerely complimented her as she trudged off dejectedly, the wicket was more than just any ordinary wicket.

Ashoke Dinda of Rising Pune Supergiants celebrates a wicket. BCCI

Ashoke Dinda of Rising Pune Supergiants celebrates a wicket. BCCI

Some might call this playing spoilsport; I call it playing sport. The moment was the distillation of competitive spirit; to be good enough to turn the tables on the opposition just when they thought they would be celebrating the achievement of their lives.

Rising Pune Supergiants played a similar game at Vishakapatnam on Tuesday. There is a certain amount of (seemingly, but not truly) perverse pleasure to be derived from the Supergiants' win on Tuesday against Delhi Daredevils. The Daredevils would have been hoping for a big win against the team occupying the bottom spot of the points table and boost their play-off prospects. Instead, Supergiants pushed Daredevils onto a tightrope; make one more wrong move and Delhi will share the same fate as MS Dhoni's men.

The induction of some fresh blood in the form of Deepak Chahar, and strong performances with the ball from Adam Zampa and Ashok Dinda, lifted Pune out of last place. Dhoni revealed in the presentation that Chahar was originally slated to make the first XI at the start of the IPL, but a last-minute injury had kept him out for much of the tournament.

Now, with nothing to lose and with one eye on next season, Chahar — who at just 23 has already played 35 first class games for Rajasthan — was drafted in. The 12 balls he bowled showed promise. He swung the ball at a lively pace, and held fort in the powerplay overs in helpful conditions. Both he and Dinda allowed Dhoni to hold the spinners back, before Zampa and R Ashwin exploited the turn on offer to good effect. On the rare occasion that conditions favoured both spin and swing, the Supergiants' bowlers made merry. If the last over (that leaked 22 runs) is ignored, they kept the innings run-rate to just 5.21 per over, bowling more than 50 dot balls in the process.

Later, Ajinkya Rahane continued his ebullient form to anchor the chase either side of rain delays. His last 10 innings have produced scores of 42*, 2, 0, 74, 63*, 4, 53, 0, 67 and 60. Five fifties and one unbeaten 42 are interspersed with four single digit scores, including two ducks. For opposition bowlers, it is clear they need to get Rahane out early, before he gets his eye in. If they fail to do so, he will not throw away the start, and get a big score. In a sense, it seems like a condensation of a typically Test match batting approach: Give the first hour to the bowler, then take the rest of the day for yourself. That he combines this with a fairly healthy strike-rate of 126.64 has made him as bankable as a government job, and offers the team the same security of a post-retirement pension.

While the top teams fight it out for places in the play-offs like (in the words of the miked up Karun Nair) "sharks over a chum bucket", another battle will unfold on Saturday. The next game will feature the two teams that have clung to the bottom of the table like barnacles on a ship. It certainly promises intensity. After all, no one likes to come last.

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Updated Date: May 18, 2016 12:24:51 IST

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