The countdown has begun. "Two more to go," said MS Dhoni at the presentation ceremony on Saturday, after being wished all the best for the remaining games. It seemed that Dhoni's mind,usually engaged in calculating the runs required to win, was now calculating hours left in the tournament. With his team mathematically out of the IPL 2016, his facetious smile at the presentation was not unlike that of a man who has made peace with his death sentence and now waits to be liberated from the confines of the physical realm.
His stay at the middle reflected much of the same. Eight not out off 22 balls was an excruciating innings, ended mercifully by the rain. Tied down on a turning track by spinners who could turn the ball both ways, Dhoni seemed unsure of how to attack them, and relied on tentative nudges instead.
One might think that being out of the race for the play-offs would liberate players, lift the pressure off tired shoulders, and allow them to play with a degree of freedom. Rarely has Dhoni seemed more tied down than he did on Saturday at Eden Gardens.
It is hard to blame him. His top order had been eviscerated by a combination of poor shots and acerbic turn. He knew 120 would be a fighting score, but he couldn't afford to lose more wickets with the threat of rain looming large, for fear of offending misters Duckworth and Lewis. As the wind picked up speed and the thunderstorm approached, Dhoni's own strike rate dropped alarmingly. He was even involved in a slovenly run-out, not something you relate with the skipper, so quick is he between the white lines and so unerring his judgement of runs. All in all, he was having a bad day.
The rain provided some respite to Supergiants fans, and perhaps some hope of escaping with a point instead of none. Ashwin, for a fleeting moment, raised some eyebrows and the umpire's finger, twice in the first over. When the umpire declined to raise it a third time, Yusuf Pathan began his own countdown, and made a mockery of the chase. He walked the fine line between aggression and discretion with maturity one rarely associates with him, and any hopes of a miracle sublimated faster than iodine crystals on a flame.
And so began the countdown of the team in last place. They moved towards the inexorable end having achieved dubious milestones. Out of play-off contention, check. Bottom of the table, check. Injuries, check, check, check, check. All that remained to be ticked off, are two more games. Like weary travellers putting one step in front of the other on the final leg of their journey, the Rising Pune Supergiants seem to be heading into the next week with one eye on the flights home, although they will never admit as much.
One of the most romantic aspects of sports is the allure of the athletes who win when they have so much to lose. If the Rising Pune Supergiants can conjure up fighting performances in the next two games, even wins, they will underline another less celebrated side of sports. The ability to find the will to win when there is little to gain.
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Updated Date: May 15, 2016 13:01:33 IST