Its now been 3 matches on the trot where we have seen teams self-destruct. They are getting affected by what I would like to call as the Choke Syndrome. With the advent of Swine Flu, the IPL community decided to give birth to a malaise of their own and it is rapidly spreading from one team to another. First it was the Deccan Chargers who performed the Houdini act although in the opposite sense of the word where “they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory”( a cliche which any cricket commentator would swear by). Then it was the Chennai Superkings who after a spanking start(given by Hayden, who else. This man just can’t stop scoring) suddenly decided to switch off and ended up with a total that even Bangalore Royal Challengers could manage, despite their repeated efforts in making a fairly reasonable total look fairly un-attainable. To top it all, came a blinder by Mumbai Indians. Requiring 6 off 9 balls with a set batsman at the crease, common-sense would imply Mumbai winning the match. But that is what the choke-syndrome does to you. Players lose their senses and do what Abhishek Nayar did; suicide for those who came in late.
This is the business end of the IPL and with the scrambling for a place in the semi-final getting messier by the day, there is bound to be pressure on each player. Pressure of trying to win every game here on, Pressure of performing or facing the axe and not playing again , Pressure of qualifying for the semi-final or facing the ire of the Team Management, the Ambanis and the Mallyas. And this pressure just amplifies when the action intensifies in the field. For players to come out top in such situations, you need to be relaxed and soak in the atmosphere which is not always the easisest thing to do.
The hero of the first match, Delhi Daredevils vs Deccan Chargers, was Rajat Bhatia. He of the dibbly dobbly mould, who swings the ball at the same pace at which Kumble delivers his monotonous-not-spinning leg breaks, stayed calm under pressure and stuck to his guns, that of bowling wicket to wicket. And Deccan Chargers decided to gift it to him, by swatting across the line and trying to manufacture hideous looking heaves when ones and twos would have done the job. There was no such hero in the second match, where Chennai just lost the motivation to fight it out. It was as if they had gotten bored of scoring more than 160 every time and wanted to see how it feels on scoring 130 odd and losing the match. However the third and final match presented a classic case of teams choking at the finish line, something that maligned the Mumbai Indians team during the previous edition of IPL as well(remember the last ball run-out affected by Yuvraj Singh to seal their place in the semi-finals and chucking Mumbai out in the process). Nayar who had revived a losing cause by playing some amazing shots, tried to steal an unnecessary single, even when the ball was lying next to the keeper. Then the wiry-haired Munaf Patel performed the last rites as he was just too good for the batsmen who followed. If you lose from these kind of positions, I wonder what the captain can do, even though there a scores of articles flying around which pin Mumbai’s defeat to the team not coming out of Tendulkar’s shadow. What is his shadow got to do with the defeat is what fails me here, or perhaps its just Tendulkar, a name so enigmatic that anything and everything can be blamed on it.
The IPL this year has been highly competetive so far and we have seen a fair number of humdingers, with a number of them being decided on the last ball of the match. Although the stupid elements claim match-fixing behind the high percentage of matches finishing in the last over, I think its got more to do with the conditions, for they have aided both the batsmen and the bowlers unlike India, where bowlers turned up only to earn their playing fees. With only 14 or so matches remaining in IPL, the squeeze is definitely on and the choke syndrome will certainly claim more victims. But only the ones who survive this syndrome shall go on to claim their share of glory.