Friday, May 22, 2009

2nd semi-final -- Chennai still Favourites


There can be few sights more intimidating in cricket than Matthew Hayden walking in to face the new ball. If the left-hander is on a song, there might as well be a blast. 

That thought alone will keep Royal Challengers on their toes when the second semi-final of the IPL begins at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Saturday. Hayden, wearing his Orange Cap and carrying the willow that looks like a toy in a truck-puller’s hand, will keep playing on the opposition’s mind. 

Royal Challengers called for an emergency meeting on Friday that had all players in a huddle in a small conference room at hotel Sandton Sun for close to an hour. Whatever their personal work, the players had been asked to keep it aside until the all-important meeting was over. Captain Anil Kumble, 
coach Ray Jennings, Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis walked in first, followed by the rest who were still celebrating Manish Pandey’s ton on Thursday. 

There was an important issue to be discussed and it remained no secret once the meeting ended. All the players walked out of the conference room except for Praveen Kumar, B Akhil, Roelof van der Merwve, Kumble and Kallis. They had an extended half an hour discussion amongst themselves. 

Kumble knows that stopping Hayden alone will be the key to Royal Challengers making their way to the final. If they can get the belligerent left-hander early, the option of applying pressure on the rest of the line-up will be better than having him out there in the middle. Of course, Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have been in equally good form, S Badrinath has been impressive and is fit after a slight niggle, Jacob Oram is still waiting to explode and Albie Morkel’s return from injury can make things tougher. But Hayden still remains the key. 

"He is dangerous and we all know what he’s capable of doing. He’s the tournament’s highest scorer. If we can get him early, fine,’’ says Jennings. 

In seven out of 11 innings, Hayden has given Team Chennai the right kind of start. His strike rate has been consistent at around 140. He has accumulated five fifties and an individual best of 89, so far, adding to the team’s top-order muscle. If Chennai can once again afford to flex that, Royal Challengers will have a lot of work. Dhoni’s best bet to follow-up on the start given by Hayden is Raina, the tournament’s second best batsman after the giant Aussie. At 414 runs, Raina has been the mainstay in Chennai’s middle-order and should be no less a worry for the Challengers. 

However, it was interesting to hear Jennings bring Hayden’s name into the discussion whenever the topic of Chennai’s batting came up. Be it mind games or simply a lurking fear, Challengers do know that he’s a bigger threat than anyone else.

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