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HindustanTimes Sat,26 Jul 2014
IPL still searching for its playoff magic
Rohit Bhaskar, Hindustan Times
Bangalore, May 23, 2012
First Published: 00:40 IST(23/5/2012)
Last Updated: 00:45 IST(23/5/2012)

Some terms in the sporting lexicon are analogous across different disciplines.

A good serve will always conjure up an image of an opponent failing to send the ball back over the net. It could be a tennis ball, 6.7cm in diameter, served by Pete Sampras, or a table tennis ball, with a diameter of 40mm, served by Jan-Ove Waldner; the result is the same. Much like a goal, which indicates the ball is in the back of the net. It could be a 2.44m high, 7.32m wide, football goalpost or a 2.14m high, 3.66m wide, hockey goalpost. A goal still remains a goal.

When one hears of playoffs, what are the first thoughts that come to mind and what are the abiding memories?

That time again
A phenomenon born out of professional sports league in the US, playoff time is when it matters the most, where heroes are made and reputations left tattered.

Anyone who follows the NBA or Major League Baseball will attest to that. A nascent league like the IPL, however, has yet to throw up playoff performances that can stand the test of time. Part of this is because in cricket performances in Tests and ODIs overshadow those in T20, and partly due to the lack of many standout performances in the IPL playoffs.

In 14 matches over four seasons, there have been 16 half-centuries, and not a single ton. The most grand innings still remains Murali Vijay's 52-ball 95 in last year's final. Chris Gayle hit a 47-ball 89 in last year's second qualifier, while Adam Gilchrist smashed 85 off 35 balls in the 2009 semi-final, but they weren't even their best innings that season.

The bowlers have fared slightly better, with Anil Kumble bowling two of the best spells the IPL has seen, when it mattered most.

In the 2009 final, he opened the bowling and returned figures of 4-16 off his four overs, only for the RCB batsmen to falter in their chase.

He also returned 4-16 in his final IPL match, the 2010 third place playoff against the Deccan Chargers. CSK's Doug Bollinger is the only other bowler to take a four-wicket haul in the IPL playoffs.

Where amazing happens
On the other hand, other professional leagues are littered with magical playoff performances.

Michael Jordan in 1997 produced one of his most courageous performances in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in a match simply remembered as 'The Flu Game'. Nauseated and diagnosed with a stomach virus, the Chicago Bulls trainers weren't banking on him even playing. In the end, he scored a game-high 38 points to lead the Bulls to victory.

Razzle and dazzle
In the playoffs, games that appeared lost for the entire match could be won in those closing seconds of madness. Those who saw LA Lakers' Robert Horry hit a three-point dagger against Sacramento Kings as the buzzer went will remember it for the rest of their lives.

Just like those who saw Javed Miandad smack Chetan Sharma for that last ball six all those years back in Sharjah. How many last-ball sixes do you remember in the IPL playoffs? Can't think of any?

That's because there have been none. Barring the inaugural final, no match has gone down to the last ball.

There was some excitement around Deccan Chargers overcoming the Vaastu curse (owner-perceived, of course) of their home stadium in Hyderabad, where they were winless in the inaugural season, and winning the 2009 edition in South Africa? Still, that just doesn't have the same ring.


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