There will be two teams and 22 players on the field when Kolkata meet Hyderabad in Sunday's do-or-die match. Time is running out faster for these two as compared to a few others and some eyes will be on how they try to outdo each other. Many eyes however will be on what one man does or does not.
Common passengers were surprised to see him on board in the early morning flight from Kolkata and greeted him with comments like "Welcome to India" or "Can't wait more to see you in action". To all this, Shoaib Akhtar had a non-committal smile. With the team low on foreign power, he has become integral in its scheme of things.
Nobody expected him to play in the IPL till very recently and nobody can say for sure even now when exactly he will play. Perhaps that's in keeping with the nature of Twenty20 where nothing is certain unless it has happened. You can't say for sure that 200 is a safe score until it's defended and ditto for Shoaib. You don't know whether he will play until he is playing.
One really doesn't have to dig too deep in history to know how Shoaib can go missing despite being present. In the series against India late last year, he hardly bowled in the Kolkata Test even though his team had just four specialist bowlers. That way, his presence has not always been a blessing, as is evident in the countless disciplinary actions against him.
It's just because the IPL has become bigger than many more things that he is here to play instead of serving a five-year ban. It's not possible to write at the moment who pulled the strings and how but the fact that the Pakistan Cricket Board suspended the ban for a month so that he can play here is unprecedented. It may not be a good precedent either.
But impossible is nothing as far as the power of money goes. It forces the captain of the world's best team to sweat it out at over 40 degrees centigrade for an unofficial match and a national cricket body to go back on its words and open a window for Shoaib to be part of this extraordinary show.
Time will judge if everything has been in the best interest of everybody, but too many examples have been set in virtually no time. Similarly, time will judge whether flying Shoaib out of suspension has been worthwhile.