Just when shoulders were beginning to wilt, teams knocked out of the reckoning for the final four of the competition and gate receipts starting to taper off at some venues, a conspiracy of the elements and the campaigns of two marquee teams has precipitated in an unintended knockout. When the Delhi team, hanging on to their chances of making the cut by the slenderest of threads, despite a run of indifferent luck, take on Mumbai at the Ferozeshah Kotla, it will not merely be the 50th match of the inaugural Indian Premier League. It will be a virtual quarter-final.
If Delhi lose, it will be the end of their road. If Mumbai lose, then Delhi will hang in there, hoping that one of Jaipur – easily the form team all tournament – or Bangalore, completely unfancied but smarting indignantly, playing for pride and eminently capable of pulling off an upset as Chennai recently found out, beat Mumbai. If that happens, then Delhi could still sneak through.
But when the teams line-up at Delhi's home ground, the first concern will not be of permutations and combinations. If they can get past the rain, and there's reason to hope the showers that put paid to Thursday's game could stay away, the teams could provide a rich viewing feast.
It's never a good idea to home in on one or two individuals when eleven play eleven, but the Glenn McGrath v Sachin Tendulkar contest is just too delicious to resist. From the time McGrath had Tendulkar lbw when the ball struck his shoulder, in that cranky Test match in Adelaide in 1999, Indian fans have had their knives sharpened for McGrath.
In the last month, however, it is fair to say that McGrath has done a superb job of winning over the fans of one city at least. He's taken time out to sign autographs when he can, he's interacted with students of special schools. He's not complained about the capital city and only recently he was joking to an official that the only ground in India he could dive at was the Kotla, thanks to the lush green outfield. But what's really endured him to fans of his team is the manner in which he has led Delhi's bowling attack, performing constantly, always leading from the front and not missing a single match.
McGrath's sternest test will come in the final game for not only will he first be up against Sanath Jayasuriya, who hit his straps in dramatic fashion with a recent century, but if he gets past that he'll have to deal with that. Team loyalty or not, semifinal spot in the balance or no, it's difficult to see any crowd in India cheering McGrath against the nation's darling, Tendulkar.