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Last year, Warne and the Royals scripted a fairy tale. This year the lead fairies didnít turn up. No Watson, no Tanvir, no Akmal. Not enough wands now, not enough spells. The students tried hard, sometimes out of sheer willpower they turned coal into a diamond but only sometimes. Even Warne was a year older. He knew his lines, he had the old bluster, but you could tell he hadnít been on stage for a while. He bowled magical spells but from time to time irreverent kids charged him and put the ball in the stands.
Man to man, the Royals just didnít belong. They had far too many players who werenít coveted by others, who wouldnít have made a short list of any other team. They were good and Warne was willing to back them, but at times his team was producing high school musicals in a competition of lavish productions. To be fair to him, Warne showed that you donít need to be lavish, but on the big day you need the experienced star; you need Naseeruddin Shah to deliver the lines, sometimes Warne was stuck with Anand Kumar, class 8B. When he needed masterpieces he had artisans around, he had uncut stones that will glitter one day but canít quite fit into a necklace just yet.
That is why what he and the Royals achieved was remarkable. He ran a tight ship and they scrapped for every run. He couldnít afford an over where his bowler conceded 24 because he didnít always have a batsman who could reply in kind. Ravindra Jadeja was excellent but he is a work in progress and Yusuf Pathan was always having to drag them out of a crisis. One day, and the day is not too far away, these two will show how much this experience has helped them. Like guerrilla fighters, his boys crept up on the opposition and often ambushed them; they played free spirited cricket and they knew no fear. It was magnificent to watch Naman Ojha win a game, Abhishek Raut win another, Kamran Khan bowl the super over, Amit Singh take the new ball.....why, he even got Munaf Patel to bowl the last over and deliver! But the pistol can only beat the artillery in an ambush, in open warfare you need the big gun.
But for all the romance surrounding Rajasthan you have to ask why they chose to play with this team. The power of the mind is awesome, and they showed it, but in almost every game they were in an unequal fight. Did the romance become an end in itself I wonder? Did the idea of the underdog beating the fancied get converted into a mission? Did they almost plot to be underdogs? I fear they ran too tight a ship, didnít stock enough ammunition. Or to use a metaphor more in keeping with their amazing style, maybe there werenít enough sandwiches in the picnic basket.
But weíll miss them. The Royals brought a wonderful flavour to the IPL, they tugged at the heart. They almost forced you to want them to win. Shane Warne said at the end that heíll be back next year but that will be another ten months without a ball emerging from that astonishing combination of shoulder, fingers and mind. At the end of the game against the Knight Riders there was an excellent shot of him walking away, alone, towards the change rooms. I donít know why but it just struck me that this might be the last time he would have walked away from a cricket ground. I thought I saw the titles roll.