Do the losers, so to speak, stop playing the sport? Do their followers stop following them? If not, then, why do they decide to persist? The answer is that people play/watch sports for reasons beyond wins and losses.
The last time Rajasthan Royals reached the IPL final was in 2008. It was the first year of the tournament. They won it under the leadership of the genius leg-spinner and one of the greatest characters in cricket, Shane Warne. Though Warne had retired from international cricket by then, he was still an active cricketer. And, also alive.
On Thursday, Royals ended their 14-year IPL final ‘exile’ when they beat Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Qualifier 2. If they can win the trophy on Sunday, it would be the most appropriate tribute to the man who gave them an identity, and a belief that dreams do come true. Warne died a few weeks before this season of the IPL was scheduled to begin but had he still been here, he would have been the happiest person to see his Royals in the final again.
Gujarat Titans, who share the state border with Rajasthan Royals, now also share the legacy of making it to the IPL final in the first season of their launch (Chennai Super Kings are the only other team). And they are the favourites to take it a step further and match the firstseason success of the Royals.
Titans are one of the two new teams in the IPL which, at the time of their entry, was 14 years old. Their captain, Hardik Pandya, had no prior experience of leading a team. Their coach Ashish Nehra, who had some experience of being a bowling coach, had never been the head coach of a team. One of their main recruits, Jason Roy, pulled out just before the season. Yet, here they are: finished at the top of the points table with maximum points in the league phase and qualified for the final in their first attempt.
Both Royals and Titans, like most teams, are not perfect. While Royals had lower-order and death bowling issues to deal with, Titans had to make up for Roy’s pullout at the top and the absence of an established batter in the middle-order
Yet, both the teams found ways around their problems.
Royals’ top-order took it upon themselves to do most of the heavy-lifting in posting or chasing a total and rarely depended on the lower-order. Jos Buttler equalled the record for most centuries (4) in a season.
For Titans, Pandya led the way with responsible batting at No. 4, while David Miller and Rahul Tewatia provided the fire power in the death overs.
There’ll only be one winner on Sunday, but the IPL final will be about more than just the result.
Royals, for 14 long years, patiently and consistently worked hard, learnt from their mistakes, scrapped and rebuilt their squad, and, as fate would have it, have now put themselves in a position to give their original hero a perfect parting gift.
Titans, on the other hand, are eyeing a fairytale ending to their first season in the most popular T20 tournament.
Hopes and dreams.