Winners have many admirers, losers very few. But in sports, winning and losing is part and parcel of the game. However, it becomes a test of character when the losses become consistent and wins few and far in between. That's what Pune Warriors India and Deccan Chargers stare at in the rest of their 2012 Indian Premier League campaign - a test of character.
Knowing Sourav Ganguly's never-say-die spirit, he surely won't buy the argument that IPL 5 is all but over for his team Pune Warriors India. With just fours wins out of their 12 games so far, Pune are more a sitting duck than a preying falcon. And it's something that suits Kumar Sangakkara's Deccan Chargers even more as they are made to appear the punching bags of the fifth season with just two wins in 11 matches.
Interestingly, the bane for both the teams this season has been their inability to put together a winning XI even when there's been no dearth of talent in their dug-outs. Names like Sangakkara, Ganguly, Michael Clarke, Jesse Ryder, Robin Uthappa, Cameron White, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn, Steven Smith and Angelo Mathews pick themselves. Somehow, though, the think-tanks of both these squads have failed to pick a perfect XI supported by these pillars. And to some extent even these big guns have not fired consistently enough to perch their team in the top half of the points table.
Pune - after settling their pre-season differences with the BCCI - started well, but the consequences of missing out on the all-important 2012 players' auction slowly showed up as they didn't have much quality on the bench. They began the season well by beating Champions League-holders Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab, but slowly lost their way. Perhaps, they chopped and changed a bit too much in desperation to win and never allowed themselves a settled XI. And by the time Australia captain Clarke arrived, it was already too late.
Now with just four league games left - two against Rajasthan Royals and one each against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders, Pune need to win everything that comes their way to reach the playoffs. But considering the form all those teams are in, it seems a pretty tall order for the Sahara India Pariwar franchise.
Deccan, on the other hand, had the worst possible start, losing five matches in a row before opening their account by splitting points with Kolkata Knight Riders in a washed-out game at the Eden Gardens. While it's pretty difficult to recover from such a disastrous start, Deccan shored up their hopes by beating Pune in their next game and then putting it across Ganguly's men again at home. But two more defeats in the next two games has certainly put an end to their playoff hopes. It would be fair to say that Deccan have suffered from the lack of quality local players in their ranks and no bowler standing up to support Steyn. Sangakkara went to the extent of dropping himself to put together a winning XI, but that too didn't work. Cameron White and Sangakkara did show signs of hitting form, but it happened too late in the day to turn the team's fortunes around.
Though Deccan have one match more in hand than Pune, it's only a matter of completing the last rites in their five remaining encounters – two against Kings XI Punjab and one each against Delhi Daredevils, Rajasthan and Bangalore. The best they can do is spoil the party of those still in fray.
Fair to say, the race to the playoffs is now between six teams, with Delhi already there and Pune and Deccan on their way out.