IPL 2013 review May 27, 2013

Home comforts, and local leaders

The season is more likely to be remembered for the off-field drama, but there were several cricketing talking points as well

Home, sweet home
In Test cricket, the contrast between teams' record in familiar home conditions and their record away is stark. In the IPL till this season, there was only a bit of a difference between teams' home and away record. In 2013, though, IPL teams were succeeding so often at home - the win-loss record was twice more than all other seasons - that it stirred a debate mid-season over whether away wins should be awarded an extra point. Both Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals swept all eight matches at home; one highlight of the home advantage was Royals using a bouncy track and an all-pace attack to outwit Kolkata Knight Riders, who play most often on a slow, low track at Eden Gardens. Royal Challengers Bangalore's headlining trio - Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers - made the most of perhaps the flattest surface in the country, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, to ensure there was only one defeat in Bangalore. Sunrisers Hyderabad, one of the teams with the least batting firepower, had pitches that assisted their top-quality bowling attack, allowing the team to regularly defend low scores on their way to seven wins at home. Partly this was due to players having got accustomed to the conditions over three years, an advantage which could be lost when the teams are shuffled ahead of next season.

The pitfalls of foreign captains
If the captain is supposed to be the person around whom the franchise is built, foreign players seem to be a bad choice, as Adam Gilchrist, Kumar Sangakkara, Ricky Ponting and Angelo Mathews proved. Besides poor form, there's the possibility of them not being available for the entire season due to international commitments. The pool of players available to be the face of the team has shrunk further as Rahul Dravid is uncertain for the next season, Sachin Tendulkar has retired, and Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh were not leading this year. All of which means most franchises will have to splash big money for the few viable candidates likely to be available for auction, more so as most suitable Indian choices - MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina - will likely be kept by their current franchise (though the retention policy is yet to be determined).

Fielding mixed bag
Many IPL fans will remember Ricky Ponting's supremely athletic diving, one-handed catch against Delhi Daredevils early this season. Far fewer will remember Lasith Malinga putting down a more straightforward chance at short fine leg two balls later. It encapsulated the fielding standards in the IPL - some were spectacular made-for-promos efforts, while others were nearly amateurish. That has been the case for most seasons now, with a particularly vast gulf between the standards of the Indian domestic players and those of the overseas pros. Given that, it was heartening to see that the official catch of the season award went to the unheralded Kings XI Punjab youngster, Gurkeerat Singh.

No panic batting
In the early years of Twenty20, batsmen felt the need to attack virtually every ball, and teams turned to jelly when the asking rate hits double digits. No more, as several teams gleefully discarded the age-old concept of the best batsmen facing the most number of balls. Rajasthan Royals often held back Shane Watson for later in the innings, or trusted Brad Hodge to get 50 in the final five, while David Miller routinely walked out below little-knowns like Manan Vohra.

Chennai Super Kings' preferred strategy was to go at just about a run-a-ball in the first 10 without losing too many wickets, before unleashing the heavy-hitters in the middle order. It worked wonders most times, though it seemed to backfire as MS Dhoni walked out as low as No. 7 in the final, with the match seemingly lost.

Hapless umpiring
As with wicketkeepers, umpires are said to have a good day when they don't draw undue attention to themselves. This IPL season, though, the umpires were frequently in the spotlight, for all the wrong reasons, even before Asad Rauf was pulled from the Champions Trophy following media reports that indicated he was under investigation by Mumbai Police. Perhaps for the first time in his career, Rahul Dravid showed how livid he was with the umpiring after he was given out caught behind though his bat was nowhere near the ball. Dhawal Kulkarni bowled six full tosses in one of the worst final overs of the tournament, but Mumbai Indians still won as a chest-high full toss was somehow deemed valid. "They are not playing run-outs anymore," Adam Gilchrist deadpanned after Michael Hussey was inexplicably given not out even though he looked short of the crease. Those were just a few of the prominent glitches in a tournament where the level of umpiring was consistently below par.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo