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Deccan Chargers, the team that got ahead of themselves last year stayed grounded in the moment this year. By remaining Clark Kent, Deccan were able to fly like Superman
May 25, 2009
Andrew Symonds's two wickets in two balls swung the final but his impact on the team since his arrival halfway through was perhaps down to neither bat nor ball but his attitude - he literally owned the turf whenever he stepped on it. Whether the frequent motivational runs towards bowlers and fielders or the verbals with youngsters in the opposition, this was a man relishing the notion of being a senior and leading from the front. This sense of ownership by the seniors - missing last year, when Deccan ended up last in the league - allowed the youngsters to play more freely, seek self-expression.
The story of Deccan 2009 is the story of seniors like Symonds, Adam Gilchrist and Herschelle Gibbs - and, in a different sense, VVS Laxman - and their effect on youngsters like Harmeet Singh, Pragyan Ojha and Rohit Sharma. Add to that consistently superb bowling from like RP Singh and moments of brilliance from Fidel Edwards and you had a recipe for success. They were the least glamorous team - but that allowed them to focus on the cricket.
Gibbs' story mirrors Deccan's. Through the tournament he showed a hunger for success and the realisation that, at times, one had to win ugly by fighting it out. It was something missing in him, and in the team, last year. The final epitomised the new Gibbs. Gilchrist called it a "brave innings", symbolic of where he is at in life at the moment. This was a man who admitted his mistakes, acknowledged the problem and went about trying to solve the issue.
And there's Laxman. You might wonder how a player who failed on the field might be a symbol of a winning team. But Deccan's success stemmed from the atmosphere in the dressing room. Laxman was axed as captain after last season and then dropped from the side halfway through this tournament. He could have sulked but instead took it upon himself to mentor the Indian youngsters in the team, a decision that effectively solved what could have been Gilchrist's biggest problem. Gilchrist pointed to how Laxman worked hard with the fitness trainer and fielding coach, saying he wanted to be a better Twenty20 player. "He wanted to learn at his age. VVS epitomises what our franchise has been this year."
The determination of the seniors didn't take long to filter down. Take the example of Harmeet. At first glance, there isn't anything special about him. But by being aware of his limitations, he extended himself and eventually his bowling was a crucial factor in the semi-final and the final. He is not a natural athlete - and doesn't look athletic by any stretch of imagination - but he took the best catch of the final, running in from the deep before flying forward to dismiss Vinay Kumar. His celebrations after each wicket were not those of a young man feeling the pressure-cooker intensity of a final but one relishing the chance to play in a big game.
Or take Ojha. He has consistently improved as a bowler and his celebrations too got wilder as the tournament went on. The more intense the pressure was, the better he performed. It's a huge stride that he has taken in this IPL. Ojha has begun to feel at home in the international arena.
Perhaps the best news for India, though, is Rohit's form and fruition. He had a great last year with the bat but Gilchrist wanted more from him and so appointed Rohit the vice-captain. No one ever doubted his talent but what he revealed was a flair for leadership and a capacity to think and analyse; time and again, he would walk up to Gilchrist with a suggestion or a piece of advice. Repeatedly, he spoke to the young Indian players on the field. The team looked more united as a result.
That attitude change was the most important factor in Deccan's success. Gilchrist remembers addressing the team. "I told the team to lie below the radar, to play a smarter brand of Twenty20 cricket rather than walking out and trying to fire from ball one. We knew we had to be smarter about it, I think."
The team that got ahead of themselves last year stayed grounded in the moment this year. By remaining Clark Kent, Deccan were able to fly like Superman.