April 25, 2008

The real Super Series

An exciting format, the best players, and interesting team combinations have resulted in a terrific experience for players and fans alike

'The quality of cricket, from the likes of Michael Hussey, has been extremely good' © Getty Images

The first week of the IPL has been exactly what I expected it to be: absolutely exciting. What has impressed me most is the quality of cricket, which has been high and full of energy. The kind of top-quality performances Brendon McCullum, Mike Hussey, Shane Watson, Yuvraj Singh, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne have put in have been great, even in comparison with the other formats of the game.

The players' interest, given the personal pride they bring to an event of this kind, has been great, and with people's interest as well, the IPL is setting benchmarks. And we will only improve from here: details will be worked out, minor glitches eliminated; teams will become better as units; and scheduling and organising will improve further.

Playing in the IPL is different from playing for other non-international teams: there you choose your team based on your geographical affiliation. Here you have been bought by franchises for a certain amount. This is the first season and you have no affinity because the concept hasn't actually existed before. But as the IPL runs for a few years, that sort of affinity might come along.

We have very interesting team combinations: only months ago, I was involved in tough contests with Brett Lee, and now we are strategising together. Likewise, I have to face the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, who I have faced only once before in an actual game, and Chaminda Vaas, in a charged atmosphere.

Before I joined the Kings XI Punjab, I looked back at all the games I had played against the likes of Lee and Yuvraj Singh. I remembered how competitive we were when we played against each other, every little thing that was done on and off the field, the sort of competitiveness they bring. We have had our differences, but over the years those have been ironed out. You see so much of each other on and off the field that you discover different sides to people, especially off the field, which tends to build mutual respect. Tournaments of this sort feed off that mutual respect.

Team building, though, can prove difficult due to the individualities that each player brings to the team. The internationals are all top players; then you have the top Ranji Trophy players and the top Under-19 players coming in; everyone brings a bit of himself to the team. How that individuality is understood by everyone else, and how they open themselves to that experience, is vital to building a team.

Playing Murali was a fantastic experience. To face him again was great, especially because we get very few chances to play against each other. Trying to get on top of him, trying to work out where to score runs off him was fantastic

We are fortunate that we have the players we have. They are mature, open, and flexible when it comes to ideas. They are very receptive of other people's cultures. It's a great mix to have. Everyone gets on really well, the atmosphere is real lively, and it's a great base to build a team on.

On a side note, playing Murali was a fantastic experience. To face him again was great, especially because we get very few chances to play against each other. Trying to get on top of him, trying to work out where to score runs off him, was fantastic. That's the beauty of this game: pitting yourself against the best in the world and testing yourself out.

In the brief contest we had, I pulled him for a four through mid-on before he got me. First blood to him; the next challenge for me is to get enough runs off him, so even if he gets me out, it will have cost him plenty.

I have played in an assembled-team atmosphere before when we, as the ICC World XI, took on Australia in the Super Series in 2005. But that didn't take off at all. The series came at the back of a wonderful Ashes campaign for England, and at the end of the season for a lot of the other players who were brought in. The incentives for a combined team at that time were not great. A single team representing one country had a lot more motivation ¬- especially a team that had lost the Ashes and with it the status of being the undisputed leaders of world cricket, like Australia had.

Australia had much more motivation than the World XI in the Super Series © Getty Images

For a mixed team the incentives were not great, the time available for preparation was not great. The IPL, though, is different - a completely professional kind of set-up. You are bought by a franchise for your cricketing ability, huge finances are involved, you are expected to be professional and to perform as an incoming player. You also bring a lot of personal pride to this kind of tournament. And the fact that you willwould be playing for a long time with the same players for the same team instills a certain sense of belonging and team pride.

On a personal level, I don't see this tournament as any different from those in any other format of the game. I have to contribute to the success of my team, add some value to the team, perform with the bat and gloves, and give it my best. It's a short game, and the impact you can have on the side is huge. One shot at a crucial time or one crucial catch could have a massive impact because the game is so short.

Batting in any format is about playing smart, and so it is in Twenty20. It's not about just going out and hitting big. You have to play smart cricket, you need to know when to look for a boundary, what areas you need to hit into, and you need to rotate the strike almost every ball. As a batsman it is a great format to be in: you have a lot of freedom to express yourself, and at the same time there is responsibility in that you have got to bat for as long as possible.

I like the way I have started off, but there is a lot of work to be done still. We have lost both our matches: both close games. Losses are always worrying, but it doesn't matter as long as we are doing the right things, and we have been doing the right things. We are training hard, and the guys are looking forward to winning. We have accepted that we can do better, and we're getting ready to go out and make it happen.