May 25, 2009

Twenty thoughts on the IPL

Did Deccan Chargers win it, or did Royal Challengers Bangalore lose it? Twenty thoughts on IPL 2009

Did Deccan Chargers win it, or did Royal Challengers Bangalore lose it? The IPL final proved, once more, that above all, Twenty20 is a game of nerve, and ironically, the team that had made staying cool its biggest virtue, lost it when that was all it needed. Nothing captured it better than the uncharacteristic dismissal of Rahul Dravid, bowled round his legs trying to paddle a quick bowler. With fine leg on the boundary, the shot would have fetched him a single.

Bangalore's defeat deprived the tournament of a fairytale finish. The most ridiculed team of the IPL last year, they lost four of their first five matches in this tournament, but won five in a row to make it to the semi-final. Like Rajasthan Royals last season, Bangalore relied not on individual match-winners but on strong team performances. Anil Kumble might not have the magnetism and the charisma of Shane Warne, but the force of his personal example was a big factor behind the revival of his team.

Kumble could have done no more or no better in the final. He took up the responsibility of dismissing the most dangerous opponents and succeeded. He took four wickets for 16 runs, and the ball to Adam Gilchrist was a beauty: it was floated up to invite the charge, and held back to defeat it. To this giant of a man, his team owed a more spirited a performance.

It was fitting too that RP Singh should finish the job for Deccan. He has been the leading wicket-taker for most of the tournament, and he bowled two nerveless overs at the death. The last one was delivered with a smile. He has spent time out of the Indian team, but now he should be the favourite to bowl the final over for India at the World Twenty20.

And what is it with retired Australian players at the IPL? Warne dragged Rajasthan to victory last year; Matthew Hayden became the highest run-getter this year, and Gilchrist has now led last year's bottom-ranked team to victory. Did Virender Sehwag miss a trick by benching Glenn McGrath? It will remain the biggest "if" of this year's tournament, but you can be sure that Sehwag won't be losing any sleep over it.

It's for the second time running that the team that looked the best has failed to make it to the final. In fact, it can be asked if the two best teams were playing for the trophy. There is merit in wondering if semi-finals are the best way to settle it. Given that it is such a long tournament and that Twenty20 is a fickle form of cricket, it might be a good idea to let the top two teams in the league play the final.

Was there a reason the tournament was dominated by left-arm bowlers? Don't ask me why.

The best thing about the tournament moving to South Africa was that it restored the balance between bat and ball. Not only did the pitches have more pace and bounce than those in India, since it was the end of the season there was also plenty of turn. Among the batsmen, it separated the men from the boys. Most Indian domestic players struggled.

It also provided the perfect stage for Suresh Raina to further his credentials as one of the most exciting young talents in the game. Greg Chappell saw in him a special ability to hit the ball to unusual areas, and he is beginning to fulfill that promise. But a beginning it is. He has to sort out the problem with the short ball before he can be considered good enough for Test cricket.

Manish Pandey looks the part. He rode his luck for his century, but his 48 in the semi-final was a more assured innings. His cover-driving was exquisite.

Ashish Nehra has made the most dramatic return to prominence. He has been an enigma. Everything about him looks un-coordinated and he gives the appearance of not caring, but his team-mates swear that he is among the most hardworking cricketers in the country. Just that he is not built to be a fast bowler.

Ever since he became the captain of the Indian one-day team, MS Dhoni has fashioned himself as a finisher, but something has been lost. He now chugs along like a well-calibrated engine, but seems incapable of velocity. His inability to hit top gear might have cost his team the semi-final.

Rajasthan Royals supporters - I am one - mustn't be disheartened. The team overachieved last year. And they did so again this year. Remember they were without their best bowler (Sohail Tanvir) and best batsman (Shane Watson). And they didn't finish last.

Mumbai Indians had no business finishing seventh. Or perhaps they have every reason. They were the most confused team in the tournament.

Am I joking? What about Kolkata Knight Riders? But it can be argued that confusion was part of their strategy. They were a catastrophe. And once you overlooked their cricket, they were a constant source of entertainment. But the fun is unlikely to last: heads will surely roll.

The IPL is now a global tournament, no doubt about that. What was a handicap to begin with quickly became the perfect opportunity to demonstrate its inherent strength. Okay, the crowds were not as big as they were in India last year - that would have been asking for the moon and some more - but they were big enough, and they enthusiastically endorsed the premise of the IPL: bring on the entertainment, and there will be enough takers.

You have to hand to it to Lalit Modi: he turned around a hopeless situation with breathtaking speed and clarity in decision-making. Even conceiving a task of such scale would have been beyond many: not only did Modi manage to relocate the massive tournament to a different continent in three weeks, he also ran it for five without a hitch.

Now only if the IPL could safely stop shrieking itself silly. Strategy breaks were punishment enough for television viewers, but being subjected daily to fawning fan interviews felt like an assault. The tournament was its own best advertisement. The best thing Modi could have done after the final was to let the winners take centre-stage, rather than grab the limelight himself.

Perhaps it's the immediacy thing, but the television coverage sunk even lower than last year's. It was evident in 2008 that the commentators had been assigned the role of IPL's prime cheerleaders; watching them try to out-perform each other in hyping the IPL reminded me of a famous quote about Indian newspaper editors during the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1977: "They were asked to bend, but they crawled." It was unbecoming, and pathetic.

And finally, a thought for the future: Modi announced that two more franchises will be added in 2011. That's great news for the existing ones, particularly the ones carrying extra baggage.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cricinfouser on May 27, 2009, 15:25 GMT

    Well Gilly and company showed a lot of determination in the IPL. Twenty-20 is a game of ups and downs.we saw many turnarounds in this IPL.First when the Deccan Chargers and Delhi Daredevils were cruising in the tournament and a big Team like Chennai Super Kings were losing despite the brilliance of Haydos,it looked like Deccan and Delhi were favorites for the finalists spot.But Bangalore and Chennai bounced back crushing the hopes of Punjab, Rajasthan and Mumbai.And the Kolkata knight riders ,lying at the bottom having won only 1 out of their 12 matches showed glimpses of comeback for IPL-3 knocked out Rajasthan.Finally it was Deccan and Delhi in the semis and surprisingly knocked out by Adam Gilchrist.We saw many turnarounds in this IPL.And finally the team whose fan i am won the IPL.

  • Saumil on May 27, 2009, 10:58 GMT

    As a Mumbai Indian fan I am disappointed that they did not make it. But except for Delhi, no other team was convincing and had to mess around with team composition. Secondly, Mumbai have not 'finished' seventh- they got 11 out of 26 points (till 13 matches, after which it was a dead rubber). The others have 13 or 14. Deccan, the eventual winners lost 7 matches, Rajasthan also lost 7 and Mumbai lost 8 in the league phase. However, the matches Mumbai won were convincing- which is why their net run rate was only behind Chennai. Now the close games- they lost when 6 off 9balls, they failed to chase 120 against Punjab, and they gave a hat-trick to Rohit Sharma. And that Chennai chase with 16 leg byes when Hayden was all but paralyzed. If you think a captain can do anything about this, good luck. Regarding batting order changes, they were needed. Hint: look at their strike chart. It will all fall in place, if we are good enough to comment on captaincy.

  • uthaman on May 26, 2009, 21:12 GMT

    Hahaha! I thoroughly enjoyed the caption for Tendulkar's photo. "Most confused team Mumbai". Yup that is how India was when Tendulkar led India. A confused side.

  • Samundra on May 26, 2009, 10:42 GMT

    What a turnaround. Last year they are the last two team and this top two team. Both deccan and banglore work very hard to gain this position. Well done both. I think the most unlucky team in both IPL Delhi Daredevil. Having very strong team and favorite to win the touranment. But lost the semi final both last year and this year. I feel pity for both Mumbai and Kolkata. Good team on paper but they just didn't play well.

  • venkatesh on May 26, 2009, 8:34 GMT

    Further to my earlier comments, i would like the IPL tech. committtee to make the following changes in the rules to make it more interesting & exciting to the crowd watching the show. First if more than one six is hit in an over for the subsequent sixes two additional runs are given per each six hit. If a maiden over is bowled, ten runs are deducted from the total of the batting team. If more than one wicket falls in an over ten runs are deducted from the total of the batting team.

  • abhijith on May 26, 2009, 7:52 GMT

    Your Doubts about, the top 2 teams playing the final, are justified. But the top 2 playing in the final, is a situation that should work fine, when all games are decided on the basis of merit. When we have wash outs, and Net Run Rates coming into play to decide the final 4 or final 2, it is better to have more teams entering the Knock out stage, rather than just 2. What if the 2nd and 3rd placed teams have equal points, and the team coming 2nd have claimed the second spot because the weakest opposition had a very bad game against them, and a not so bad game against the team placed 3rd.

  • Prasanth on May 26, 2009, 5:14 GMT

    Nice summary of the IPL Season 2. I agree with you regarding the Australian players coming out successful. For me, its not about retired players performing, but its more about Players whose attitude towards the game never change. Take Hayden, Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble : All these players have a great sporting attitude and a tremendous self confidence that they carry will never make them feel aged. We should not be surprised if all these players will represent their team in IPL Season 3 and still perform to the best of their abilities. You had mentioned about Mumbai team in confused state. I am a great fan of Sachin, but I am touch dissappointed with his captaincy, where he disturbed batting order a lot. KKR will be in the news for reasons which will be unique to each season, I guess. I would like to add that KKR might be winners of IPL season 3, as IPL is about low expected teams lifting the trophy. RR in Season 1 and Deccan chargers in season 2. :-)

  • P Subramani on May 26, 2009, 5:08 GMT

    The IPL having been held in South Africa was not just about globalisation of the game or for the world to know how important India is in the context of cricket. The real gainers are the Indian players who towards the end of the tournament were quite comfortable exhibiting their skills in South Africa. In the past, tours to Australia, South Africa and West Indies would be considered with trepidation and in anticipation of the worst. I believe IPL2 has helped our batsmen know that they can do well even on bouncier wickets and our bowlers know the length to bowl to be effective. I am sure, Rohit Sharma, Jadeja, the Pathans,Manish Pande, Virat Kohli Ishant Sharma and R P Singh have gained immensely from this experience that their skills are there not just at home but in South Africa also. With this kind of exposure,India can have a rich pool of highly talented cricketers who can be successful anywhere in the world. I think the IPL2 is the best thing that has happened to India cricket.

  • venkatesh on May 26, 2009, 4:55 GMT

    Since winning the toss is crucial in 20 20 I would suggest in a doubleleague like IPL that the captain losing the toss in the first game, gets to make the decision in the return game to even things out.

  • touqeer on May 26, 2009, 4:36 GMT

    Kumble deserved that trophy, however Gilchrist and company has done exceptionally well to lift it. The biggest find is Mr Pandey and deepest disappointment is Mr Robin Uthapa. I wish all the luck to IPL in next seasons. (BTW can anyone let me know why Pakistan's team is no included in the champions trophy).

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