March 5, 2010

Bring on the IPL

The third season promises innovations, drama and entertainers

The clock is ticking down to the next instalment of cricket's present and future. Test cricket, like a mighty thespian, is holding its own strongly; the middle-aged ODI is showing it hasn't lost all its youth; but there is no denying the world awaits the IPL like it does nothing else. There is drama on the field, and lots off it, and so when the first ball is bowled, it will mark both a beginning and an end.

There will be much innovation off the field: new entertainers, new broadcast ideas, and there is little doubt it will be a spectacle. But it will please me enormously if the finest innovations are seen on the cricket field. The IPL, and indeed all of Twenty20, is still pretty much a work in progress, and therefore fertile ground for the unexpected. Already the slow, loopy bouncer has arrived, and variations to the scoop over fine leg are being conceived. But the rulers of the game are firmly in the batting camp and so the bowlers will have to come up with new ideas, serve up a smorgasbord.

I'd be keen to see if the slower ball retains its importance. There is much to be said in favour of taking the pace off the ball, but critical to its success is the element of surprise - in the timing and in the manner of delivery. I will be watching both carefully. I suspect the time is not too far, if indeed it isn't here already, that batsmen set themselves up for the slow ball and regard the quicker one as a variation. That will be interesting because it means the really quick bowler could become thrilling again. Already we have seen with Dirk Nannes, occasionally with Shane Bond, and more recently in Australia with Shaun Tait, that possessing pace is coming back into style.

It will also be fascinating to see how that slower ball is disguised. Irfan Pathan did it well until it became a stock ball, and Dwayne Bravo is pretty good at it, but Sreesanth's legbreak can be seen a mile away. In fact, Anil Kumble bowled a particularly good slow, loopy yorker in South Africa. So can the spinners come up with something different as well? And while on innovation, here is one that bowlers would enjoy: a normal-length boundary, if some of our groundsmen remember what that means.

Meanwhile the scoop gets even more dramatic, and all those who worried about broken jaws are still being proved wrong. Brendon McCullum against Australia was perhaps the most dramatic of all, playing the falling scoop in a manner that Rohan Kanhai, who played the peculiar but effective "falling sweep", would have been proud of. The scoop is getting finer in placement, now occasionally being played back over the keeper's head and sometimes even to third man. I'd like to look at a wagon wheel at the end of every match, to see whether the new V is outscoring the traditional one.

I suspect the time is not too far, if indeed it isn't here already, that batsmen set themselves up for the slow ball and regard the quicker one as a variation. That will be interesting because it means the really quick bowler could become thrilling again

But there is little doubt that it is becoming important to possess the scoop, or even the paddle. I noticed when Cameron White was pounding away at the Kiwis recently that third man and fine leg were always within the circle, aware that he would only hit the big ones down the ground. Maybe a little glide here and there, and therefore the need to place a fielder for it, would have opened up a hitting area down the ground. Yusuf Pathan is like that too, and so is Kieron Pollard. I guess those who can clear the increasingly shorter boundaries almost at will need not worry about delicate nudges.

I'd be interested in seeing whether the role of the wicketkeeper grows in importance. In its little existence, Twenty20 has forwarded the hypothesis that you need to be a batsman if you want to be in the side as a wicketkeeper. But on slow Indian tracks standing up might be critical and a miss from there rather expensive.

And the captains! We are starting to see that as the game shortens, and as cricketers from around the world converge and play together for a brief six weeks, the role of the captain becomes more important. Sneaking an over out of a part-timer, timing the appearance of the big-hitter, making a West Indian feel at home - the captain, I believe, is already worth two players.

So will we see the switch-hit take centre stage, batsmen batting right-handed and left-handed, bowlers bowling balls that never rise? What next?

It should be a great tournament if two enemies leave it alone: terrorists, and groundsmen who prepare 200-plus tracks.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 7, 2010, 21:14 GMT

    If you don't like T20 cricket or the IPL, please read something else.

    Leave us alone to enjoy it.

  • fahad.from on March 7, 2010, 19:17 GMT

    ipl no thanks cool coment

  • shafaet on March 7, 2010, 16:03 GMT

    IPL? No thanks, i would rather switch the TV off

  • V.L on March 7, 2010, 7:43 GMT

    @jeremy.g You said "he is more like the Bernie Madoff of cricket" Yeah so much for attracting global audience. May be its time you owned google and disband all of their innovations for promoting IPL. @ long_handle9 India had a bad run of T20 games in the last year due to lack of confidence. But now that they are back and kicking We will see who will win this time.

  • Rahul on March 7, 2010, 5:40 GMT

    I would like to ask all on this forum geting all worked up because harsha is talking up IPL. What will you say to most of the commentators from Eng and Aus who will not waste a single apportunity in Eng vs Zim or Aus VS BNG match to talk up HOLY GRAIL, the ashes. The writers do the same from that part and so do the spectators. If ther team wins then 'Bring on the ashes' or else 'Whoa..there goes the next ashes from our gasp'. Pls cut some slab for the IPL.

  • Ibrahim on March 7, 2010, 5:21 GMT

    And this was actually a pretty decent article by Harsha, apart from the assumption that the world awaits the IPL like nothing else. Now you're going American on us, there's more to the world than just India and its lapdogs! anyway the reason for all the attention to the IPL is a) money b) hype and c) celebrity. The cricket standards are awful and mostly a pain to watch. Watch and enjoy by all means, but don't oversell it

  • Ibrahim on March 7, 2010, 5:17 GMT

    It's hilarious how Indians seem to consider the IPL big, bad and revolutionary. It's anything but; it's just a mob of substandard cricket being hyped up overtime. Teensy boundaries, flat tracks and, let's face it, mostly foreign players are the main draw. Even the cheerleading is substandard. The far less-hyped Big Bash tourney, or even England's undersung Twenty20 tournament, features better cricket in terms of bowling, fielding, and yes batting. Remember how the IPL's allegedly expert teams flopped on home soil in the Champions League?

  • Girik on March 7, 2010, 3:54 GMT

    @McGorium and others talking about Harsha's conflict of interest, I don't think Cricinfo hires him as a neutral, unbiased reporter. Cricinfo probably WANTED him to promote the IPL just like they want all their writers to promote all cricket tournaments. This includes Tests (from the Ashes to Zim vs Bang), ODI's, (Champs Trophy, Tri-series, World Cups), T20s and even lesser matches like Netherlands vs Afghanistan.

    Why? The more Cricinfo promotes all cricket tournaments, the more clicks they yet on their website and the better it is for ESPN. Btw they may get clicks because somebody likes the type of cricket or in this case sometimes fans don't like the type of cricket.

  • Arun on March 6, 2010, 18:47 GMT

    @TwitterTwitter: To continue, I have NO issues with Harsha giving an interview in his capacity as a BCCI appointed commentator, in which he extols the virtues of the IPL. He genuinely believes what he says here; of that I have no doubt. As much as Nandan Nilekani believes that Infosys is the best software firm in the world. I'm not accusing him of being a sell-out either: a man has a right to make a living and commentating on the IPL is a rewarding way of doing it. This particular platform though,belongs to a journalist and not an evangelist.This piece offers little insight,and serves to drum up enthusiasm for the IPL, which directly employs him(A little less hyperbole,and this could have been passable). It's inappropriate of Nilekani to go to a conference to deliver a keynote and promote Infosys instead. I don't say this is insincere,just in bad taste.It's an abuse of the platform afforded to the journalist in him.Maybe writer's block plus deadlines produced this fiasco.Still,poor.

  • Arun on March 6, 2010, 17:30 GMT

    @TwitterTwitter: If the commentator is employed by the tournament organizers, and uses his column in a respected newspaper/internet website to hawk said tournament, then yes, those commentators have a conflict of interest. Harsha is employed on CricInfo as a neutral journalist/commentator (BTW, I don't see him mention any of his conflicts of interest here). This article is a transparent plug for the IPL, to hype up the tournament. Information/insight in this article is next to nothing, very un-Harsha.

    Most commentators aren't employed by their cricket boards, but by TV channels. They have a general interest in ensuring cricket succeeds, but whether a specific test or ODI series does well is of no issue to them. Whether CA profits from an ODI series doesn't matter to Ian Chappell. IPL is an out-an-out commercial company, owned, run, telecast by the BCCI (and team owners). Any individual who is directly paid by BCCI has a strong interest in ensuring its success.

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