Tournament review

IPL 2008


Headline news as Rajasthan Royals win the IPL, June 2, 2008
Headline news as Rajasthan Royals win the inaugural IPL © Getty Images
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Such was the impact of the Indian Premier League on world cricket that it created major headlines two months before the second tournament was due to start. When Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen were both sold for $1.55m (well over £1m) in Goa's Hermitage Hall on February 6, 2009, they became "Cricket's Most Expensive Players" and "Richest Cricketers Ever". Much to their chagrin, England players had missed out on the inaugural IPL, apart from Dimitri Mascarenhas. While most of the most famous names in the contemporary game flocked to India in April 2008 - drawn by unprecedented sums of money and, also, by unprecedented glamour for a cricket event - England's Test players had to represent their counties and play against New Zealand. Never again: such was the collective determination of Flintoff, Pietersen and several others to go east, and fulfil the wishes of the IPL chief commissioner Lalit Modi, that they forced major concessions out of the England and Wales Cricket Board. A three-week window, from the start of the second IPL tournament on April 10, 2009, until May 1, only five days before the Lord's Test against West Indies, was eventually agreed. For the first time English cricketers were going to play outside England during the English season other than on national service. Such was the shift in the game's balance of power.

Some had tried to argue after the inaugural IPL that it was little more than a glorified domestic league. After the signings of Flintoff and Pietersen, this argument ran out of its remaining legs. The IPL was established as the place to be for any young cricketers, and for older ones who were not old-fashioned specialists. The late withdrawal of Michael Clarke, Australia's vice-captain, had threatened to take some of the gloss off the second auction, but other stories emerged in its place. Jean-Paul Duminy's lightning rise to prominence during South Africa's triumphant tour of Australia earned him a $950,000 deal with Mumbai Indians, while Tyron Henderson, Middlesex's South African blacksmith of an all-rounder, was bought for $650,000 - a potentially shrewd investment from reigning champions, Rajasthan Royals. But perhaps the most intriguing of the 17 purchases for 2009 - 32 players remained on the shelf, including Luke Wright of Sussex and Nottinghamshire's Samit Patel - was Mashrafe bin Mortaza, the Bangladesh fast bowler who was picked up for $600,000, a whopping 12 times his base price, by Kolkata Knight Riders. The inflation was ascribed to Bengal's proximity to Bangladesh, and Modi would not rule out staging some matches outside India. Even London was considered as the IPL sought to turn itself into a global phenomenon.

The IPL's second auction appeared able to defy the worldwide recession thanks to the success of its inaugural tournament, which at times suggested a soap opera on fast forward. In the space of just over seven weeks, there were petty rows and even physical ones, dolled-up women in short skirts, gratuitous sackings, walk-on parts for celebrities, the occasional cliffhanger and an implausible main storyline - all of it underpinned by the bottom line. But it was hard to escape the conclusion that much of the sporting drama was pretty good too - from the moment Brendon McCullum spectacularly raised the curtain on a heady night in Bangalore, to Rajasthan Royals' last-ball victory over Chennai Super Kings in the final in Mumbai 44 evenings later. The subsequent rush by rival national boards to establish their own Twenty20 leagues spoke volumes for a tournament which some had feared would drown in a sea of hype.

Not everything about the 58-game competition (59 were scheduled, one was abandoned to the weather) was an unqualified success, but then the World Cup in the Caribbean a year earlier had hosted fewer matches in more days and managed to mess up almost everything. Twenty-three of the games were decided either in the last over or by a margin of ten runs or fewer, which left too many non-nailbiters, and the stadiums in Mohali and Hyderabad - where matches in the Indian Cricket League had only just taken place across town - were rarely more than half full. The imported cheerleaders, meanwhile, angered some sections of Indian society and shone an unforgiving light on others: two black British cheerleaders alleged they were temporarily prevented by organisers from taking the podium at a game in Mohali because of their colour.

But such moments were boons to the eagle-eyed cynics, of which there were plenty, rather than representative of the overall mood. TV viewing figures were on a par with one-day internationals involving India, and locals quickly developed an affinity with their cosmopolitan sides, even if Kolkata Knight Riders, boosted by the front-page presence of their Bollywood-colossus owner Shah Rukh Khan, had a more nationwide reach than most. Their popularity with sponsors meant they returned a profit - remarkable considering teams were expected to make a loss for the first few years of the ten-year deal.


BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah, Sreesanth, Sudhir Nanavati and Harbhajan Singh make their way through the flood of presspersons, Ahmedabad, May 9, 2008
The Sreesanth-Harbhajan Singh spat was among several contentious situations the organisers had to confront © AFP
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Even the potentially tricky moments were somehow turned to the competition's advantage. When Harbhajan Singh (nicknamed Bhajji) slapped Sreesanth, the IPL's chairman and commissioner, Lalit Modi, emerged smelling of roses by taking swift and decisive action against the off-spinner; when Charu Sharma, CEO of struggling Bangalore Royal Challengers, was sacked, comparisons were made with the unforgiving but glamorous world of English football, a sporting world regarded with envy by IPL insiders; and when Shane Warne publicly denounced Sourav Ganguly following a disputed catch in a game in Jaipur, the debate made headlines for days. It all meant a greater degree of IPL-consciousness for the average Indian.

More fortunate for the tournament organisers was the identity of the eventual winners. Warne's Rajasthan Royals charmed through their sheer improbability. None of the other seven franchises had spent as little at the first auction, in Mumbai, and none had been so written off in advance. But Warne's ability to get the best out of a motley crew of Indian youngsters and overseas imports was the story of the tournament. And by embodying one of sport's most enduring themes - the triumph of the underdog - it reminded observers that the IPL really could be about more than just money.

FIVE EYEWITNESSES

Farveez Maharoof, Sri Lankan seamer with Delhi Daredevils

The IPL was wonderful, especially as I had the chance to bowl alongside my childhood hero, Glenn McGrath. I learned a lot from him and am still learning because we've kept in touch. He made a huge difference to my game, partly from a technical point of view and partly because he passed on tips about diet and how to draw up a training schedule. But the main thing was he changed my thought pattern.

People tend to view Twenty20 as a batsman's game, but Glenn taught me that the bowler has a good chance if he keeps doing the right thing. He pointed out that the batsman can't succeed every time he tries to hit you, so he encouraged me to do my basics. It sounds simple, but it altered my mindset. And he was so humble and easygoing. The result was that, behind him, I was probably Delhi's best seamer.

For the cricketers the routine of play-travel-practise-play was hard. You needed a lot of energy, which wasn't always easy because the constant travel at times left you exhausted. But the chance to work with players from different cultures made it the best experience of my career, along with the 2007 World Cup. I know that the Indian youngsters in the side learned a lot. Indian cricket will be the long-term beneficiaries.

Twenty20 is definitely good for cricket. Most countries struggle to get good crowds in for Test matches, but Twenty20 is family-orientated. People say the Sri Lankans have put Twenty20 ahead of Tests by not coming to England in 2009, but we originally signed up for three years with the IPL in the knowledge that we weren't due to visit England according to the Future Tours Programme until 2011. It's unfair to criticise us.

Tom Moody, coach of Kings XI Punjab

It was a full-on coaching experience. I knew the Sri Lankans and the Western Australians in my team, but the others were new to me, so I had to go extra yards to understand their games. Throw in the late finishes and you were left pretty tired: by the time we'd debriefed, packed up, got on the bus and arrived back at the hotel, it was the early hours. But the sheer popularity and novelty of the tournament were ample compensation.

At the player auction I had stressed to our owners, who were very good in allowing me a free rein, that we needed more than just superstars: I wanted good characters, people with leadership skills, rounded cricketers. Guys like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were known to me, but the star was Shaun Marsh. I knew what he could do, but he'd never been tested in that environment. To see one of your players blossom like he did beats scoring the runs yourself.


Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan at the IPL auction, Mumbai, February 20, 2008
Shahrukh Khan, India's most popular film star, bought a stake in the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise Indranil Mukherjee / © AFP
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There weren't many difficult moments. The semi-final defeat to Chennai was tough, because it was virtually the only time all tournament we didn't execute our plans properly. But the Sreesanth incident [when he was slapped by Harbhajan Singh] wasn't a distraction at all. In fact, it had the reverse effect because it brought the team closer: one of our own had been the victim, so we all pulled together, even though we'd only been a team for three or four weeks.

I learned a lot about Twenty20, but I'm far from mastering it. Anyone who thinks they have is kidding themselves, because it's still evolving. It's a tough pill to swallow for cricketing purists, but the reality is that Twenty20 is in demand. The authorities have to make sure they strike the right balance with other forms of the game, but the Twenty20 flight has taken off and it's not planning on landing.

Anand Vasu, chief cricket writer, Hindustan Times

The IPL was completely different from anything I'd done before. Covering domestic cricket in India can be quite surreal because no one watches it, but the packed houses made our job easier. Even so, no one was quite sure how to approach writing about Twenty20, but the cricket proved to be of a sufficiently high quality to stop people obsessing about things like the length of the cheerleaders' skirts.

My paper, the most popular English-language Indian daily behind the Times of India, gave the tournament the same amount of space as if India themselves had been playing. We had eight journalists on the beat, each covering a different franchise - I followed the Delhi Daredevils - and we needed to cover two pages in our broadsheet.

Writing the match report was relatively straightforward because not many games went to the last over. The difficult part was nailing a second piece. You had to arrive four or five hours in advance and have two or three angles ready. It was a challenge, because there were times when, with deadline approaching, it was impossible to say what you were going to write about. You could plan, but you also had to react.

There were plenty of purists in the press box who felt bitter about the growth of Twenty20, but I didn't see the need to compare it with Test cricket. Lots did - the ones who had shut their minds from the start and never gave it a chance. But although it was exhausting to cover, I enjoyed the freedom: the franchises had a genuine interest in getting as much publicity as possible, so as long as you weren't looking for Sachin Tendulkar, it was easy to get hold of players. By the end of the tournament, I wasn't quite part of the Delhi franchise, but I felt as if they were happy to involve me in team parties. There was more of a sense of bonhomie than there is between journalists and the BCCI.

Tony Cozier, broadcaster

Trans World International had four different commentary teams covering the tournament, and we all moved around from match to match. I got an early taste of the logistics involved when we headed straight for Delhi Airport after covering my first game there and jammed our stuff - I think there were eight of us - on to a small light aircraft for Kolkata, where we had a game the next afternoon. We arrived at 4.30 a.m. and spent the day recovering.

Calling a Twenty20 game is hard work. I'd been through it already with the domestic Stanford tournament in the Caribbean, although doing BBC radio for England v West Indies at The Oval in 2007 was even tougher: you barely had time to say how a batsman had got out. But the IPL was more frenetic than Stanford, who sponsored everything. In India, you had to constantly bear in mind the various sponsors: even the sixes had a sponsor. We took it as a laugh, especially the way some of the guys were openly drinking a particular brand of soft drink in the commentary box. But sponsorship happens in all walks of sport now, and I really don't think it detracted from what was going on in the middle.

In the end, though, it was the cricket that dominated, and it did so by being high-quality and exciting. That meant the crowds were very enthusiastic. You just have to accept that many Test matches are attracting very few spectators. The promotion of the games was great and the Bollywood theme was a good idea. That's what Twenty20 is all about.

I am fearful for Test cricket, though. It's difficult to see where it's going, although I don't think Twenty20 would exist without Test cricket. It could all change in the next 30- 40 years, long after I've gone. Perhaps people won't regard their national sides with as much fondness as they do now - look at the way things are going with football, where the Champions League is so important. So-called English clubs don't have any English players in them. It might well happen in cricket too.

Manoj Badale, chairman of the Rajasthan Royals

I was out in India for four of the seven weeks and was in regular contact with our team, especially our coach/captain, Shane Warne. I'd like to think we had a pretty positive relationship, and it helped that Warne was always clear on roles and responsibilities, and expected clarity on who decided what. I essentially saw my role as twofold: to ensure the off-field environment was effective for the team, and to ensure commercial objectives were being met with regards to sponsors, ticket sales and local marketing.

We were a different kind of franchise in a number of ways. We were the only one to have a foreign captain, we didn't have any Indian superstars, and we were written off by the media, especially after we were thrashed in our first game by Delhi Daredevils - that was a low point in my life. Off the field, we were unique in not having any Bollywood or celebrity owners - not everyone can be glamorous and glitzy! [In February 2009, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty and her partner Raj Kundra paid $US15.4m for an 11.7% stake in the franchise, more than doubling its original value to about $140m.]

We were commercially run as a standalone unit - in other words, we were not part of another organisation. The whole structure meant we were very focused on the cricket, and we were lucky enough to end up in profit.

A large part of my job was done at the first auction, because at that stage we had no captain or coach. We were looking for players to perform specific roles and relied very heavily on statistics, as well as recommendations from senior players once the auction had taken place. Being underdogs helped in a way, because there was less pressure in the early games, but it meant Warne had to work doubly hard to instil a sense of self-belief. Do I feel a responsibility towards Test cricket? Yes, in the sense that I love it. No, because I believe balancing the schedules is the role of the administrators, not the IPL owners.

Match reports for

1st match: Royal Challengers Bangalore v Kolkata Knight Riders at Bangalore, Apr 18, 2008
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2nd match: Kings XI Punjab v Chennai Super Kings at Mohali, Apr 19, 2008
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3rd match: Delhi Daredevils v Rajasthan Royals at Delhi, Apr 19, 2008
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4th match: Kolkata Knight Riders v Deccan Chargers at Kolkata, Apr 20, 2008
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5th match: Mumbai Indians v Royal Challengers Bangalore at Mumbai, Apr 20, 2008
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6th match: Rajasthan Royals v Kings XI Punjab at Jaipur, Apr 21, 2008
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7th match: Deccan Chargers v Delhi Daredevils at Hyderabad (Deccan), Apr 22, 2008
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8th match: Chennai Super Kings v Mumbai Indians at Chennai, Apr 23, 2008
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9th match: Deccan Chargers v Rajasthan Royals at Hyderabad (Deccan), Apr 24, 2008
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10th match: Kings XI Punjab v Mumbai Indians at Mohali, Apr 25, 2008
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11th match: Chennai Super Kings v Kolkata Knight Riders at Chennai, Apr 26, 2008
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12th match: Royal Challengers Bangalore v Rajasthan Royals at Bangalore, Apr 26, 2008
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13th match: Kings XI Punjab v Delhi Daredevils at Mohali, Apr 27, 2008
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14th match: Mumbai Indians v Deccan Chargers at Mumbai, Apr 27, 2008
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15th match: Royal Challengers Bangalore v Chennai Super Kings at Bangalore, Apr 28, 2008
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16th match: Kolkata Knight Riders v Mumbai Indians at Kolkata, Apr 29, 2008
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17th match: Delhi Daredevils v Royal Challengers Bangalore at Delhi, Apr 30, 2008
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18th match: Rajasthan Royals v Kolkata Knight Riders at Jaipur, May 1, 2008
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19th match: Deccan Chargers v Kings XI Punjab at Hyderabad (Deccan), May 1, 2008
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20th match: Chennai Super Kings v Delhi Daredevils at Chennai, May 2, 2008
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21st match: Royal Challengers Bangalore v Deccan Chargers at Bangalore, May 3, 2008
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22nd match: Kings XI Punjab v Kolkata Knight Riders at Mohali, May 3, 2008
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23rd match: Mumbai Indians v Delhi Daredevils at Mumbai, May 4, 2008
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24th match: Rajasthan Royals v Chennai Super Kings at Jaipur, May 4, 2008
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25th match: Royal Challengers Bangalore v Kings XI Punjab at Bangalore, May 5, 2008
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26th match: Chennai Super Kings v Deccan Chargers at Chennai, May 6, 2008
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27th match: Mumbai Indians v Rajasthan Royals at Mumbai, May 7, 2008
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28th match: Delhi Daredevils v Chennai Super Kings at Delhi, May 8, 2008
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29th match: Kolkata Knight Riders v Royal Challengers Bangalore at Kolkata, May 8, 2008
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30th match: Rajasthan Royals v Deccan Chargers at Jaipur, May 9, 2008
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31st match: Chennai Super Kings v Kings XI Punjab at Chennai, May 10, 2008
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32nd match: Deccan Chargers v Kolkata Knight Riders at Hyderabad (Deccan), May 11, 2008
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33rd match: Rajasthan Royals v Delhi Daredevils at Jaipur, May 11, 2008
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34th match: Kings XI Punjab v Royal Challengers Bangalore at Mohali, May 12, 2008
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35th match: Kolkata Knight Riders v Delhi Daredevils at Kolkata, May 13, 2008
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36th match: Mumbai Indians v Chennai Super Kings at Mumbai, May 14, 2008
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37th match: Delhi Daredevils v Deccan Chargers at Delhi, May 15, 2008
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38th match: Mumbai Indians v Kolkata Knight Riders at Mumbai, May 16, 2008
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39th match: Rajasthan Royals v Royal Challengers Bangalore at Jaipur, May 17, 2008
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40th match: Delhi Daredevils v Kings XI Punjab at Delhi, May 17, 2008
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41st match: Kolkata Knight Riders v Chennai Super Kings at Kolkata, May 18, 2008
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42nd match: Deccan Chargers v Mumbai Indians at Hyderabad (Deccan), May 18, 2008
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43rd match: Royal Challengers Bangalore v Delhi Daredevils at Bangalore, May 19, 2008
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44th match: Kolkata Knight Riders v Rajasthan Royals at Kolkata, May 20, 2008
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45th match: Mumbai Indians v Kings XI Punjab at Mumbai, May 21, 2008
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46th match: Chennai Super Kings v Royal Challengers Bangalore at Chennai, May 21, 2008
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47th match: Delhi Daredevils v Kolkata Knight Riders at Delhi, May 22, 2008
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48th match: Kings XI Punjab v Deccan Chargers at Mohali, May 23, 2008
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49th match: Chennai Super Kings v Rajasthan Royals at Chennai, May 24, 2008
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50th match: Delhi Daredevils v Mumbai Indians at Delhi, May 24, 2008
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51st match: Deccan Chargers v Royal Challengers Bangalore at Hyderabad (Deccan), May 25, 2008
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52nd match: Kolkata Knight Riders v Kings XI Punjab at Kolkata, May 25, 2008
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53rd match: Rajasthan Royals v Mumbai Indians at Jaipur, May 26, 2008
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54th match: Deccan Chargers v Chennai Super Kings at Hyderabad (Deccan), May 27, 2008
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55th match: Royal Challengers Bangalore v Mumbai Indians at Bangalore, May 28, 2008
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56th match: Kings XI Punjab v Rajasthan Royals at Mohali, May 28, 2008
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1st Semi-Final: Delhi Daredevils v Rajasthan Royals at Mumbai, May 30, 2008
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2nd Semi-Final: Chennai Super Kings v Kings XI Punjab at Mumbai, May 31, 2008
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Final: Chennai Super Kings v Rajasthan Royals at Mumbai, Jun 1, 2008
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© John Wisden and Co.