The diehard Test match addict that I am, I found the mental adjustment to watching the shortest format rather challenging, at least at the start of the season. Soon, however, the initial resolve melts into gradual submission. Increasingly my aesthetic objections to the game have started to lose strength, as some of the batsmen on view thrill us with the beauty of their strokemaking. More and more ''cricket shots'' are being played by the likes of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh (in brief cameos) and M Vijay. This is probably the major positive, besides spectacularly innovative fielding, to have evolved from what started out as an extreme slam-bang version of cricket.
This season, however, it is the bowlers who have really delighted me. They have faced the overwhelming odds stacked against them and come up with answers - sometimes visually unappetising, as in slow bouncers and wide yorkers, but by and large creatively out of the box. Far from lying down in the face of outrageous batsmen, heavy bats and short boundaries, they have found ingenious ways of tackling the challenges they face.
The most impressive of them doesn't even make a conscious effort, by the look of it. Mustafizur Rahman
was probably born bowling the way he bowls, the mind-body coordination natural, the variations dictated by a flick of the wrist here, a subtle change in the swivelling of the hips there, the computer program in his head apparently recording every little detail of the pitch and the batsman's response for future use.
Was the young Wasim Akram from the same mould, with identical arm speed, intuition and sang froid, or is one's memory playing tricks? More than the wickets Mustafizur has taken in IPL 9, the greater damage to opposition teams seems to have been inflicted by the sharp increase in the success rates of his bowling partners - possibly a result of the false sense of security that envelops batsmen when Mustafizur is not bowling.
And how well Bhuvneshwar Kumar
has bounced back from the crisis of confidence so evident in his bowling barely a season ago! I was one of those who despaired of the folly of his attempt to bowl faster when swing and seam were his forte, but he seems to have regained his bowling mojo along with the added yards. With his essentially front-on action, he continues to disguise his shape in the air and off the seam, but he has added a range of slower deliveries and a more reliable yorker to his armoury; most important of all, he has gained the confidence to lead the pack after Ashish Nehra's loss to injury.
If there is a right-arm medium-pacer who is even more pleasurable to watch, it is Dhawal Kulkarni, whose self-confidence and inventiveness ought to have brought him greater returns than he has enjoyed.
The sheer impudence of Mitch McClenaghan, the infinite variety of Dwayne Bravo's slower balls, the uncanny wicket-taking ability of S Aravind, Chris Morris and Carlos Brathwaite, the burgeoning resurgence of Ravindra Jadeja, the orthodox simplicity of Bipul Sharma's confident left-arm spin, the early promise of M Ashwin's legbreaks have been among the highlights of the bowling that has gladdened my heart this IPL, but I will pick three legspinners for particular mention.
It was over 15 years ago that I first set my eyes on Amit Mishra
, then my nephew S Vidyut 's spin twin for India Under-19 versus England U-19. The little fellow looked promising then, but seemed unsure of himself, beset by doubt like so many of his tribe who need the wholehearted support of the captain to flourish. Since then, it has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for Mishra, in and out of the Test and ODI squads. Some of his better performances have gone under-recognised and under-rewarded. Today, he seems to be in the form of his life, aided by the philosophical detachment and shrewd thinking of the seasoned legspinner. It is a pleasure to watch his springing approach to the bowling crease and his smooth follow-through, not to mention the quiet confidence that helps him recover from stick. His earnestness as a fielder has been a source of joy - a brilliant reflex catch and run-out, both off his own bowling, have been among the standout moments of this IPL for me.
If Mishra has a classical legspinner's action, Yuzvendra Chahal
delivers with a slightly higher arm, but makes a conscious attempt to keep the ball slow through the air, and has the ability to increase the pace at will while maintaining his accuracy. He uses the wide yorker to considerable effect, deluding the batsman into believing it is within reach. A seemingly cerebral bowler, Chahal is often seen talking to himself during and between his overs. Kohli's brilliant handling of him is a distinct advantage he enjoys.
The youngest of the leggies, Adam Zampa
, is an exciting prospect, very much in the Shane Warne mould, though perhaps even more positive than Warne was at his age. His fierce hunger shines through his eyes, his focus is impressive, and his control enviable. Unless he strengthens his upper body and legs considerably, he will find the strain excessive, for he virtually walks to his delivery stride in the Warne style. With his ability to change his delivery at the last moment, after gauging the batsman's intent, he could possibly have won some matches for the Rising Pune Supergiants had he played more of them.
Much the same could be said of his senior partner R Ashwin, who played all his team's matches but was not utilised optimally by his captain. Except occasionally, when he seemed possessed by some eccentric impulse to bowl fast or wide, he was the one bowler whose tantalising flight no batsman was able to collar. He stood tall among the few offspinners of the tournament.