|Player:||SK Warne, RA Jadeja, SA Asnodkar, RG Sharma|
|Event:||Indian Premier League 2007/08|
DateLine: 9th May 2008
They say that cricket is a sport, in which, just when you think you have the game by the scruff of its neck, it will come back and bite you in the bum. Now while nothing could be truer, the above phrase would generally be spoken for the players – or teams – that tended to become a little complacent, in turn getting ‘bitten’ bad in the backside.
With the advent of Twenty20 cricket, this is a mantra that not only the players, but also the so called experts and pundit of the game, would do well to realize. If an unthought of World T20 final between India and Pakistan was not enough, then the ongoing ‘Indian Premier League’ is the biggest case in point. Most of them – these analysts – had written off the chances of the Rajasthan Royals, a team bereft of too much glamour and superstars. While acknowledging Shane Warne to be a reasonably good leader, most had undervalued the importance of a skipper in a T20 setup in the lead-up to the tournament. Big mistake. Rajasthan Royals has not only won five out the seven matches they have played in, but also captured the imagination of the followers of the game, by bringing in almost Test match like strategies. This has been backed by some astute on field tactics; as was seen by Warne’s introduction of Yusuf Pathan against the Deccan Chargers to get through Adam Gilchrist’s defenses. Warne has been that one unifying force, a captain and a coach by designation, a father figure or a role model or a motivator by choice. It is this very motivator instinct that has come to the fore while helping out the youngsters – and the Royals seem to have many such performers – like Ravindra Jadeja, who’s been touted as the next big hope at the international level, while, surprise package, Swapnil Asnodkar has made bowling difficult for the bowlers with his batting in the three innings he has opened so far.
Perched at the top of the ladder are two other teams as well, the Chennai Super Kings and the Kings XI Punjab, both of whom have had contrasting paths to the top. While the Super Kings won their first four matches – thanks mainly due to their Aussie exports, Matt Hayden and Michael Hussey – and then lost the next three, the team from Punjab lost their first two encounters – much to the chagrin of owners Preity Zinta and co. – but bounced back well after the Harbhajan ‘Slapgate’ incident, to clinch five victories in a row. One bowler to have impressed all and sundry, has been a tall, strapping and a well built, Manpreet Gony, not only with his statistics – he has ten wickets from his 8 matches at 25 apiece – but also with the way he has bowled. His run-up has been excellent, his bowling action, one of the better ones seen in modern times, while his approach to the wicket has been as stealthy as ‘Whispering Death’, Michael Holding’s. The biggest plus has been his unflustered attitude, and the fact that he would be under the wings of Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni himself, which augurs well for the future of the battery of fast bowlers in India.
Delhi DareDevils’ strategy at the auction was something that one feels could have been used by the other teams as well. The team management picked up as many as eight local players in their squad, thus becoming one of the most recognizable ones for their local fans. These include players like Shikhar Dhawan and Pradeep Sangwan, have rubbed shoulders with the other internationals with ease, helping their cause as well. Now, there are a couple of pros to this – if not more – the cricketers tend to cohere better as a team, something that is difficult in a format like this, and secondly, the fans would have been able to relate to ‘their’ team much more than any other city. This would ensure, that team-fan connect that is so desirable by this format itself, for it to be a success. This has so far augured well for the team, as Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have been trading the Orange Cap – given for the highest run scorer in the tournament at a given point – like stock brokers.
At the other end of the spectrum lies a team that was tipped to be the favourite, the Deccan Chargers, because of its star studded batting lineup, and the good and balanced bowling. And looking at the squad, one can fully sympathize with these cricket gurus who got the prediction a little wrong, what with the galaxy of batsmen most suited to this form of the game, and bowlers who could the job in the abbreviated version. The team has just not being able to gel as one, with their two victories so far, more attributable to Gilchrist’s bat than to any other factor. However, one batsman who has been the toast of not only the team, but also the entire nation with his Viv Richards like strokes, as christened by DNA Sports Editor, Ayaz Menon, and Mark Waugh like elegance – a rare combination to be had – has been Rohit Sharma. His run scoring has been impressive, and his shot selection even better. Here is a man who has all the qualities in him to play Test cricket at the highest level.
The Bangalore Royal Challengers were dubbed as the best Test XI at this season’s IPL, a prophecy that seems to have come true. The batsmen have just not been able to fire apart from a sporadic display of flamboyance, and Charu Sharma, the CEO of the team has been the first to bear the brunt, by getting fired. Whether a token gesture, or a precursor of things to come, this has definitely set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons, and the players may just not be able to take their places too lightly, as it could have happened. More on this corporatarization of cricket can be found here http://www.cricketarchive.com/Archive/Articles/8/8075.html. Rahul Dravid’s form has been patchy, and he has some miles to go before being termed to have embraced this form of the game. That is the good part; the not-so-good has been his captaincy, which has looked rusty and ragged, and almost reluctant. Amongst the youngsters, Virat Kohli has failed to live up to his billing as one of the best under-19 cricketers, after having won the Under-19 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Kolkata Knight Riders, on the other hand, started well in the tournament, but lost steam mid way. As with Dravid, Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy has taken time to adjust to this shorter version of the game. Another aspect of Ganguly’s captaincy – when he led India that is – was his ability to hand pick a few players he thought were good, and motivate them enough to get the best out of them. He was good at that. Here, his team is full of super stars, even sans Shoaib Akhtar, and expecting him to repeat that kind of magic is akin to expecting a marathon runner to win a 100m dash.
From the hardcore fans’ viewpoint, the biggest let down has been the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, due to a niggling groin injury that has kept him out of the game since the first Test Match against South Africa against South Africa. And without him, his Mumbai Indians have been very slow to get out of the blocks, with four successive losses. Harbhajan’s ban may have just come at the most inopportune moment, but it seems to have galvanized the team into playing as a unit, and this has shown in their last three matches – all of which they won. Abhishek Nayyar has proved to be a hard nut to rack for his all round capabilities – he may not have bowled too well in this tournament – and his commitment, a man to lookout for in the shorter format of the game. If he could build on a little muscle and in turn the pace, one could just be looking at an allrounder in the making. Mumbai seems to be getting into producing medium pace bowlers who may just qualify for the feather weight category in boxing, but end up bowling like that is what they have been doing all their lives. Dhawal Kulkarni has played in all the matches so far, picked up wickets in almost all the outings, and has an impressive average and economy of under 18 and 8 respectively! Coming back to the captaincy, one only wonders now, whether it would make more cricketing sense for Shaun Pollock to continue at the helm even after the maestro batsman comes back?
The second leg would hopefully throw up more answers