Sunday, May 24, 2009

IPL-2: Some Lessons to Ponder

As the second season of the Indian Premier League draws to a close, it is time to sit back and savour the happenings of the last 36 days. As two of the bottom placed teams-Royal Challengers Bangalore and Deccan Chargers-clash to be the champions of this season, one can take a deeper look at all the matches and draws some conclusions as lessons or talking points, in cricketing terms. After watching this season, yours truly has these points to make:

# "If it can happen, it will, come what may"-thats the message of this season!! If Lalit Modi has the will, irrespective of whether the country is seeking the mandate of the people to form its next government, the show will go on!! The sceptics and purists can debate endlessly whether Indian Premier League can truly be 'Indian' if the show happens in South Africa; but the matter of fact is that IPL-2 has happened.

# This season of IPL was primarily aimed at the global television audiences, especially given the fact that the timings remain unchanged for the Indian viewers. They watched the games at the timings of last season, i.e 4 pm and 8 pm, even if that meant that the players had to sweat it out , according to SA timings of 12.30 and 4.30 pm respectively.

# Now to come to the actual show, Cricket is a game where the primacy is for the players, and not necessarily for their "Star Owners'. The franchisees which had superstars as owners, lost out in the big race. While Kolkata Knight Riders learnt it the hard way this year-taking on the mantle from the Deccan Chargers last season to finish last-Kings XI Punjab was also heartbroken as they were edged out at a crucial phase. Even the reigning champions, the Rajasthan Royals who acquired a new owner from this season, were beaten out of the semi-final race.

# Turn-arounds are always possible, for that is nature of cricket or for that matter, any sport. Only that you need astute leadership, tactical acumen and the desire to turn adversity into challenges. This cannot be more clearly explained than to point out the two finalists this season-the Royal Challengers and Deccan Chargers, who were down in the dumps last year. Under the combination of Anil Kumble-Ray Jennings (though Kevin Pieterson was the captain, it was after his departure for national duty that Challengers started their remarkable turn-around) and Adam Gilchrist-Darren Lehmann, both the teams with shifted gears and turned out to be giant-killers in the semis, outclassing Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Daredevils, the top two teams in the league table.

# "Expensive Signings are not their money's worth in true terms"-that is another statement in this season!!Both Kevin Pieterson and Andrew Flintoff failed miserably to justify their high price tags, in whatever limited opportunity that was available. So was the case of Jesse Ryder. Once again, this season of IPL like last year has proved that utility players who are moulded into the format fit the bill. However, there were exceptions like Lasith Malinga, Jean-Paul Duminy(who in his first season of IPL scored 5 half-centuries for the Mumbai Indians), and AB DeVilliers.

# Once again, unlike the big foreign signings, its the unknown Indian domestic players who have shone themselves. One such example is Manish Pandey for the Challengers-the first Indian to score a century in IPL. Also there were T.Suman, Naman Ojha, Shadab Jakati (who marked a turn around for Chennai from their suprising rut of losses with two consecutive four wicket hauls against Daredevils and Chargers) and of course the big guns like Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina and Irfan Pathan.

# It is not always a batsman's game, as its is being largely visualized. No matter how many runs you score, it is not worthwhile if it can't be defended. The Chennai Super Kings understood it the hardway in their outing against the Knight Riders, the punching bag of this season. After scoring almost 190 in that game, the Super Kings could not just defend that score. One of the best batting sides in the IPL, the loss of Super Kings proves that bowlers still win the day, even as odds are favourably loaded for the batsmen. However, there are again exceptions, like in the case of CSK itsell, who defended their motely score of 129 against the Kings XI in their last league match. In fact, on the whole, the shift to South Africa has also lent some balance between bat and ball. The swing and seam movement both on and off the track-with the descent of winter in the country-has also helped the bowlers to keep a check on the batsmen from cutting loose. This is unlike the first season of IPL in India last year, when teams posted huge totals on board playing on wickets which could only be described as "batting paradise". In fact, this year, only one total of over 200 has been posted by any team(Rajasthan Royals' 211 against Kings Xi Punjab in Durban).

# "Form is Temporary, Class is Permanent", and "Never write off Cricketers even if they have retired-Two other statements justified this year. The biggest examples??-Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.Post-retirement, their hunger for runs and passion for the game remain as fresh as ever.What is it with these Aussies and that too, with those who have retired.Last year, Shane Warne-who never captained his country during his international career, leading to many people getting vocal and sympathetic about him being the 'best person to have missed captaincy'-turned the Royals, one of the underrated teams at the start, into a champion unit; Gilchrist, this year has led the Deccan Chargers into the summit clash with greater vigour and motivation; and Hayden being the proud owner of the Orange Cap for scoring close to 580 runs, a marked departure from last December when people from all quarters were calling for his head, leading to his retirement. One needs to only take a look at their marauding form this season. The image of the tall, well built Hayden walking down the track to take on the bowlers, inspires continues to inspire awe among his numeorus fans, inclduing yours truly. Watching his innings of 89 the other night at Centurion against Kings XI taking on Sreesanth and co just makes me cling more to his batsmanship. It was said that Chennai could chase any imposing target, because among their superior batting line-up, Hayden stood rock-solid as the anchor. Gilchrist's innings in the semis against the Daredevils was blitzkreig that blew the latter away. Wish they continued playing at all levels, even today. Andrew Hilditch and his team of Aussie selectors listening??

# Ambidextrous players have shone brightly in batting and bowling. Take the case of Hayden and R.P.Singh, the proud owners of the Orange and Purple caps this season. Also Gilchrist, Raina, Jean-Paul Duminy, Jakati and Nehra(whose performance left many still wondering how he lost his spot in the national side). Also, Left-handers on the whole have made waves. Just look at the case of Yuvraj Singh, who shined more with the ball than with the bat this year, getting two hat-tricks. Again, Pragyan Ojha with his flight, and subtle variations was one of the key pillars in instrumenting the rise of the Chargers this year.

# Over-dependence on few players have also cost teams highly. One best case scenario here is that of the Mumbai Indians. The failure of Sachin and Sanath at the top of the order exposed their batting order, leaving them heavily reliant on Duminy to steer their ship. Same was the case with the Royals, as the failure of the Graeme Smith, made the shoulders of Yusuf Pathan heavily burdened. The top-heavy approach has also damaged the team prospects along with that of things revolving around one or two players.

# Packing the team with all-rounders also doesn't guarantee total success. The biggest illustration for that is the Super Kings. Except for a few games, their batting was like this in permanence for this season-Hayden, Parthiv, Raina, Dhoni, Badrinath, Morkel, Oram, Tyagi, Jakati, Balaji and Muralitharan. Sometimes, Murali Vijay, Bailey, Flintoff, R.Ashwin, Manpreet Gony and Thushara got the chances. The lack of a genuine pace bowler hurt their chances badly. Even while having Makhaya Ntini within their ranks, the fact that team combination heavily favouring all-rounders could be changed only seldomly needs a serious re-look. For it is the bowlers, who have a bigger role than the batsmen as i pointed out earlier. Hence, I feel that this mindset of "all-rounders being win all and end all" needs to be re-loaded.

# Carrying on from the last point, some remained just bench-warmers this entire season. Never able to fit into the team combination, they remained as "senior advisers". Perhaps, the bill fits here best on the Daredevils. Three of their players-the veteran Glenn McGrath(still having the fuel in tank for many a battle), Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah remained in the dug-out rather than being on the field.Similar was the case of Ntini, who definitely would have had his hands itching to have a go at the opposition batsmen. McGrath never understood his role well and was even prompted to state that he may not play in the next season of IPL, only to retract later.

# One more simple fact-teams who look unbeatable on paper, are not the same as they seem to be. Delhi Devils-with Sehwag, Gambhir, AB Devilliers, Dilshan, Warner, Vettori, Nannes, Maharoof, Amit Mishra, Sangwan, Nehra, Karthik-and McGrath, Collingwood and Owais Shah may have topped the league standings, but were beaten superbly by the Chargers. So was the case of Super Kings-touted by many as the sure-shot winner this year.

# Old school theories still do the trick. "Disciplined Line and Length bowling" with subtle variations squeeze batting teams and choke them for runs. Numerous matches this year reflect this. One match in memory this year was the re-match of the Super Kings and Royals at Kimberly. Restricting the Royals to a gettable total, the Super Kings also had their screws tigthened, until a cool and determined knock by Badrinath, in the company of a composed Hayden. Yet another match afresh in the mind, was the semi-final of the Super Kings with the Royal Challengers, where Anil Kumble tightened the leash whenever the Super Kings tried to explode, thereby squeezing them for runs.

# This was also a season, where the fielding standards dipped to new lows, by all teams. While the ground-fielding could still be managed, it was the catching that left a lot more to be desired. The Chennai Super Kings again were the culprits in the department more than anyone else, and they also paid the price for having 'butter fingers' on many occasions. While they tried to mask their 'drops' under the garb of big runs on the board, their captain Dhoni minced no words in showing the disappointment. Many of the catches were 'dollies' that had to be taken at this level. Whatever be the reason-even if it had something to do with the weather as pointed out by Gilchrist after the semi-final against Delhi-losing the basics is equal to committing harakiri. Remember Steve Waugh to Gibbs in 1999 World Cup??

# Strategic Time-Outs may have its pros and cons, but I feel they have worked. Teams threatening to run off with the match through hurricane innings of the batsmen have been grounded after the 7 1/2 minutes mid-innings break. One feels this is a case of getting two birds with one stone-raking in extra moolah from ad revenue and on cricketing terms, unsettle the opposition with fresh strategies.

# Maverick laptops and bizzare tactics-strategies do not pay dividends,as was the case with Kolkata Knight Riders. John Buchanan's "Multiple Captain" theory bit the dust and removal of Ganguly from the helm, along with ovwerweight support staff left many wounds afresh and untendered. The 'Fake IPL Player' controversy further opened new cans of worms for the team, as was booting out of Akash Chopra and Sanjay Bangar in middle of the tournament. Similarly, the pushing out of Mohammed Kaif also needs a strong re-visit.

# IPL is here to stay and the more sooner, the cricketing world comes to grip with this reality, the better. Wth ongoing efforts to replicate this model elsewhere in the cricketing and non-cricketing world, it is high time the game's governing body seriously discusses and seals a pending demand from last year-To Have a Permanent Window in the Future Tours and Programmes Calendar for the IPL. With increasing number of players wanting to associate themselves with the even-whether it be for financial or cricketing reasons-it is no more a 'Paid Holiday' as pointed out by Dale Steyn last year. Also, with the ICL also releasing players, many more are expected to join the bandwagon from the next season. However, attempts to have the overdose of the spirit, like suggestions of having two IPLs a year(one in India and other in a potential market catchment area like USA) would only mean 'killing the golden goose'. Also, the primacy of classical first-class cricket has to be established. Statements are emerging from some quarters regarding 'doomsday' for Test cricket; Some players-who reach join the team for the test match just 48 hours before its start and who are angry for dragging them away from IPL-feel "not too sorry or unhappy ath the demise of test cricket" have got it all wrong. The excitement of a five day test match in white flannels, where game happens in sessions, where the skills and perseverance of players are put under scanner, can never be replaced by the razzmattazz of the T20 revolution

# And finally a lesson on personal note-determination and decisions like "will never miss any match, come what may" are also bound to change. They undergo change, due to various circumstances. However, efforts to stick to that original determination 'continue' in numerous forms.

No comments: