After Hyderabad, I fancy the chances of Mohali and Bangalore in that order. You want logical reasons? When was logic ever a part of Twenty20?
It is always difficult to accept a revolution even some days after it has been duly certified by the participants, the media and that part of human life that it affects most. The Great Auction is over, and the Great Revolution is here. The events may or may not change the face of cricket, but they cannot be wished away. The face of other sports in India might change, though. By casually gifting 50 crore rupees to help train potential medal-winners for the Commonwealth Games, the IPL might help raise the standard of cash-strapped sports while lowering cricket's. Such irony!
Team Hyderabad looks set to win the first IPL tournament even if the bowling is not the best (but after all, Twenty20 matches are won by batsmen, not bowlers). And if the story of V V S Laxman opting out as an ʽiconʼ player so his team would have more money to bid for the rest is true (it is easy to be cynical about these PR statements), then they already have something other teams must now cultivate - commitment. And in Scott Styris they have the ideal player for the format.
There are two elements that will ensure the IPL is the moderate success it should be so we donʼt have too much of it - the players and the PR. Players know that talent alone is not enough. You need to score highly on the oomph quotient too. The Page3fication of cricket is complete. It is possible that a team doing badly might still attract attention because a star is having an affair with a Bollywood actress or another has bought an island somewhere or yet another hogs the headlines for forays into the field of phone sex. The possibilities are endless.
There is no common sense about Twenty20. Balance, that much sought-after quality in serious cricket, is not so vital here. Teams can go in with two regular bowlers, three part-timers and pack the batting. Or play five regular bowlers, and hope they donʼt need to bat beyond number 5 or 6. Soon the definition of multi-tasking itself will change. It will not be about batsmen who can bowl or vice versa, but about players who can bowl both right arm and left arm, batsmen who can bat right or left as needed, and perhaps wicket keepers who can bowl, thus increasing the options a team has.
In this scenario, how do the teams stack up? The $5 million cap on player salaries has meant that there is no single team that is overburdened with either talent or oomph. Bangalore have talent but no oomph, Kolkata have both. Hyderabad, who begin with Gilchrist-Gibbs-Afridi-Symonds are probably the most exciting. Mumbai could do with some middle order batsmen to follow Tendulkar and Jayasuriya.
With the profusion of 30-pluses, no team looks like a tight fielding outfit. The best fielders are in Hyderabad, but again, contrary to received wisdom fielding may not be such a crucial element after all. Batsmen are aiming for the third or fourth row in the stands anyway when they are not merely saying a prayer and flashing the bat to take the ball to the traditionally untenanted areas of the field - behind the wicket keeper, between mid off and mid wicket, over the bowlerʼs head.
Too many stars can be a problem - as Kolkata will discover, especially since Shah Rukh Khan is in the mix too. After Hyderabad, I fancy the chances of Mohali and Bangalore in that order. You want logical reasons? When was logic ever a part of Twenty20? India, who came to the party long after everybody else and then fought against having such a tournament are the world champions, remember.