Anil Kumble bowling to Ganguly, Brett Lee bowling to Hayden, McGrath bowling to Gilchrist, Muralitharan sending down his assorted bag of tricks to Kumar Sangakkara. These are the contests that dreams are made of and one must be thankful to the IPL for making such dreams unfold before our eyes day after day.
Even as a tradition bound old timer I find myself getting more and more enthusiastic about Twenty20 even as the Indian Premier League enters the home stretch. Even if as I said in my previous column cricket's newest and shortest version is not art form of the highest order it still has things aplenty going for it. Twenty20 has certainly caught the public fancy and if marketed properly and in the right doses it certainly has the potential to be the biggest thing in the game. The ultimate proof of IPL's popularity are the opinion polls which show that it has scored in the TRP ratings over Shah Rukh's newly-inaugurated game show Kya Aap Panchvi Paas Se Tez Hai.
There really are so many aspects of it that can be enjoyed. For example we were led to believe that Twenty20 is a young man's game and the oldies would find themselves misfits among those in their early 20s. On the contrary players like Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Sourav Ganguly, Sanath Jayasuriya, Matthew Hayden and Muthiah Muralitharan all of whom are over 35 are not only enjoying Twenty20 but are proving to be mighty effective in a format thought to be of, by, for youngsters. All it needs is a willingness to adapt and it is just unfortunate that icons like Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have been unable to do so steeped so much as they are in their batting that is technique and elegance personified. Three of the four hundreds have been notched up by batsmen age over 30 as are two of three 90 plus scores in the tournament while in the economical bowling table it is McGrath who figures on top.
It is also great to see players from different nationalities playing together and cricketers from the same countries opposing one another. Anil Kumble bowling to Ganguly, Brett Lee bowling to Hayden, McGrath bowling to Gilchrist, Muralitharan sending down his assorted bag of tricks to Kumar Sangakkara. These are the contests that dreams are made of and one must be thankful to the IPL for making such dreams unfold before our eyes day after day.
Another heart warming sight has been young, relatively unknown cricketers playing alongside some of the legends. They are eager to learn and the greats have been eager to take them under their wing. Warne coaching, coaxing, cajoling the youngsters under his command has been one of the revelations of the tournament and this has underscored the fact that despite the slam bang associated with Twenty20 and the hot pace at which the game is played there is place for inspiring leadership, for matters of strategy and tactics. There certainly is no lack of intensity or preparation and the IPL is deadly serious stuff. Winning matters to every member of the eight participating teams.
The IPL has also provided the biggest international stage for youngsters to perform and be recognized. But for the competition would anyone have heard of players such as Swapnil Asnodkar, Manpreet Gony, Abishek Nayar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Wriddhiman Saha, Shaun Marsh, Pragyan Ojah, Ashok Dinda and Vijaykuar Yo Mahesh some of whom are household names thanks to their showing in the IPL. The tournament has also provided Lakshmipathy Balaji the perfect opportunity to kick-start his long awaited comeback to the national squad. A charismatic cricketer and one of the unexpected successes of the tour of Pakistan in 2004 Balaji due to one injury after another was out of the limelight. Now thanks to his hat trick the other day the tall fast bowler is verily the man of the moment.
Whichever way you look at it the IPL has something for everyone – the young and not so young, the traditionalist and the venturesome, the serious cricket follower and the casual fan, for men as well as women. It even has more than its share of masala – the Harbhajan Singh – Sreesanth row, the war of words between Shane Warne and Sourav Ganguly, umpires being suspended, quick disciplinary action being taken by the tournament committee, blacks outs at the Eden Gardens and the Chinnaswamy stadium, the slow over rates that are causing concern and now comes the latest in Vijay Mallya taking Rahul Dravid to task after firing Charu Sharma. Oh yes, there never is a dull moment in the IPL on and off the field!