By Suresh Menon - DreamCricket Columnist
In the second half of the tournament, bowlers have begun to come into their own. There have been hat-tricks, and except for Sanath Jayasuriya's murderous century, nothing has matched Brendon McCullum's 158 in the opening match.
When Ravi Shastri emulated Garry Sobers by hitting six sixes in an over in first-class cricket, the pundits nodded sagely, and in the manner of pundits declared that it was inevitable. You didn't need to be a genius like Sobers to hit like that - if you were technically sound, everything else followed in cricket. Perhaps a Sobers might appear to be putting in less effort, but the technician was fully capable of matching a genius.
If you were a good Test player - this was an extension of the same argument - then you automatically were a good one-day player and valuable in any form of cricket. In India, this theory was strengthened when they beat the then world champions West Indies in a one-dayer for the first time in Berbice. Their best Test batsman, Sunil Gavaskar made 90 in that win, and the pundits nodding sagely said, "See, nothing happens till a technician gets into the act."
The IPL has shattered all such comfortable (and comforting) cliches. You only have to watch a Rahul Dravid struggle to understand this. Greatness does not translate easily into Twenty20. Dravid has had a hugely successful one-day career, with over ten thousand runs, but he has not looked the part (at the time of writing, let me hastily add) in the shortest form of the game.
This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that it is the equivalent of David Beckham failing to qualify at Wimbledon. Test cricket and T20 are different sports altogether. T20 is different from the traditional game in form and content; it is currently labeled cricket only because it happens to use the same equipment and the same laws of the first class game. For the moment it uses the same players too, but that could change easily. A Yusuf Pathan, for example, might play only this format of the game at the highest level. Unless that is another cliche waiting to be smashed, and he makes the reverse journey, from being a specialist T20 player to a successful Test player. It may be too early to tell.
In fact, if the IPL has a message at this stage, that could be summed up in the phrase 'It is too early to tell.' It is too early to tell if it will replace Test cricket, it is too early to tell if specialist Test players will find it tough, it is too early to tell if it will be a batsman's game, and so on. In the second half of the tournament, bowlers have begun to come into their own. There have been hat-tricks, and except for Sanath Jayasuriya's murderous century, nothing has matched Brendon McCullum's 158 in the opening match.
As the bowlers have realized the importance of cutting their pace and indeed the wickets themselves have slowed down, the pressure has shifted to the batsmen to maintain run-rates of ten-plus an over. Even in a tightly packed schedule such as this one it has been fascinating to observe the evolution of the sport.
We make the mistake of trying to fit T20 into the frame made for Test cricket. Batsmen and bowlers have made this mistake, team managers and selectors have too. We need a new kind of batting, a new kind of bowling, and indeed a new kind of punditry. But pundits must be prepared to have their sage sayings disproved at a faster rate. Perhaps it is a good thing for the sport that a Dravid has been unsuccessful. It will help us store cricket and T20 in different pigeonholes of the mind.