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Gilchrist infuses self-belief in Deccan Chargers
by Suresh Menon
May 26, 2009
Last year, in the first edition of the IPL, Deccan Chargers were the best team on paper but finished last. Cricket matches are seldom played on paper, and despite their array of players with specific skills for Twenty20, the Chargers looked thoroughly out of sorts.

This year, they were further depleted by the absence of Shahid Afridi, but finished deserving winners. What made the difference? A charged-up Andrew Symonds in the final is the most obvious one, but that was one man in one match. Over 16 matches, it was another man who stood out, as much for his batting as for his leadership abilities. Adam Gilchrist may lack the flair of a Shane Warne, but he can be just as inspirational. In fact, if there is something to be learnt from the tournament (from a purely cricketing point of view, that is), it is the importance of the man at the top. John Buchanan might have wanted four or five men to lead, but ultimately the lesson from the latest format is one of the oldest in the game - the captain makes a difference.

It was not just Gilchrist's strike rate, although 150-plus is not something to be sneezed at, and it is not even his tactical nous or dramatic bowling changes that stood out. It was his ability to infuse self-belief in a team with its confidence at bootlace level that took them to victory.

Interestingly, it was not the two best teams that met in the final; nor did Chargers and Bangalore's Royal Challengers consistently demonstrated the nuances of the Twenty20 format. Yet the two teams had one thing in common, and that got them into the title round - inspirational captains. The final margin of victory merely demonstrated that there was little to choose between the teams, and on another day it might just as easily have been Bangalore who won.

Their captain Anil Kumble was just as inspirational, and as successful too. He too had to raise a team which had finished near the bottom, and he did a magnificent job. Perhaps in future, franchises will choose some players for their leadership abilities alone, which means that experienced international players will continue to find a slot. Warne, Gilchrist and Kumble made their mark after their retirement, and there is probably a lesson here.

There is something to be said for pacing yourself, for arriving at solutions in the latter part of the tournament. It is rather like the advice the poet T S Eliot gave a young writer who awoke one morning and found himself famous. There is a right and a wrong way to build up your reputation, he said. It is better to start slowly, and expand in a series of concentric circles than to start with a bang, perhaps get overconfident and find there is no place to go but down. Delhi had this problem in IPL2 as did, to a certain extent Chennai. Title-holders Jaipur might just have been overconfident, but they were a depleted side too from the one that won last year.

The majority of the games reconfirmed what was becoming evident last year - that contrary to popular opinion, Twenty20 is a bowler's game, and it is the batsmen who are under pressure.

In the end it was a successful tournament, and that matters to a young format, a young championship and one that might now be taken around the world. What South Africa demonstrated was that the possibilities are endless, geographically speaking.
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