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By Partab Ramchand
As IPL III completes one month things are finally falling into place as far as the competing teams are concerned. As only to be expected in the Twenty20 format the lead has changed hands several times and the only thing that can be said with certainty is that King’s XI Punjab are out of contention for a semifinal slot, following a thoroughly disappointing campaign. Despite some big names, the Mohali outfit started shabbily and never recovered, so much so, that it was obvious, even halfway through the tournament, that it was going to make an early exit.
If anything, this edition of the IPL has underlined the fact that to predict the result of Twenty20 matches is an exercise fraught with danger. Leaping and sliding is very much part of the format and whatever the experts might say during lengthy analyses, its flip-flop nature means that the contestants become almost automatically evenly matched. If King’s XI bowed out early due to a limp campaign it was because they did not perform up to potential.
In fact, I now recall that it was Kolkata Knight Riders who caused all the early excitement by starting off with two successive victories but they have since faltered and are in the bottom half of the points table. Mumbai Indians, after enjoying a run of five wins in a row, went to the top of the table but when within striking distance of reaching the semifinals, suffered a couple of losses. The win over Rajasthan Royals on Sunday has made them the first team to be assured of a semifinal berth even though they still have three matches in hand.
For a brief while Royal Challengers Bangalore were occupying the top spot but after four wins on the trot they have suffered losses and have slipped to second place. Delhi Daredevils, who were the pre-tournament favourites, have had had an inconsistent run but are still in contention for a place in the semifinals. Holders, Deccan Chargers, is another team that has not been playing up to their reputation with the result that they are lying one place away from the bottom. But so tight is the points position that their chances of making the last four cannot be ruled out.
Rajasthan Royals, despite an up and down campaign, have stayed in contention thanks mainly to exemplary leadership qualities displayed by Shane Warne who has got the best out of a team that is short on experience but high on enthusiasm. Chennai Super Kings is another high profile squad that is having a rather rough time. Currently they occupy the fifth slot and will be hoping for a strong surge in their last three matches. With each team playing 14 games there are enough opportunities for a comeback and the current points position that has three teams with 12 and three others with 10 makes the situation highly intriguing as the league stage enters its final week. Six teams battling it out for three semifinal berths is the kind of scenario that has pulses racing. Anything can happen in Twenty20 cricket as we have seen. It must not be forgotten that the last two teams in the points table in the inaugural edition of the IPL contested the final of the tournament the following year and Deccan Chargers who were at the bottom of the pile in 2008 won the title in 2009.
The tournament so far has been comparable to the first two editions as far as cricketainment – the phrase coined by the whopping success of the IPL – is concerned. The glitz and the glamour associated with the IPL since its inception is very much intact and it is very much the hot subject for discussion around the nation and the cricketing world. The TRP ratings continue to be highly encouraging and crowds have flocked to the grounds to cheer their favourite teams and cricketing heroes. Newspapers and magazines, television and the internet are full of news and views about the IPL. The money associated with Lalit Modi’s brainchild has made headlines in business publications and news magazines.
But then the IPL is not only about the razzle dazzle off the field. It is about cricket and with a trophy, prestige and big money to be won all the teams are giving it their best shot. The leading players in the world are representing various sides and one can be sure their approach will be professional. And five years after the first Twenty20 International was played between Australia and New Zealand and into the IPL’s third year it is clear that cricket’s newest and shortest and most popular avatar is evolving into a format in which matters of tactics and strategy are playing an important part. The participants have to be imaginative and enterprising and the decisions have to be made quickly. This is true of batsmen, bowlers and captains. So we have a number of innovative strokes played by a batsman even as the bowler thinks of ways to thwart him. Captains too have displayed a bit of flair while placing the field, changing the batting order, opening the bowling with spinners or making rapid fire bowling changes. One day cricket evolved over the years into a thinking man’s sport and it is good to see that Twenty20 is developing from just fours and sixes and quick fall of wickets into a contest marked by a battle of wits.