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It is still anybody's IPL.
by Partab Ramchand
May 09, 2008
Is it really three weeks since the Indian Premier League commenced with all that fanfare at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy stadium? It is really halfway through already? Time has really flown by just as each of the around 30 Twenty20 matches are now part of history. Whichever way one examines the events of the past three weeks there is little doubt that the IPL has struck the right chords around the country. Even those people who are not normally interested in the game are discussing nothing but various aspect of the IPL. Very obviously the IPL is being closely followed by cricket fans all over the world what with the cash-rich tournament having a truly international touch. Also keeping a tab on it are administrators who see Twenty20 as the game’s future and the IPL as the most happening event in world cricket. And of course the ties between cricket and Bollywood have grown even stronger with the game’s newest and shortest format having a new name – cricketainment – and with Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta being franchisee owners.

Oh yes, it has been one hell of a roller coaster ride these last three weeks and somehow one can safely predict that the next three weeks is going to be an even faster ride filled with thrills and excitement, cricket that the spectators love to see as `time pass’ even if they are not matches that will stay in one’s mind for long. This is entertainment pure and simple and one should not see beyond that or look for an art form of the highest order.

All the same there are aspects heartening for even the more serious or traditional follower of the game. Certainly the IPL has succeeded in exploding some myths associated with Twenty20. Oh sure, it has rained fours and sixes but that is to be expected when the duration is so limited. The point I want to emphasize is that the bowlers have not exactly been willing slaves just there at the batsman’s bidding. It may still be a batsman’s game – which version of cricket is not – but there is a place for the bowlers in Twenty20. For example we were given to understand that a total of around 200 would be par for the course in an innings going by what we saw in the World Cup in South Africa last year. But in a format supposed to be devised of, by and for batsmen this hasn’t been the case. In the first 29 matches 200 plus totals have been notched up only seven times, scores of around 150 have been defended successfully and teams have been bowled out within 20 overs.

One must realize that in this abridged version it is not just the bowlers who face the pressure of being hit for fours and sixes every time. The batsman too is under the intense weight of expectations. There is just no time to get your eye in with the result that the slog starts virtually with the first ball. Under the circumstances a miscued or rash stroke is always on the cards and this is where the bowler scores a point. A couple of dot balls and again the batsman is under tremendous pressure to get a move along and this has led to a dismissal as we have seen so often in the IPL. As the former England batsman Mark Ramprakash put it succinctly ``the nature of the game is risk and you have to accept that there is risk involved when you are looking to score so quickly.’’

Cricket’s newest `avatar’ may not be the highest art form. All the same watching the bowlers frustrate the batsmen by bowling yorkers, by pitching the ball at the pads and giving them no room to get away with the big hits for which he is all too eager is quite a revelation. The batsman for his part has to be extra innovative and enterprising even more than in ODIs and this frequently leads to an engrossing contest. Certainly there is a place for strategy and tactics and it’s not all just slam bang. Oh yes, there are aspects associated with Twenty20 that are heartening even for the serious cricket follower. Stephen Fleming for one is convinced Twenty20 is a thinking man’s game. One of the most astute leaders in the game the former New Zealand captain who is on the roll of the Chennai Super Kings is of the view that captaincy in this format is more difficult than in Test cricket or ODIs since the skipper has to make all the decisions like in the other forms but here the thinking has to be swifter. One false step and the team could well be out of the game. This where intuitive captains like MS Dhoni have succeeded for here you can't wait for things to happen, you have to make things happen.

Perhaps the most positive aspect of the IPL has been the sight of players of different nations turning out for the same team. It was believed that this could help the cricketers forget bitter memories of the past and bring them together. Tom Moody certainly felt that way. The former Australian all-rounder, who is the coach of the Mohali team, expressed the view that when cricketers are playing in opposite sides things can get heated. "But when players get together in a team, the game tends to take control of all egos and past discrepancies," said Moody. This has been seen on several occasions with each team having players from various nationalities. The IPL has also given some relatively unknown Indian talent the opportunity to display their skills and playing alongside so many legendary figures has certainly been a motivating factor. Shane Warne for one has clearly proved that there is scope for leadership qualities in Twenty20 and thanks mainly to his inspiring presence the Rajasthan Royals’ collection of Indian novices and experienced internationals have proved to be the team of the moment.

As for the competition proper it’s generally been up and down for the eight teams. No team has established a clear superiority and with so much cricket still to be played the chances of even the two teams lying at the bottom at the moment, Bangalore’s Royal Challengers and Deccan Chargers cannot be totally ruled out.

 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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