Lalit Modi, in a mood of justifiable self-congratulation, gets into an Oscar acceptance speech mode. The South African president drones on and on, putting our neta-log to shame. And just when you decide to doze off, in comes mega-star Akon (unnecessary trivia: thrice married) singing “Smack that”, a romantic tribute to ethereal love that summarizes the spirit of IPL in a way no other song can.
Smack that, all on the floor
Smack that, give me some more
Smack that, ’til you get sore
Smack that, oh ooh
I’ma call her then I put the mack down
Money? No problem, pocket full of that now
Yes. The IPL has smacked “that” all on the floor. So much so that many of us have gotten sore but as the song says, we still want more.
A big “oh ooh” all around and amidst all that the moaning and groaning, the powers-that-be have once again made a pocket full of money. If you have a problem with this and the Miss Bollywood contest, then to quote the great Badshah, suck it. Or alternatively start an anonymous blog, make a shadow puppet show like the “bibek” (conscience) character in Jatras (rustic plays) and then rave and rant as to how cricket has been converted to a three hour movie, no longer worth missing your IIMA interview for.
In my previous article on Cricbuzz , I profiled the four “losers” i.e. the one who did not make the semi-finals. Here are the others – the winner and the oh-so-closes.
When you have the hottest cheer-leaders with their white half-tops and the Catholic schoolgirl skirts, it becomes just that much easier to smack that since getting “charged up” is never a problem. But no seriously. The most important reason why Deccan won was because they had a slew of players in excellent form who put their hands up when it mattered. What distinguishes champions from also-rans is not that the champions never lose. It is just that when the ball is on the line, the champion is the one who goes for it with the greatest confidence.
This belief in themselves is what marked the Chargers out from the others. Throughout this season of the IPL, they managed to come out of tight situations with their guns blazing. Be it Rohit Sharma’s blitz against the Knight Riders in a make-or-break game or purple cap RP Singh’s swinging yorkers at the death, or Ojha spinning the ball away from an advancing Van Der Meewe or Gibbs, known for being hot-headed and temperamental, anchoring an innings or little-known Harmeet Singh keeping his head – Deccan always had the man for the hour.
Favorite Player: He has always been one of my most favorite players. And if over the last year or so, I had forgotten the reason for that then I was reminded of it once again. Watching Adam Gilchrist hook, pull and cut with exactly the same ferociousness and quickness-of-eye that he exhibited in his prime, one could not help wonder “Why oh why is this person retired?” And when a six sails into the stands over the mid-wicket boundary, you realize the reason – Gilchrist never retired, God the referee simply stopped the fight on the grounds that the bowlers of the world were not fit to continue in the ring. Just to show that Adam the Great isn’t all about sublime batting, do check out that stumping of Virat Kohli he affected in the final. A hawk swooping on its prey. Pure class.
The Dud: With a batting average of 3.80 and a highest score of ten, VVS Laxman was without a doubt, the dud of the pack. It is indeed sad that such a great batsman as him was unable to adjust to the T20 game for the second season running where his equally sedate contemporaries like Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble showed remarkable adaptability, comfortably out-performing the so-called specialists.
Bangalore Royal Challengers:
The season started for the Bangalore Royal Challengers almost exactly where they had left off in 2008. With defeats. And with embarassing purchases. Like that of KP Pietersen, who “Dr” Mallya acquired for USD 1.55 million and immediately made captain and who along with Chennai purchase Flintoff perpetrated the most undeserved flow of capital out of the country to England since the British East India company. Like that of Jesse Ryder, who was so inspired by his team-owner’s main product, that he metamorphosed into Devdas and lost his batting abilities.
This combined with Robin Uthappa’s using his opportunity as a Challengers team-member to audition for the second keeper’s position in the T20 team (and doing a pretty poor job of it), 2009 seemed to be going along the lines of 2008 with every man for himself. Last time at least “Dr” Mallaya could take it out on poor Charu Sharma. But this year who would it be?
But then Dr. Mallya got a slice of luck. KP left and Kumble was made captain. Anil Kumble is possibly the most competitive Indian player of his generation whose aggression may not be as in-your-face as Ganguly’s but equally emphatic. He led India with honor through a contentious series in Australia and once again given the responsibility of the captain’s arm-band, even in a format that was quite foreign to him, Kumble rose to the challenge.
Last time, Dr. Mallya made a huge hue-and-cry about the fact that Dravid got him a Test team. He should have realized the problem was not that the selection of personnel – after all Dravid, Kumble and Kallis, three of the best Test players of their generation, were all unqualified successes for the Challengers this season. What went wrong with his franchise in 2008 was that that the management went too public with their displeasure after the initial reverses and Dravid, always a sensitive man, looked beleaguered and defensive throughout and this reflected in the team’s performance. This time whether it was that the management had learnt their lesson and adopted a more hands-off policy after the initial setbacks or whether it was Kumble’s hard-as-nails toughness which resisted pressure from the top, the Royal Challengers exhibited the gas in the tank and a big heart to make a from-behind surge into the final.
Favorite Player: Would it be Ross Taylor, the destroyer of full-toss bowling? Would it be sensational Manish Pandey whose cover-driving showed us that the new generation isnt all about the Thank you mams? Would it be…
Naah. There was no real choice. Just one champion. Anil Kumble. His quiver of arrows was as full as it ever was – the fast yorker, the variation in pace and the googly. The base of the stumps was hit with unerring regularity. In a throwback to his best days, Kumble emerged as the go-to man when wickets were needed and he obliged everytime. While in 2008, he looked jaded and morose in South Africa this time he was the Kumble of old – pumped up, intense and confident as the team’s bowling spearhead. Call me a silly 90s romantic but seeing the Kumble of the last decade was reward enough for having to sit through the strategy breaks, Rameez Raja and the product placements in the commentary.
The Dud: When your batting average (15.25) is less than that of Anil Kumble’s (16.00), you are half-way to the road to dud-dom. And when to top it off, you got paid 1.55 million USD for that performance, then yes. No two ways about it. You are the dud Mr. Pietersen.
Maybe they need Akshay Kumar back as a brand ambassador. After all, with a name like “daredevils” , it was ironic that the Delhi men showed absolutely no courage. Else how can you explain the fact that they refused to give last year’s outstanding performer Glenn McGrath a single game, even after they had sealed their place in the semis? Captain Sehwag of course had an answer. He felt that McGrath was not in form. Now here’s the question – how could he be so sure when he did not even give him a game? The thing with champions like McGrath is that they are big-match players who can raise their game against the best of opposition at the worst of times. With McGrath raring to go, any sensible captain would have backed him to deliver the goods. Viru did not. Even the fact that his contemporaries like Gilchrist, Hayden and Warne were the lead performers of the other franchises did not move Sehwag. Instead he went with the pacier Dirk Nannes. Not to pick on him, but in the semi-finals he was clearly out of his league in front of an all-time great. He panicked, tried to bowl faster and faster with the result that Adam Gilchrist dispatched the ball harder and harder.
While we will never know for sure what would have happened had McGrath taken the new ball, but this was exactly the day that the Daredevils needed the Pigeon.
Favorite Player: Ashish Nehra had a torrid season last time in Mumbai, as he stood with his mouth agape, in the manner of Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire, as he was carted all over the park. This time, he was exchanged for Shikhar Dhawan and what an effective swap that was, even more so considering the fact that Dhawan, a star of IPL 2008, had a horrible season. Not so Nehra who was back to his 2003 best, keeping the ball full and sometimes letting loose a volley of choice endearments at the wicketkeeper and fielders if they failed to meet upto his high standards.
The Dud: It was a strange season for the Daredevils. Their weakest performers from last time – Dilshan, AB Villiers and surprise of surprises Dinesh Kartik, became the mainstays of their batting. Nehra, consigned to the scrapheap of Indian fast bowlers, became their most potent spearhead. Their most exciting young batsman from 2008, Dhawan became a pale shadow of his former self in Mumbai. But the honor of being the biggest dud was reserved for their best performers from last season, two of the world’s best T20 players – Sehwag and Gambhir. Sehwag never got going (average 19.8) and Gambhir (average 22.00) would have had much worse numbers had it not been for the munificence of the Knight Riders fielders and the umpire. And once you factor in Viru’s explanation of why McGrath was never played, there is no doubt as to who let the Daredevils down. The two men at the top.
Chennai Super Kings:
You have a marauding Hayden, back to his best, walking down the pitch and depositing opposing bowlers in the dustbin of the stands. You have Suresh Raina, fast becoming one of the world’s most innovative hitters in the middle. You have the iconic Dhoni as the captain, the all-round abilities of Albie Morkel and the service of Muttiah Muralidharan. Yet you contrive to lose. There is a risk of getting over-critical here. Ultimately it was a matter of one game and the semi-final could have gone either way. However it did not. What was significant about this is that it shows that Dhoni is fallible and that he will not be able to get his team victory in all the crucial matches. This is a sobering realization for not only the millions of fans out there for whom Dhoni is the “action kar action” king but also for Dhoni himself. Being brought down to earth is not always a great experience but something that is needed. From time to time. Otherwise one gets arrogant. Of course not that anyone can accuse Dhoni of being that.
Favorite Player: No-brainer here. Old Mattie Hayden, the man everyone loves to hate but wants on their team. If one ever saw a natural bully, then that was Hayden and as time and time again he took apart bowling attacks in IPL 2.0 , one just kept thinking as to why the Australian selectors were so indisposed to giving a man of his class an extended lease of life in the ODIs and T20s, even after his Test form had declined.
The Dud: Freddie the Furious. No! The Dud of the team was Jacob Oram. With an average of 14.66 and a pedestrian strike rate of about 94.00 and five wickets at 8.58 runs/over (in comparison Raina had seven at 5.92 runs/over) Jacob Oram was the quintessential Dud. Of course one can argue that the people who kept him in the team for 11 matches, given these numbers, were not much better.
King’s XI Punjab:
Maybe it’s just me but the sight of Priety Zinta’s, the “oooh I am such an excited teenager” cultivated “girl-woman” image with her arm-throwing, jumping about and carefully selected careless hugging bubbliness was immensely grating. Of course not that I doubt that the Kings XI is a happy place with a cherubic looking Piyush Chawla and child-like nanna-munha-sa acts of enjoyment like a high and mighty franchise leader poking a female audience member with a pole and getting cutely thrashed in the process. When you combine the pole-poking maturity and the college cheerleader demeanor of Zinta with the verbals of Yuvraj and the shameless bullying of Sreesanth, Kings XI resembled less a team of professionals and more a group of college jocks. Perhaps that goes some way in explaining why they found themselves “ill-equipped” when it came to performing.
To be fair, Punjab did better than expected. Brett Lee, after a woeful season beset with personal problems, came back to his very best. Irfan Pathan, who had of late again relapsed into mediocrity, also shone with the ball and the bat. Yuvraj Singh, the world’s best pie-chucker, picked up two hat-tricks. Yousuf Abdullah, rank outsider, bowled with heart. In short, the bowling, which was seen as its Achilles heel, came off good. It was the batting that was the problem and Shaun Marsh was solely missed. Yuvraj bowled better than he batted. Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Simon Katich had their moments but none of them consistently brilliant enough to see Punjab through to the semis.
Favorite Player: One of the best things about the IPL is how it gives opportunities to players struggling to make it big on the world stage. Last IPL, it was Yusuf Pathan and Gony who used it to get into the national team. This time, it was “local lad” Yusuf Abdullah who forced his way into the South African T20 squad with some stellar performances at the beginning of the season. Skiddy, wobbly and nippy, Abdullah consistently looked for wickets and it was his bad luck that he had to give up his place in the team to the more established and definitely more huggable Brett Lee in the final eleven when Lee was finally released from national duty.
The Dud: Who else but the self-proclaimed handsome man, macho-crybaby Sreesanth. This was of course a season full of some great personal achievements. First, he picked up a nickname that wont be forgotten in a hurry. Then he got into an ego-fight with an actress. And finally he got pasted by old-enemy Hayden for three sixes to which embarrassment he further added to by his show of petulant aggression, a display as comical as a one-man fishing boat taunting a battleship. Simply ridiculous.
I had said this before the season began. And I will say it again. It was a big mistake to replace Ila Arun’s scary “Ar har har ar” war-cry with Shilpa Shetty’s genteel over-madeup face as the brand icon.
This just was not the year of the Royals. Shaun Tait was not released by cricket Australia. Their two bowling sensations – Kamran Khan and Amit Singh – got cited for suspect actions. Their import Botha couldn’t bowl his doosra as it too was under a cloud. Their most expensive buy, Mohammed Kaif (a horrible purchase made last year, a boo-boo on the scale of Mortaza) was brought to South Africa and sent home (benched) within a few days, such was the confidence the team management had in his batting. In a must-win game with the semi-finals on the line and that too against everyone’s favorite whipping boys the Knight Riders, the Royals in totally uncharacteristic fashion lost the plot and imploded. And if this was not enough, marauding baboons broke into Shamita Shetty’s bedroom and presumably rifled through her private stuff.
Favorite Player: Whether it be sipping beer while fielding or being like an elder brother to his team-mates or getting somnolent Munaf Patel to appear awake or just connecting with the audience, Shane Warne was supreme. It was not just his leadership skills on the field or his ability to get the best out of his wards that were in evidence but also his canny tactical acumen. To the supercoaches spouting soft management soap, his use of Yusuf Pathan as a floating hitman who would be inserted at an appropriate time was a lesson in thinking out of the box, a strategy which was amazingly effective throughout the tournament and most spectacularly in the first game against Delhi. One of my most enduring moments of IPL 2.0 would be the intensity of Warne going up against Tendulkar, renewing one of the most defining genius vs genius rivalries that defined the best of what cricket was in the 90s, a rivalry which seemed to have lost none of its edge over twenty years.
The Dud: Tyron Henderson. Big, beefy, expensive and a mega flop. Considering how Warne gets the best out of everyone, even those who barely understand his language, Henderson’s failure was even the more damning.
Zandu Balm. Zandu Balm. Peera haari Balm. The Mumbai Indians had Zandu Balm as one of its shirt sponsors and boy do they need to use that product after their one from last position in the league. Even in the race to the bottom, they were not the first. Sad.
The Mumbai Indians, unlike the Kolkata Knight Riders, got their squad right.Most of their players were in form – none more so than Sachin, who gave us glimpses of his attacking best, most noticeably in the first game against the Knight Riders.
Their main problem was that they needed one or two fresh ideas in their head, and not just an “IDEA” logo on the front of their jerseys. Sachin Tendulkar and the think-tank made some bizarre decisions, mainly with regards to the batting line-up. In a crucial match, they let the inexperienced batsmen take the initial heat while Sachin, Sanath and Jean Paul Duminy – the most famous Jean Paul after Satre – cooled their heels in the dressing room. They were not helped by Zaheer Khan’s injury and by the fact that Shikhar Dhawan, IPL 1.0’s surprise success, left his mojo back in Delhi.
Favorite Player: Lasith Malinga. Kiss the ball. Run in. Sling it in the style of Jeff Thomson. Fast swinging, toe-crushing yorkers that either take the base of your stump or can be pushed only for one. And for variety, a fast and then a slow bouncer. Malinga was brilliant for the Mumbai Indians bowling many deliveries that would make Tony Cozier go “God would have found it difficult to play that”.
Now if only Dhawal Kulkarni and Zaheer Khan would have provided him some top-order support, things could well have been so different.
The Dud: Sanath Jayasuriya got his timing wrong. Time and again. Maybe the pace and bounce of South African pitches did not suit him. Maybe it was his age. But with Sachin’s role being that of an aggressive anchor in the opening partnership, Jayasuriya had to be the lead demolisher up-front. But he just could not fire, except for isolated occasions, putting pressure on Sachin to both consolidate as well as accelerate.
Kolkata Knight Riders
They started out as the tripping-over-themselves “Keystone cops” franchise — the butt-end of endless jokes. However by the end of the season the Knight Riders had metamorphosed into the weak kid for whom everyone has sympathy, trying its best to make something out of itself but getting mercilessly punched in its face and kicked in its ribs by the bullies in match after match.
True the KKR, with its strategic naivete and its wrong squad selection, brought the plague on itself. But to be honest, they did have large slices of rotten luck. Everything that could have gone wrong did. Proven performers lost form. Players sulked like workmen who had their bonus cancelled. A shadowy figure pretending to be an insider rubbed their noses into the ground. Umpiring decisions consistently went against them. Every time the ball went up in the air and a player got himself underneath it, you could see Heisenberg’s principle at work – the more they tried to fix the ball’s position, they got its momentum wrong and vice versa. End result: everything went to ground.
Matches they had in the bag swung the other way either due to superlative performances from its own opponents (and I include Agarkar in the set of opponents since he always performs for the other team) or because of its own “tripping-over-shoelaces” ineptitude at knife-edge moments (bowling a succession of full tosses at the death and not counting the number of players in the fielding circle).
But somewhere down the line and in no small measure due to the dignity and earnestness one saw in beleaguered skipper Brendon Mccullum, one began rooting for the Knights again. Not as the proud warriors who will “Do, Fight and Win” but as a bunch of hapless sportsmen trying manfully to hold onto whatever professional dignity they had, choking back the tears amidst the crescendo of laughter. Maybe this is how Shahrukh Khan, with his mega-genius wanted the Knight Riders to make its way into our hearts. As the season drew to a close, the Knights got back some respect and in a heartening “backs to the wall” display of spunk were able to spoil the party for at least two franchises.
Favorite player: The KKR’s stand-out performer was Brad Hodge, whose pedestrian potterings last season and in the first few matches had led to the term “Hodge-ins Disease” to refer to the condition where highly-paid players chronically underperform. However he managed to cure himself of this condition and that too in spectacular style.
The Dud: It’s tempting to put all the blame on the Boka guy with his ghoulish presence, his non-smiling “mock serious” visage and his gang of “non-performing but expert” friends and relatives. But I wont do that. For me, the honor for the “dud” has to go to the team-owner, the Badshah, who after his Samrat Asoka-style “all players are like my children and I love them to death” PR babble showed his true colors by ditching the franchise at its nadir (even though it was some of his management decisions, like buying Bangla Billi for USD 600,000 that were to an extent to blame for the debacle) and running off to India.
But then again he is the Baazigar, who even when he loses wins. At least he will be happy knowing that he spoilt the party for his Bollywood colleagues Shilpa Shetty and Priety Zinta.