From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.11 :: Mar. 18, 2010

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CRICKET

All set for the long haul

For the key players, cutting across teams, IPL-3 is a dress rehearsal for the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies in May. The tournament will also be a platform for India to prove its credentials as a safe host ahead of next year’s World Cup, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

PICS: ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY

M. S. Dhoni has backed his players irrespective of their differing statures, be it a Matthew Hayden or a Palani Amarnath, and he has reaped his rewards though the champion’s halo has proved elusive for Chennai Super Kings.

The days leading up to the third edition of the Indian Premier League have predictably been a mix of hype and trepidation. In these days of advertising excess marred by the lurking shadow of terrorism, cricket’s latest sunshine version grapples with external factors though the action on the field in the last two editions has largely been top-notch.

With the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Mumbai hosting the opening match of the third edition — Deccan Chargers versus Kolkata Knight Riders — on March 12, television ad spots have started to goad us to the charm of ‘watching the games at the ground’. The tournament meanwhile returns home after security concerns due to the general election last year forced it to shift to South Africa.

It has not been easy though as a string of events have added a touch of notoriety to the tournament when only cricket should have mattered.

The team owners’ decision to avoid picking Pakistani cricketers left a bitter aftertaste. And what queered the pitch was Shah Rukh Khan, the owner of Kolkata Knight Riders, ironically expressing indignation when he could have actually picked a player from across the Wagah border.

The Bollywood star then got caught in a tangle with the Thackerays and the twain, cricket and cinema, again met in India.

The IPL committee, factoring in the brewing trouble in Andhra Pradesh over the Telangana issue, shifted out Deccan Chargers’ home games, and amidst false reports of the reigning champion opting out, the IPL commissioner, Lalit Modi, assuaged fears through his Twitter account.



Captain Cool… in a frenetic format that can wreak havoc with nerves and nails, a calm captain can often prove to be the difference. And that’s what Adam Gilchrist (Deccan Chargers) was last year.

The latest imbroglio is the news that the mate-ship between the Australian cricketers is under strain as the old guard of Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist are allegedly at loggerheads with Ricky Ponting over security issues following threats from fringe militant groups.

However, once the first ball is bowled in the tournament and feverish commentators begin to grapple with adjectives while describing mighty sixes, sanity will be restored. The IPL and its capacity to halt India every evening for a period of 45 days has obviously forced film makers to defer the release of big budget movies, and the on-field action should enthuse the young and old alike.

In IPL-1, Shane Warne highlighted that magic is not just restricted to his fingers and that it resides in his leadership skills too while leading Rajasthan Royals to an emphatic title triumph. When the action shifted to South Africa, the bottom-placed teams in the first edition, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Deccan Chargers, turned the tables on their rivals to set up the title clash, where the Hyderabad outfit emerged champion.

It was a turnaround that reflected Gilchrist’s effervescence and Anil Kumble’s indomitable spirit. It was also a subtle pointer that senior citizens could make a mark in an apparently young man’s game.

In a frenetic format that can wreak havoc with nerves and nails, a calm captain can often prove to be the difference. It is uncanny that men like Gilchrist and M. S. Dhoni, who often have added the words ‘fast and the furious’ to the art of batting, have evolved into leaders who can chew nails and also gift self-belief to their team-mates.

Last year, when the final was on the boil, Gilchrist put his faith in Harmeet Singh, who castled Rahul Dravid and turned the match around. Dhoni too has backed his players irrespective of their differing statures, be it a Matthew Hayden or a Palani Amarnath, and he has reaped his rewards though the champion’s halo has proved elusive for Chennai Super Kings. Recently Rohit Sharma said that Gilchrist and Dhoni are strikingly similar as skippers who stay cool and refuse to panic.

Hazarding a guess on who will go all the way to the victor’s podium in IPL-3 is difficult. Among the teams are varied outfits such as Chennai Super Kings that has faltered only in the final phase, Kings XI Punjab that has flattered to deceive and Kolkata Knight Riders that is keen to tide over its slump over the last two seasons.

The edition might well turn out to be a valedictory tournament of sorts for a group of elder statesmen such as Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Matthew Hayden, Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist who may not figure in the forthcoming years’ editions. It is also anybody’s guess whether Sachin Tendulkar, after his last tilt at the World Cup in 2011, would be available to lead and play for Mumbai Indians next year.

The IPL might also throw some light on the future stars who might step into these giant shoes in the coming years. Men like Jean-Paul Duminy, who has lost his way after being touted as the next big thing, get an opportunity to reiterate their class and permanence.

The IPL is also about helping local cricketers, busy toiling away in empty stadiums, gain valuable recognition and perhaps ride the escalator to the Indian team. Men like Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja have made use of the arc lights of the tournament to find their way into Team India, while an injury-prone Ashish Nehra winged his way back to the national team riding on his haul of 19 wickets for Delhi Daredevils in South Africa. Jadeja, unfortunately, will miss the tournament this year as he has been banned for violating contractual norms with Rajasthan Royals.

Last year, Manish Pandey, who became the first centurion in the IPL, also grabbed attention and if he maintains his consistency, an India cap might soon come his way.

Redemption is also on offer for the likes of Ambati Rayudu, a youngster who was expected to slip into the wristy-legacy of fellow Hyderabadis like Mohammad Azharuddin and V. V. S. Laxman, but lost his way and stumbled across to the rebel Indian Cricket League. Having grabbed the amnesty offer, Rayudu could well spark a career-revival while others like Hemang Badani, S. Sriram and R. S. Sodhi get another chance to gain some official applause after having severed their ties with the defunct rebel league.

The tournament will also throw light on the manner in which city-based teams are evolving as strong brands in their own right. During the Champions League last year, Dravid had cautioned that the branding of IPL teams is a work in progress. “In England, club membership is passed from father to son and there is a strong sense of legacy, and it will take time here to replicate those bonds,” Dravid had said. Though Sachin Tendulkar cuts across city loyalties, a steady-stirring of ‘he’s-our-boy’ fervour is slowly gripping the stands as was evident from the manner in which the Bangalore crowd rooted for Ross Taylor in the Champions League.

The stage is set and the tournament is geared up for the long haul. For the key players cutting across teams, the tournament is a dress rehearsal for the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies in May.

The IPL will also be a platform for India to prove its credentials as a safe host ahead of next year’s World Cup. There is also the critical issue of Delhi’s Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium proving its worth as a credible venue with a regular pitch while new centres like Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Cuttack and Dharamshala will join in the glamour of hosting some matches which, hopefully, would be pulsating.



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