Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The IPL's greatest triumph !!!!

The Indian Premier League might just have scored its biggest triumph yesterday.

As I followed every twist and turn in the dramatic match between the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals, I felt an ever-increasing surge of adrenaline just sitting at home. And the more I got involved in the match, much to wife's dismay, nothing else happening around me seemed to matter. And when the final act in the shoddy fielding saga of the Mumbai Indians (a saga which started on Saturday against the Daredevils) was played out on the last ball, costing the Mumbai Indians the match and, perhaps deservingly so, a semi-final spot, I recall having more than a tinge of sadness in my heart. Infact, post the match, I was sulking as never before and I would rank yesterday as one of my saddest days as a cricket supporter and spectator. And why, you might ask, given that the IPL is nothing but a circus with lots of money thrown in ? The answer was provided by the Marathi daily Loksatta in today's headline which read 'Mumbai harlich !!' (Mumbai lost !!!). Yes, that was the answer. It was not the Mumbai Indians who lost, it was Mumbai who lost.

Which is why I say that the IPL might have scored its biggest triumph yesterday. It finally managed to install, in its very first season, a sense of city loyalty that is inherently strong and sustaining. In fact, some of it was apparent the other day at the Wankhede when a section of the crowd booed their own countrymen playing for the Kings XI Punjab, prompting Yuvraj to remind the crowd at the post-match presentation that some of them also play for India. As I said before, the shock of yesterday's loss was possibly more than any I have experienced as a Team India supporter. And I am sure that there would be many in Delhi and Chennai who would have rejoiced when Tendulkar was caught and bowled or when Jayasuriya missed that final runout opportunity. Let me be very candid in admitting that my love for my city slightly exceeds my sense of national patriotism, atleast at this point in time (having said that though, I take objection to the name 'Mumbai Indians' itself and feel that the IPL governing council should not have allowed that name). It is quite natural that the sense of belonging and identity increases as the boundaries between you and them are drawn closer to your space. This would explain the strong attachment that you have to your locality first, next the city, then the state and finally the country. Let me add here that all this is relative to the context and when India is playing Australia, it does not matter much to me whether Sachin Tendulkar from Mumbai or Yuvraj Singh from Mohali hits the hundred which takes India to victory. Therefore, in today's context of eight city-based teams/franchises slugging it out against each other, it is quite natural that you will support your city irrespective of who is playing for your side. But what has definitely taken me by surprise is the strength of this devotion that one has for your city. That the IPL has managed to unearth it in its very first season is the triumph that I talk about. This will only increase in the coming years. For now though, I am a true blue Mumbai Indian fan !!!!!!!

Coming back to the cricket, while Mumbai seem down and out, just imagine how utterly romantic it would be if Rohit Sharma of the Deccan Chargers plays a blinder today against Chennai and gives his city the lifeline it so desperately needs to hang on in this tournament !!!! Fantasies of a hopeless supporter, did anyone say ???


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The IPL: Mid-Term Review !!!!

So we have almost reached the half-way mark of the league stage of the IPL circus !!! All over India, people now go back from work and instinctively switch on the television to catch the latest episode of the saga. I think this is precisely why the IPL seems to have succeeded, not that many people had any doubts. As for me, although I was never a fan of the T20 and the IPL concept, I have to admit that it has kept me pretty interested. I still remember the very first match and the first six of the IPL !! McCullum tried to slog the ball over mid-wicket, the bowl took the leading edge and actually went over third man for six. A 'shot' that I had never seen before in about two decades of watching cricket. My first thought on seeing that was: 'I hope the IPL is not all about such shots !!'. Thankfully, it is not. While batsman have definitely dominated (as expected), the bowlers have also had their moments. And if you are an all-time great like McGrath, then you will always produce results, irrespective of the format. So what I have liked the most about the IPL (despite all my initial skepticism) is that it has not always been the bat dominating. The average first innings score has been around 150-170, which would indicate that the bowlers have had some say in proceedings.

Now to talk about the people. Deccan Chargers have been the biggest dissapointments so far. With a lineup that read Gilchrist, Symonds, Laxman, Rohit Sharma, Gibbs and Afridi, they really had no business to be at the bottom of the table. The misery of the Bangalore Royal Challengers is slightly more believable, given that their lineup is slightly better off batting a day and a half to save a game. Mumbai Indians have been severly handicapped by the Master Blaster's absence, but they seem to have put that (and Bhajji's Slapgate) behind them and have bounced back with 2 wins. With Sachin set to be back to face Warne tommorow, they might well turn out to be the team to watch in the 2nd half. The Knight Riders are also slipping badly after starting off well and that would no doubt be a concern for SRK as well as Kolkata's cricket crazy public.

That leaves us with the remaining teams, who at this point look most likely to reach the semis. Amon gst them, the Chennai Super Kings have also slipped to consecutive losses recently and seem to be missing Mathew Hayden. MS Dhoni would need to guard against any more slip ups. On the other hand, the Punjab Kings XI have bounced back in style. They look a much better organized team with bowling prowess (Sreesanth, Pathan, Chawla and VRV Singh) as well as batting muscle (Marsh, Yuvraj, Sangakkara, Jaywardene). The Delhi Daredevils also look to be upto the mark in all departments, more so with fantastic pairs of opening batsman (Sehwag-Gambhir) as well opening bowlers (McGrath, Asif). But if I had to pick the best team, it would simply have to be the Rajasthan Royals. And most of the credit should go to Shane Warne. By his leadership, he has transformed one of the weakest teams on paper into a formidable unit, with five wins on the trot. And more importantly, they have unearthed heroes from the most unlikeliest of people. In fact, Warne's captaincy in this tournament has prompted a few, like Ian Chappell, to hail him as the greatest captain Australia never had. Under him, the Rajasthan Royals appear to be the side who have gelled the best and it is showing in their performances.

So what began with a swashbuckling batting performance has changed into a more even contest between batsmen and bowlers. Consequently, the IPL has produced a number of excellent matches. It has held almost an entire nation glued to their TV sets in the summer evenings and has converted, not fully though, many nay-sayers like yours truly. Hopefully the 2nd half of the league, alongwith the semis and finals, will live up to the hype.