The Dad’s Army,” as the Chennai Super Kings are popularly known, achieved a remarkable feat. They won the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year showcasing that age is just a number, as eight of their players who played in the tournament were over the age of 30. They played superlative cricket under the astute leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The forgotten stars of the IPL -- Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Dwanye Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja and the skipper himself -- showed how important experience and understanding one’s capabilities are, in being successful, even in the shortest format of the game. The combination of young bowlers and an experienced batting line-up was the formula for their success. The faith shown by Dhoni in his team’s performance even during their occasional defeats never for once made them insecure.
One did feel sorry for the runners-up, Sunrisers Hyderabad. They too played like champions and the two super heroes that emerged for them were Kane Williamson, their cool and collective captain, and the leg-spinner from Afghanistan, Rashid Khan. They were both refreshing and brilliant to watch during the IPL. Williamson was the leading run scorer of the tournament. He showed that precision in stroke play, deft placement along with conventional stroke-play was the mantra for a batsman to be effective. He fortunately proved the notion that big hitting was the only mantra to success wrong. There was a sigh of relief from the true connoisseurs of the game, when the technically sound batters who were not being looked at as suitable for this style of the game came good. The wrist spinners were the other success stories of this year’s IPL. On top of the heap was Rashid, whose quick wrist movement and speed off the wicket had most batsmen completely outfoxed. The reason the wrist spinners were successful was because their turn proved to be quite deceptive. One can never be sure as to how much a ball will spin off the wicket, especially in Indian conditions. Even though a batsman may pick upon a bowler’s googly or chinaman or the conventional leg-spin, at times it may just go straight. This makes it difficult for the batsman to adjust his stroke or defense in time, causing either a miss-hit or getting out LBW. In the longer format of the game, the batsman has time to adjust himself.
Since the days of Ranji Sinhji and his innovation of the leg glance in the late 19th century, no Indian has invented a more unique shot in cricket. The shot making of the young stylish player of the IPL, Rishabh Pant of Delhi Daredevils, was astonishing. The scoop shot over one’s head has been in existence for a while, but to scoop it from wide offside, to the third man boundary for a six, needs superlative hand-eye coordination and strong wrists.
He did it to one of the world’s premier death bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar. He has invented a “Pant” shot in cricket that would have made our hockey wizard Dhyan Chand proud. Along with this, he also played the pull shot in a similar manner like the West Indian legend Rohan Kanhai. His century against Sunrisers Hyderabad was the best knock played in this year’s IPL.
The IPL was a huge success. The numbers being relayed by Star Sports and the attendance at each venue reflect the popularity of the tournament. The matches were closely fought and there was not much to choose between the eight teams. CSK proved to be more consistent when it counted, but their performance did not show that they were way ahead of the rest.
Cricket may have come out on top with the IPL, but the concern of ‘match fixing’ still remains. This once again came to the fore through the recent revelation of the Al-Jazeera tapes. Fortunately, the IPL did not figure in it, but the content of the tapes of matches being fixed in Sri Lanka, Dubai and India are worrying.
The ICC and the relevant cricket boards need to take this very seriously. The tapes show as to how specific spot fixing and wicket preparations have become the new area for the match fixers. The gambling fraternity is now targeting the relatively poorly paid and unknown curators. A recent example of Pandurang Salgaonkar, the curator in Pune who was exposed in a sting operation by a TV channel, made it quite evident that this was the route being taken by the betting syndicate. The Al-Jazeera tapes have exposed the curator in Galle, Sri Lanka. The sad part was that an Indian first class cricketer from Mumbai, Robin Morris, was a significant participant in it. The BCCI needs to put a fool proof system in place not only involving the players, but all the support staff and services that are involved in the game. The attitude of the BCCI pushing a very serious issue like this as ICC’s responsibility is not the ideal solution. Every country needs to take match-fixing issues very seriously or else cricket will never get rid of the virus that is growing rapidly. The annual gambling figures in cricket in India, one gathers, are to the tune of $60 billion. That is a huge sum of money but also a prime reason as to why India needs to take responsibility to ensure that every conceivable area of the game is securely sealed against the corrupt outside influencers. Cricket needs to come clean!
—The writer is a former India cricketer