Sunday, May 24, 2009

Deccan Rising

IPL 2 just finished with a bang, and a massive concert and spectacle that came darn near to rivaling the Beijing Olympics closing ceremony, especially considering the fact that pretty much nobody in South Africa has the wherewithal to fake all that stuff on live television.

I have to say that, while I was disappointed that my Rajasthan Royals flamed out in such an embarrassing manner in their last game, I was quite happy with how the playoffs turned out. The two teams in the finals, the Deccan Chargers, and the Bangalore Royal Challengers were the last place teams the year before, having won a combined total of six games out of 28 played. Yet here they were, this year, in the finals, attesting to a level of mobility almost unprecedented in major sports leagues.

Can you imagine the two last place teams in the English Premiere league, or the National Football League, or even the National Hockey League doing the same thing?

In the next four years, six more teams will come into the fold, with three in 2010, and three more in 2011. While this is nowhere near the size of other major sports leagues, unlike leagues such as the NFL, NBA, or the European Football Leagues, there is still incredible room for growth, not only within India, but internationally as well.

One ironic item of note is that like last year's champions, the winning team this year was also captained by an Aussie. Shane Warne led the Royals to the championship last year, and this year it was Adam Gilchrist's turn. One of the greatest spin bowlers on the world was succeeded by perhaps the greatest wicket keeper playing cricket today. A friend of mine noted that these IPL teams look a lot like companies in Dubai. Staffed by local talent, but run by expat from abroad.

For those who are fans of the 20/20 version of cricket, over and above ODI and test, this is the sort of thing that really tells the true story of how 20/20 has changed cricket and leveled the sport for all players. In test, primarily, though it is also notable in ODI, bowlers, fielders, and wicketkeepers really do take a backseat to batsmen. With time on their side, the batsmen never have to take any chances, and can afford to hit singles all day, ball by ball, playing it safe and cautious, always. But in 20/20, time is not on the batsman's side, forcing those at the stumps to take some chances, swing for the bleachers, find gaps in the field, and look for as many runs as possible. By forcing the batsmen out of their safe little cage, and forcing them to take chances, they are far more prone to make mistakes, and its the rest of the field that reaps the benefit.

You take any ten test matches, cut out all the highlights, and what you often won't find are the diving catches, the cleanly bowled wickets, the dramatic run outs, and the over eager batmsen stepping past the line and getting taken out by a lightening quick wicketkeeper. You may find the leg by wicket, or heavenward lob easily caught by a bloke in the midfield, but that's about it. In test and ODI, it's a battle of batsmen, of their patience and stamina, but little else. In 20/20, it's about cricket, about every player on the pitch suddenly becoming important, being forced to try and catch anything in the air, to sprint at full tilt to prevent boundaries, to sprint between the stumps and try to squeeze out an extra run at every opportunity. In 20/20, every action counts, and every error could be the deciding factor in games that, more often than not, end up coming down to the very last over, and almost as often, to the very last ball.

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