The second season was a triumph for captains and spinners, writes Peter Roebuck
IPL’s second chapter has outstripped its opening offering. Admittedly the crowds lacked the warmth and frenzy detected in India but that was to be expected.
The miracle is that South Africans have embraced contests between Rajasthan and Punjab, Bangalore and Deccan, places few could have located on a map even with the accuracy perennially observed in Devon Malcolm. Certainly expatriates and visitors from the mother country helped to build interest but locals also joined the merry throng.
All concerned — IPL officials and the hosts —deserve credit for putting on a fine show at such short notice. About the only blot concerned Chris Gayle’s belated return to his duties in England. Money does not talk, it swears.
If the atmosphere was more restrained, the cricket was more satisfying this time around. Almost everyone was in the dark in 2008. No one was quite sure whether IPL was a romp in cricketing clothes, a frolic in a park, a gift from the gods or a significant cricket tournament. Now a galaxy of stars were signed and all of them played with their hearts.
Although it did not always show in the fielding and running between wickets, the teams were stronger and standards were higher.
Even the pitches played their parts, assisting pacemen in the early matches and latterly favouring spin as wear and tear took their toll.
By no means did the tournament subside into a slogathon. Calculated aggression was needed to score runs consistently; it was not enough to hit and hope.
Arguably bowlers influenced results more often than in any other form of the game except Test cricket. A deadly or dry burst could change the course of a match. In one outing Murali took 2/9 in his four overs. In effect his opponents only batted 16 overs and 8 wickets. Unsurprisingly Chennai won that contest and moved remorselessly into the semifinals.
Most of all, the second season was a triumph for captains, spinners and seasoned campaigners. Tactics were important. Yuvraj Singh did not use his bowlers properly and his team suffered. Kolkata’s squad was a hotch potch and the team lacked balance and coherence. Mumbai had too many theories and too much faith in older hands.
Amongst the early casualties, only Rajasthan was unlucky. Shane Warne was his usual self but his batsmen and fieldsmen let him down and aspersions were cast about two of his bowlers.
Contrastingly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was shrewd and unruffled, Anil Kumble led from the front, Gautam Gambhir was astute and Adam Gilchrist managed to coax enough wins from his eager outfit.
IPL matches might last forty overs but the results still tell the story. Flukes are rare in sport, and unknown in long tournaments. Amongst the bowlers, spin was dominant. Dirk Nannes’ fiery stuff caught the eye and he might have been taken to England. He was not the only lefty to impress as their stranglehold on the game tightens.
Mostly the tweakers were to the fore. Kumble, Chawla, Murali, Powar, Warne and the rest posed plenty of problems and provided rich entertainment. Slowies limit the range of shots available to batsmen, forcing them to hit in front of the wicket. Accordingly captains can set fields. Truly cricket is a fascinating and unpredictable game. Twenty over swipes were supposed to kill spin. Instead it is king.
And the last word belonged to the classy veterans. Did anyone expect Matthew Hayden, Kumble, Kumar Sangakkara, Gilchrist, Jacques Kallis and the rest to play so well? Everyone knows cream rises to the top. In IPL, it seems, the yoghurt does the same. It’s been a lot of fun, and a worthy winner will emerge.