A ‘craze' called cricket

Gautam Gambhir's style of captaincy is different from that of Mahendra Dhoni.-PTI

While the production line of monster hitters seems to be in fine nick, looking for the next young bowler here seems more and more like searching for your keys under the streetlights because it is brighter there than where you had actually dropped them, writes Raakesh Natraj.

Less than a week after India's 43-day World Cup winning campaign, came the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League, itself spread over 51 days. Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming said India was possibly the ‘only place' that could deal with this glut of cricket. Gautam Gambhir, skipper of the Kolkata Knight Riders outfit that took on Chennai in the opening fixture, described the unwhettable appetite as ‘craze'.

All this was said in a press conference monotone that stripped the words of possible snarkiness, and in any case, one doesn't really expect anyone, least of all the coach of the most successful IPL franchisee or the most expensive buy of the season, to sully the money bed.

However, it was the packed house that endured the Bollywood garishness-meets-whistle podu opening ceremony at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, that gave the biggest nod to the above appraisal. Be that as it may, expect ‘craze' to take on the more accepted Arkham Asylum-ish intonation when describing the cricket calendar that will send India on back to back tours of the West Indies and England almost right after the IPL.

His own man

Several key innings and an elbow to the rib of Shane Watson attest to Gautam Gambhir's feistiness. When a journalist asked him if he would take any pointers from M. S. Dhoni's captaincy, Gambhir replied in the verbalized equivalent of an all-caps memo that he was his own man. The following day, Gambhir got a few calls wrong. The KKR team-sheet had no more than two imports (out of the four permissible). Admittedly, Brett Lee, Shakib Al Hasan and Brad Haddin were unavailable and Gambhir placed his faith on the locals to handle Chennai's spin-heavy attack. During KKR's chase of a gettable 153, Gambhir repeatedly demoted himself, walking in at number six and was out second ball attempting a suicidal second run on an overthrow.

With the win, CSK extended its hold on KKR to five wins out of seven matches (one match was rained-out). Scribes don't often stand up to the accusation of being wise, but nobody brought the stat to Gambhir's attention during the post-match interaction. It is not for nothing that Gambhir is agreed to be the best nudger in recent memory.

Poor bowling, bright batting

Losing the World Cup after being branded favourites pre-tournament would be like being shot in the gut. The pronouncement is not made from personal experience, of course, but from watching Tim Roth ‘bleed like a stuck pig' (to use Tarantino's words), defying fatal toxemia in attempting to digest bullets for most parts of the 1:36:00 long movie. And from watching South Africa lose to New Zealand in the quarterfinal.

Rajasthan Royals' Johan Botha took full advantage of some indifferent bowling from Deccan Chargers.-K.R. DEEPAK

So when Johan Botha carted 67 off 47 balls in Rajasthan Royals' win over Deccan Chargers, or when A. B. de Villiers plundered 54 off 40 balls with five monster hits over the fence in RCB's win later in the night, it is interesting to speculate if it wasn't pure rage that fuelled the onslaughts.

Though this line of reasoning ties in rather neatly, it overlooks a few inconveniences. Like the tripe that Pragyan Ojha and Daniel Christian bowled down the leg-side that would make any Test No. 8, let alone Botha, look a million dollars. Or how Mahela Jayawardane, who had, in a display of vague guilt or complete dissociation, resigned the Sri Lankan vice-captaincy after the loss in the World Cup final, carried on in the same inscrutable vein in throwing the ball to Raiphi Gomez. This when RCB needed 33 runs off 18 balls. AB smacked three sixes off the four balls he faced in the over to effectively end the contest.

But if one can go with how the radio that was playing ‘Stuck in the middle with you' seemingly turns itself off in the movie, this isn't much of a stretch.

Scant respect for numbers

Cricket's numbers, more than numbers elsewhere, are vigorous scalars. It is the magnitude that delivers the coup de grace in any argument. Ninety nine point nine four for example.

Or the current flavour, hundred hundreds. And 800. Which is what Muttiah Muralitharan has on his jersey. Messi and Rooney wear a 10. Eight hundred, by most standards is 80 times bigger. And Muralitharan's first ball, post international retirement, was at a 20-year old, who is yet to play a first class match. Mayank Agarwal slog-swept it out of the park, and Murali was taken off the attack.

A few overs later, with 13 needed off 12, Asad Pathan, another rookie, all of five Twenty20 matches old, brought out a demon pull off his first ball, a boundary.

The second was a wide and third was another furious pull to the fence. The next ball hit him square on the helmet, the batsman still going for the pull. The one after that was short again, and was predictably blazed to the fence.

While the production line of monster hitters seems to be in fine nick, looking for the next young bowler here, seems more and more like searching for your keys under the streetlights because it is brighter there than where you had actually dropped them.