A high-five welcome for edition five

Steve Smith, the Man of the Match, enabled Pune Warriors India to post a competitive score as the team shocked Mumbai Indians.-PTI

Even as some former greats debated on the relevance of Twenty20 and the ill effects of the IPL, the crowds came swarming to the venues. The Indian team's failures in England, Australia and Bangladesh (Asia Cup) had been forgotten and forgiven.

The Indian Premier League (IPL), in its fifth year, faced a challenge. There were widespread apprehensions as to how it would be received by the audience. Held soon after the World Cup, the 2011 edition had failed to make the expected impact. Cricket fatigue was one of the key reasons for many matches having sparse attendance.

The inaugural match in Chennai was encouraging for the organisers as IPL V opened to a full house. The defending champion suffered a loss in home conditions, but more than the result, it was the response from the fans that must have been the soothing aspect for the authorities.

India's shoddy performances in England, Australia and Bangladesh (Asia Cup) did cast a spell of gloom on the cricket fraternity. In fact, the team's failure at the Asia Cup did not even create any ripples. The failure of the team to make the final was considered routine. Even as some former greats debated on the relevance of Twenty20 and the ill effects of the IPL, the crowds came swarming to the venues. The Indian team's failures had been forgotten and forgiven.

The ticket-rates were slashed for the IPL and sources confirmed that cost cutting measures were in place, but the entertainment flavour would not to be compromised. The emphasis was clearly on keeping the entertainment aspect of the tournament alive. “This is not purely cricket. It is a nice combination of cricket and entertainment. When cricketers and film stars come together it is bound to attract the attention of the masses,” argued one of the officials of Delhi Daredevils.

Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Jaipur, Mumbai, Pune and Visakhapatnam were the venues for the first eight matches. The stands were full at all the venues but the fare was disappointing. The pitches were slow and the weather too played its part at Kolkata where the match was reduced to 12 overs a side.

Some of the big players were not available initially. Delhi missed Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene and Ross Taylor, the first two to national duties and the last to an injury. The Australia-West Indies series and the England-Sri Lanka Test battle kept the players from these countries away from the IPL in the absence of a window for the tournament. The Pakistan players continued to be ignored even though Azhar Mahmood qualified for King's XI Punjab having acquired British citizenship.

The significance of domestic players benefiting from interaction with international stars was once again emphasised by some former players. Former Test opener and Punjab assistant coach Vikram Rathour drove home the point that the overall quality of the IPL was good and was essential for a domestic player wanting to learn the finer points of the game.

“In my time, I hardly played such variety of bowling in domestic cricket. The pitches were mostly placid when I was learning. We hardly got an opportunity to speak to international greats. The IPL gives a youngster the chance to watch and learn from some of the best names in the game. There are more plus than negative points from the IPL. It is wrong to say money is luring the players. Money is a factor no doubt but it is the exposure that a youngster gets that attracts him to IPL. A good performance here need not earn him a national place, but it brings him into focus,” said Rathour.

The IPL continues to attract even those who are no longer international cricketers. Adam Gilchrist and Rahul Dravid are glowing examples of former greats staying in touch with the game through the IPL. As players-cum-mentors, Gilchrist and Dravid bring value to the dressing room with their awesome experience. As Kevon Cooper of Trinidad observed, “Dravid is a legend and it is such a privilege to play with him.”

The purists, a dwindling number actually, may blame the IPL for creating a new generation of aggressive cricketers, but the fact remains that the shortest version of the game has a dedicated following. The IPL is a platform for the families to come and enjoy cricket and glamour. The accent is on big hitting and the fact that a win or loss is guaranteed makes the tournament all the more attractive to a generation that hardly patronises the longer version of the game.

Rajasthan Royals and Pune Warriors did exceptionally well by wining their first two matches, while Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab disappointed by losing both their matches. Delhi Daredevils, Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians won a game each. Deccan Chargers lost its only match.

The capitulation of Chennai Super Kings against Mumbai Indians in the opening match of the tournament was a shocker for the local fans. With the likes of M. S. Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo, Suresh Raina and R. Ashwin in its ranks, Chennai was expected to begin with a bang. But Mumbai played better and won most convincingly, thanks to a collective performance. But the man who stood out was Richard Levi, who cracked a brilliant 50 to make an early impact on the IPL fans.

Levi is a valuable purchase by Mumbai, which is now led by Harbhajan Singh. Sachin Tendulkar opting out of the captaincy was understandable since the blaster was keen to concentrate on making a contribution with the bat, while also allowing Harbhajan to assume the role that he had been looking forward to. “Harbhajan will have my wholehearted support as the seniormost player in the team,” said Tendulkar on his decision.

Irfan Pathan played the star role for Delhi Daredevils at the Eden Gardens. He bowled just one over but changed the game with his 42 off 20 balls with two fours and three sixes as Delhi achieved the target of 98 in 12 overs. Delhi won by five balls to spare and it was a win that left Gambhir fuming. “Delhi played some smart cricket and we lost because of that. We can learn from the mistakes,” he said. But the team hardly learnt its lessons and lost to Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur.

Pune Warriors was a surprise winner against Mumbai Indians, which did not have Tendulkar, nursing an injured finger. It was hardly a target that inspired confidence but Pune managed to defend 129, thanks to the wonderful strikes by Ashok Dinda and Murali Kartik. In a motivated show, left-arm spinner Kartik removed the dangerous Levi to the second ball of the innings and later accounted for Dinesh Karthik. The four-wicket performance by Dinda was crucial, but Steve Smith won the man of the match honours for his dazzling 39 off 32 balls.

Rajasthan Royals was the most impressive team. It won its first two matches in style at home, its batsmen and bowlers playing their roles well. The presence of Dravid and his calming influence was a huge factor and was acknowledged by the team members most graciously.

Jadeja excelled in Chennai's win against Deccan Chargers even as Bangalore tamed Delhi at home, thanks to AB de Villiers and Muttiah Muralitharan chipping in at the critical stages. The matches were not big scoring ones, but the initial stage did promise action in terms of some innovative methods by the teams. IPL was just warming up for some intense competition.

* * * Making a mark

Ajinkya Rahane: This Rajasthan Royals opener's batting philosophy is simple. “Treat the ball on merit and take it ball by ball.” A batsman who loves to go about his business in the traditional manner, this Mumbaikar stood out for his brilliant 98 against Kings XI Punjab. If he did not get his century, the reason lay in his change of approach. He suddenly decided to play an expansive shot with four balls left in the innings. But the 66-ball essay with 16 fours and a six placed him in the top drawer.

Kevon Cooper: There was little talk of this Trinidadian even as he appeared a busy man at the ‘nets' a day before his IPL debut. He had turned out for Chittagong Kings in the Bangladesh Premier League after having dealt with issues concerning his action. The Rajasthan Royals camp rated him high and he delivered without much fuss. Four wickets against Kings XI Punjab was just the start he would have dreamt of and three more in the second match (against Kolkata Knight Riders) only confirmed his value to the team.

Ravindra Jadeja: The most expensive player of the tournament. “Also the most over-rated,” remarked a seasoned first-class cricketer. Well, for this all-rounder from Chennai Super Kings it was a good comeback against Deccan Chargers after a non-descript presence in the first match against Mumbai Indians where he bowled just one over and failed as a batsman. He was at his best against Deccan Chargers, hitting a 48 and claiming five for 16. The tag of an all-rounder fitted this young man well as he gave early indications that the franchisee had invested wisely.

Amit Singh: Not long back, Amit Singh was a shattered man at Valsad. He had been ‘called' by umpire K. Srinath, who was sound in his judgment, in a Ranji Trophy match. For Amit, a utility medium-pacer from Gujarat, the difficult times came despite a clearance. But Srinath was convinced. When Amit scalped Kallis and Gambhir to rock KKR early, he had exorcised the ghost of that Ranji match. His controlled bowling was a revelation for many. A slower one removed Kallis and seam and bounce left Gambhir embarrassed. Amit had made a fine start to the IPL.

Compiled by Vijay Lokapally