A new winner, but little to cheer

Jumping japang...Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma and Mitchell Johnson try their best to copy PSY's moves.-PTI

While there are genuine reasons for Mumbai Indians to celebrate, off-field events have overshadowed on-field performances in IPL-6, at least during the final stretch of the championship. S. Dinakar takes stock.

The setting seemed surreal. Cricketers facing off at a famous venue in the title clash even as dark clouds cast a shadow on the Indian Premier League’s future. The cash-rich competition was facing questions of credibility.

At the end of a rather one-sided game at the Eden Gardens, there were scenes of joy in the Mumbai Indians camp. The marquee side had defeated another heavyweight Chennai Super Kings in the final, claiming its first IPL crown. The cricketers sang and danced.

Sachin Tendulkar, figuring in his last IPL match, could hardly hide his emotions. The genial Anil Kumble beamed. The coaches, John Wright and Robin Singh, calm and content, accepted handshakes with warmth.

Ending on a high  

While there are genuine reasons for Mumbai Indians to celebrate, off-field events overshadowed on-field performances in IPL-6, at least during the final stretch of the championship.

The arrest of Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila of Rajasthan Royals on charges of spot-fixing had left the nation in a state of shock. The cops, then, swooped in on Amit Singh, a former cricketer of the franchise, and the country wanted answers.

When the news of Gurunath Meiyappan, the son-in-law of the BCCI chief, N. Srinivasan, being taken into custody by the Mumbai Police, for allegedly placing bets through actor Vindoo Dara Singh, broke out, there were calls for the Board President’s resignation.

Considering Meiyappan’s connection with the Chennai Super Kings (CSK), the franchise faced potential termination from the league. Ahead of the title clash, CSK was under pressure. Coach Stephen Fleming conceded, “The players are stressed out.”

On the afternoon of the final, Mr. Srinivasan made it clear at a press conference that he would not quit since he was not involved in any manner. He said that the Board had suspended Gurunath from all cricketing activities and revealed a three-member committee (two members from BCCI and one independent), would investigate the allegations against the Rajasthan Royals players and the team management as well as Gurunath. The panel would neither be appointed by the BCCI chief nor report to him.

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He assured presspersons that strictest action would be taken if anyone was found guilty. Even as the nature of Gurunath’s association with the CSK franchise became a subject of debate between India Cements Ltd. (the CSK owner) and the media, the summit clash got underway.

CSK had been the most consistent team in the IPL, winning the competition twice, making it to the final twice and the semifinals once in the past five editions.

But here, eventually, Kieron Pollard’s 32-ball unbeaten 60 was the decisive effort in the all-important duel before a packed stadium. This was an innings of maturity by the big-hitter after CSK had made serious inroads. The big-built Trinidadian held the innings together, and was judicious with his aggression.

Hammering away... Kieron Pollard was Mumbai Indians saviour in the final.-K.R. DEEPAK

He has this precious prowess of clearing the ground when his side wants him to. Pollard’s sixes off the last two balls of the innings — off paceman Dwayne Bravo — took the team’s total close to the psychologically crucial 150-run-mark. The booming blows also provided Mumbai Indians the mental edge before they took on the filed to defend the target.

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Then, the fast bowling combination of Lasith Malinga and Mitchell Johnson blew away CSK’s top order. Malinga’s furious pace and swing accounted for the key man in the CSK line-up — Michael Hussey.

Old warhorse Hussey emerged the highest scorer in the championship with a whopping 733 runs in 17 matches at 52.35, but, ironically, failed when it mattered the most. CSK needed Hussey to anchor the innings on a testing dual-paced pitch.

When Malinga worked on an old Suresh Raina failing — the short-pitched delivery — to consume the ‘impact player’, Mumbai Indians were smelling triumph. Full of beans and belief, the side certainly was on top.

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Mumbai Indians’ pace attack is a compelling one. Partnering Malinga is another slinger Johnson. The Australian, too, can work up serious pace and get the ball to move in the air and off the seam. He hustled batsmen with his short-pitched stuff — he does bowl what in cricketing parlance is termed a ‘heavy ball’ — tormented the batsmen further by bringing the delivery into the right-hander or moving it away from the southpaws.

The Mumbai side had a probing spin attack too in senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and left-arm-spinner Pragyan Ojha. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was defiant, but, gradually, all escape routes were closed for CSK.

The controversy surrounding Gurunath appeared to have left the Chennai side demoralised. The team lacked spirit and passion, and looked flat in the arena. Not surprisingly, the Mumbai Indians made the kill.

This was a season where skipper Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik and Bajan Dwayne Smith pulled their weight with the willow for Mumbai Indians. Crucially, the side won several key moments during IPL-6.

CSK is a team with depth and options but the side’s combative attributes deserted it in the final. Save Dhoni’s resistance, the surrender was meek. Truth to tell, at no stage of the chase did CSK appear to be in the hunt.

Earlier, Bravo again operated cleverly — with subtle changes of pace and angles — picking up four pickets and ended up as the sixth edition’s highest wicket-taker with 32 scalps. It was, however, his Trinidadian counterpart who was the toast on an emotional night of varying hues. The power-packed Pollard, the Calypso Thunder, waltzed into a dance of distinct Caribbean flavour.

But at the other end of the spectrum, several aspects of the IPL are under scrutiny by the investigation agencies. We are living in difficult times.