All set for another high voltage drama

Dale Steyn...many tricks up his sleeve.-AP

There will never be a dull moment when the Indian Premier League is around. By S. Dinakar.

The viciously swinging delivery, quick and bowled with precision, shatters defence to scatter stumps. The batsman, his technique and ego dented, starts the walk back. It’s business as usual for Dale Steyn.

The gap is pierced with laser-guided accuracy, the wrists coming into play at the last instant to direct the ball between fielders. It’s yet another boundary for Virat Kohli.

The sixth edition of the Indian Premier League — beginning on April 3 in Kolkata — will not be short of entertainment and colour as the balls soar over the ropes. And music of different beats plays out loud.

IPL-6 will also witness good, hard cricket that is the essence of any successful competition involving battle-scarred cricketers. These are players with the capability to adapt to various formats.

Steyn can slice through line-ups in all forms of the game, his bowling rooted in strong basics. With little changes, he inflicts big damage. This South African is influential.

Here is a man who has an astonishing 332 wickets in 65 Tests at 22.65. Simply put, this fiery bowler strikes to kill. Steyn is lean and mean and can swing games.

Sunrisers Hyderabad will expect this match-winner to fire. Steyn’s judicious employment of the short-pitched stuff means the batsmen are apprehensive of employing the front-foot against him. Once, he pushes the batsmen on to the back-foot, Steyn can bring his variations, enhanced by harnessing angles, into play.

And Kohli’s bat-speed, the ability to play the ball late and his equanimity in stressful situations are his allies in any format. This right-hander is a key man for Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Steyn and Kohli — one already among the pantheon of great pacemen and the other who could become a top-notch batsman in all formats — symbolise IPL’s essence. The competition’s a heady mix of the Indian and foreign talents.

Indeed, IPL’s strength is in its diversity. And the secret of a team’s success often lies in the side finding the right balance of overseas and Indian cricketers.

Virat Kohli... raring to go in IPL-6-RAJEEV BHATT

But then, some of the franchises have missed the wood for the trees by not focussing on the Indian component of the team. After all, only four foreign players can figure in the playing XI.

This is exactly why Chennai Super Kings is the most celebrated outfit in the IPL. The side has won the title twice, reached the final on an equal number of occasions and made the semifinal once. The popular CSK is also the only Indian franchise to win the Champions Trophy outside the sub-continent — it triumphed in South Africa.

Fuel-driven by Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s mix of instinctive and calculated captaincy, CSK not only has a dazzling array of foreign and Indian stars — Michael Hussey, Dwayne Bravo, Albie Morkel, Suresh Raina and M. Vijay are some of the leading names — but also possesses useful domestic cricketers such as Shadab Jakati, S. Anirudha and Baba Aparajith.

And Ravichandran Ashwin — a home-grown player — first made his name in the IPL with his beguiling array of deliveries before becoming an India star. Subramanium Badrinath, hardly given a fair run in international cricket, has added solidity to the CSK line-up.

Indeed, domestic cricketers can make a difference. Take the case of Manvinder Bisla’s thrill-a-minute match-winning innings — Kolkata Knight Riders was pursuing an uphill score — in the final at Chepauk last season. In a star-studded KKR line-up, Bisla proved the ‘impact player’ in a big game.

The Gautam Gambhir-led KKR will once again be a fancied side. It has a variety of options and a nice blend of home and away cricketers. KKR has the batting might, with men like Jacques Kallis providing weight to the line-up, men with pace and swing like Brett Lee and L. Balaji and crafty spinners in Sunil Narine and Shakib-al-Hasan.

Situations throws up heroes and Narine shot to prominence with his game-turning displays with spin bowling of the assorted variety in the IPL.

Another example was the talented Faf du Plessis, whose scorching shots and electrifying fielding for CSK catapulted him to the centre-stage; he is now the captain of the South African Twenty20 team. Sadly for CSK, du Plessis could miss the entire league phase this time around with fitness concerns. This South African is another example of a cricketer with strong fundamentals — du Plessis has been a revelation with his patient and technically pleasing batsmanship in Test cricket — adapting his game to different formats.

Royal Challengers Bangalore’s AB de Villiers — he has a whopping 6364 runs in 85 Tests at 50.50 — can innovate and create in any format. He is light on his feet, has fast hands and alters his game to meet the demands of different formats. Importantly, de Villiers has a secure defence around which his aggressive batsmanship revolves.

It is no coincidence that South Africa — the No. 1 Test team in the world — has so many cricketers who excel in all forms of the game. Fast bowler Morne Morkel of Delhi Daredevils, who invariably opens the sluice gates, is another example of South African cricketers’ dynamism.

The twenty20 game has also evolved. If batsmen were rushing on to the front foot in the earlier editions, they have to be more judicious with their attacking methods now. Plenty of spinners release the ball late these days — they do get an inkling of the initial movement of the batsmen — and the pacemen are mixing their fuller length deliveries with well-directed short-pitched stuff in a canny fashion.

The length ball — the whipping boy of Twenty20 cricket — has been thrown out of the window unless the pitch assists the pacemen in the initial overs. Batsmen now realise that sound back-foot play opens up a lot more avenues on either side of the wicket.

And never rule out the unexpected in the IPL. When the erstwhile Deccan Chargers won IPL-2 in South Africa, the unfancied medium pace of Harmeet Singh played a significant role.

A highlight of the upcoming edition will be Ricky Ponting leading Mumbai Indians with another batting legend, Sachin Tendulkar, in the same side. Several young pacemen — Pune Warriors’ Aussie quick Kane Richardson could grab headlines — will be on the prowl.

It will also be interesting how the issue of the participation of the Sri Lankan players in the Chennai games pans out. At the point of writing, there is an element of uncertainty on the subject.

The schedule will be gruelling but the games themselves will finish in a hurry. The irony of Twenty20 cricket never ceases.