Men who dared to win

In a stunning reversal of fortunes, Deccan Chargers, which finished at the bottom of the table last year, pulled off an exciting victory against Royal Challengers in the final of the Indian Premier League-2. And one of the main reasons for its success was that it had the right men for the occasion. By S. Dinakar.

A final that began with a delicious piece of trickery concluded amidst jangled nerves and racing heartbeats. In those stirring moments after the finish, Adam Gilchrist, his arms spread wide, his visage flush with joy, his lean frame still lithe and supple, appeared like a bird in flight.

Even as his over-the-moon team-mates converged upon him, Gilchrist, almost magically, appeared to shed all those years. Winning can be a wonderful feeling.

In a stunning reversal of fortunes, last season’s wooden-spoonist emerged the winner of the Indian Premier League-2.

Deccan Chargers and skipper Gilchrist smiled and laughed on a night of the unexpected. Emotions swirled around.

Anil Kumble, a captain who was both an example and inspiration, was dignity personified. His team, Royal Challengers Bangalore, had fought hard on the field but the batsmen had lost the key moments.

At the Wanderers — the Bull Ring — two old gladiators faced off. Kumble’s well-plotted first over dismissal of Gilchrist — the swashbuckling southpaw was lured and consumed by a flighted delivery that spun in from leg — was a prime example of a skipper putting himself in the line of fire.

The genial leg-spinner had lifted an on-the-brink outfit during the league. In the final, he bowled with heart, skill and tact, taking out one key batsman after another.

Like Gilchrist, Kumble is a survivor. He will come back stronger next year; one can expect nothing else.

Both Chargers and Challengers blended well as units; the experienced and the young drew strength from each other.

If anything, IPL-2 shattered myths about age and Twenty20 cricket. Quality will tell — in any form of the game.

Gilchrist walked up to receive the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament award. His whirlwind 85 in the semifinal — the left-hander smashed 50 off just 17 balls — was not about eye, reflexes and explosive power alone. It was also about timing, placement and an economy of movement that left an attack demoralised.

Gilchrist spots the length early and picks his spots. Crucially, he is decisive.

Gilchrist also comprehends the dynamics of overs management and field placements. While defending a gettable 143 in the summit clash, he rung in the changes with conviction than speculation, plugged holes on the field with strategic nous than following any pattern.

And he still has fast hands with the big gloves. The bails were off in a flash once Virat Kohli missed one down-the-leg-side from Andrew Symonds.

The Chargers found men for the occasion; situations do throw up heroes. Unsung medium-pacer Harmeet Singh — considered the weak link — both contained and struck in a tight spell under pressure.

Of course, there were the stand-out performers. Left-arm paceman Rudra Pratap Singh sent down nerveless overs of control, movement and bounce at the crunch. The Purple Cap for the highest wicket-taker fitted him fine.

Rohit Sharma, a natural galloping on his ability, dazzled at the death to be named the man for the future — the best under-23 player in the competition.

Herschelle Gibbs pulled his weight in the final with application than typical flair. Symonds’ all-round ability — the Aussie’s two-wicket act in the 15th over was the defining moment of the title match — and his sheer on-field presence proved priceless.

Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha delivered a bagful of teasing overs with flight, spin and deception. He mixed his pace and length cleverly.

Little-known paceman Ryan Harris — the side did endure a period of struggle after the incisive Fidel Edwards departed — grew in stature.

For the Bangalore side, the emergence of the strokeful and fearless Manish Pandey — the first Indian to notch up an IPL hundred — added a new dimension.

The gifted Ross Taylor’s shot-making virtues were on view but his dismissal in the final suggested that he needed to read key moments better. He is young and he will learn.

Greats from the Test arena, Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid, found space and a measure of success in the game’s shortest format. Much of this glorious game is about sound fundamentals.

Challengers displayed tactical flexibility in using the powerful van der Merwe, primarily a steady left-arm spinner, as an effective pinch hitter up the order.

Perhaps, Chennai Super Kings missed a trick by not trying out a similar tactic with Jacob Oram; the all-rounder was wasted for most part.

Cricket can be cruel in the manner it teaches you lessons. Super Kings and Mahendra Singh Dhoni paid the price for faulty pacing of the innings in the semifinal. This was an outing where even the genius of Muttiah Muralitharan could not bail the side out.

Matthew Hayden — the highest run-getter in the competition — was fit and hungry. That he is on the wrong side of 30 doesn’t seem to matter. Leaving Hayden out of the two league games leading to the knock-out stage deprived the Aussie of batting rhythm.

On the brighter side for Super Kings, the stroke-filled Suresh Raina sizzled for most part — his back-footed thumps over covers indicated genuine talent — and the pacy Albie Morkel invariably struck with the new ball. The lanky and lively Sudip Tyagi, who teamed-up well with Morkel, has possibilities.

Delhi Daredevils, the league-topper, eventually may have suffered due to selection bordering on arrogance. Left-armer Dirk Nannes impressed with his pace, variations and lift in the league but he also kept the legendary Glenn McGrath on the bench.

And Gilchrist took Nannes apart in the semifinal. There is no reason to believe that McGrath — he could have come in for inconsistent batsman David Warner — would not have delivered in the decisive phase.

There is something about these ageless competitors and the big stage.

Ask Kumble.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir — they should have opened and created a slot for McGrath — largely disappointed. Tillakeratne Dilshan and Abraham de Villiers made runs with panache. And the spunky Dinesh Karthik batted with dash. Left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra was influential for Daredevils so was the promising leggie, Amit Mishra; the little bowler is undaunted by reputations.

With the late-season surfaces betraying signs of wear and tear, there was purchase for the spinners. At the same time, ‘effort balls’ from the pacemen were rewarded due to the inherent hardness of the surfaces. The contest between bat and ball — in a format of the big hits — was more balanced and intense. The fielding and catching, though, was less focussed. And the contentious issue of illegal bowling action was in the spotlight again.

Given the constraints in time, the organisers excelled in putting together so many matches spread across so many venues. People, the Indian diaspora in particular, came out in numbers to watch the games.

IPL-2 was a colourful spectacle. In the end, Gilchrist and his men dared to win.