Relative flyweights punch heavy

Money can buy you an assured lifestyle and may be insurance, but in the sporting arena, top-dollar need not necessarily translate into a blistering performance. ‘The early days’ caveat still remains, but there is no denying that it is the unsung players who have largely performed in IPL7, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

In the sands of the Middle East, cricket usually found a few twists, especially in the past. Remember India mustering a meagre 125 and then bundling out Pakistan for 87 in a Rothmans Four-Nation Cup match in 1985? Or the scars inflicted by Javed Miandad’s mind-bending last-ball six off Chetan Sharma to help Pakistan win the AustralAsia Cup in 1986? Or did your adolescence coincide with Sachin Tendulkar’s Desert-Storm knocks that decimated Australia in 1998?

Whatever be the stirrings of nostalgia, there is no denying the varied scripts that had sprung forth in Sharjah.

Those tales then suffered an interruption. The whispered nexus of bookies with India’s exiled underworld operating out of Dubai, forced the Men in Blue to skip their annual jaunts across the Persian Gulf.

After a long hiatus, the current Indian Premier League’s initial phase in the United Arab Emirates is, in a way, the return of the prodigal.

And like how it happened more than two decades ago, the fare and players on view have bucked predictions besides unhinging the expectations and money that team-owners had pumped into certain cricketers prior to the latest season.

Yes, it is still early days and teams have just played four or three matches each (at the time of going to the press). However, there was no mistaking the toppers in the batting charts — Glenn Maxwell (Kings XI Punjab, 294 runs, 73.50 average, 205.59 strike-rate); Dwayne Smith (Chennai Super Kings, 240, 48.00, 143.71); J. P. Duminy (Delhi Daredevils, 173, 86.50, 135.15); Brendon McCullum (CSK, 193, 48.25, 127.81); and David Miller (Kings XI, 129, 64.50, 169.73).

Ironically, the collective money spent on four of these five players (Miller was retained ahead of the auction by Kings XI) — Rs. 15.95 crore — at the auction in Bangalore, is still less than the total amount (26.5 crore) splurged on Yuvraj Singh (RCB, 14) and Dinesh Karthik (Daredevils, 12.5). Incidentally, Yuvraj (86 runs from four games) and Karthik (92 from four), have remained below-par so far in the tournament.

Adam Gilchrist may have moaned about feeling ‘like cattle’ when the inaugural auction happened in 2008, but casting aside the game’s romantic notions, economics do matter. If a chartered accountant has to calculate return-of-investment, it will be a no-brainer that Maxwell, Smith, Duminy, McCullum and Miller would indeed have delivered ‘more bang per buck’ than fancied players.

Money can buy you an assured lifestyle and may be insurance, but in the sporting arena, top-dollar need not necessarily translate into a blistering performance. ‘The early days’ caveat still remains, but there is no denying that it is the unsung players who have largely performed.

Australia’s Maxwell has been instrumental in Kings XI leading the points tally with an all-win record during the first fortnight. With scores of 95, 89, 95 and 15, Maxwell has shown that the faith reposed in him by his team, was not unfounded. He bowls off-spin too and that adds to the options.

Maxwell’s powerful strikes drew in praise even during the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh and R. Ashwin then said: “Maxwell has been playing some awesome cricket, in real honesty. I heard a few words, that he’s a free spirit. He just comes and keeps banging, you don’t know what happens. When somebody is in such form, you have to take your hat off and say he’s done pretty well.”

For the moment, the Australian has also usurped Chris Gayle’s throne meant for a big-hitting player. The Caribbean star though is laid low by a sore back and hasn’t turned up for RCB in its early fixtures.

The others like Smith, McCullum, Duminy and Miller, have embraced consistency and offered comfort to their skippers. After the auction, CSK coach Stephen Fleming had spoken about how McCullum offered utility to the team and the New Zealander has lived up to his former captain’s faith. Just as the so-called low- spotlight players (at least in terms of the money that they relatively gained) have surprised many with their stellar show, the high-profile ones like Yuvraj and Karthik are still finding their feet.

There is no mistaking Yuvraj’s talent and power to pummel the ball all over the park and there is no underestimating Karthik’s ability that is allied with his introspective bouts and excessive training that are supposed to help him find a way back to the Indian squad. It is just that their cold start in IPL Season Seven, is another pointer to sport’s propensity to flummox the brightest athletes and the attendant media. It would also be a touch unfair to focus entirely on just Yuvraj and Karthik because many other leading players haven’t found their mettle yet, be it M. S. Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, David Warner, Virat Kohli, A. B. de Villiers or Gautam Gambhir.

The coming weeks will show whether the expensive punts placed on Yuvraj, Karthik and a few others by indulgent team-owners, yield the desired results. But for now, sport’s ability to constantly gift us a bag of surprises continues. Finally when the IPL bandwagon leaves the UAE, the overwhelming theme would be the disdain that ripples across Maxwell’s bat while the sense of wonder around the money spent on Yuvraj recedes in the rear-view mirror.