There’s no substitute for skill

The old boys have been making a huge impact in the IPL largely due to their skills which have made them everyday cricketers unlike the ones who fire once in a while. The IPL is reckoned by some as a mixture of cricket and business, but thanks to the skilful old boys the cricketing element is still intact. Otherwise, it will be more of a social carnival than an interesting format of the game, writes W. V. Raman.

“I miss the action that I have been used to in the last six weeks”, was the statement of a journalist friend of mine two days after the conclusion of the first edition of the Indian Premier League. The statement only reaffirmed the fact that the IPL had become almost an addiction to not only millions of fans but also the professionals who are on the beat all through the year.

Then, of course, who would not like an action packed spectacle that not only produces entertainment but also brings forth a dizzying concoction of glamour, controversy and gossip. So, it was only natural that the public eagerly awaited the onset of the second edition of the league, but none would have anticipated that the matches would be shifted to another country. The IPL committee tried its best to stage the competition in India but in the end the powers that be decided that the elections of the world’s biggest democracy are bigger than a private, though official, tournament.

The fracas notwithstanding, the IPL committee decided to go ahead with the tournament and went shopping for alternative venues.

The chance to host the high profile tournament was wholeheartedly embraced by the UCBSA as the opportunity was like a windfall for South African cricket which was at the end of its cricket season. In fact, this is more or less a boom for the South African economy, as things were not looking up for it in recent times.

With crowd-pullers such as Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff set to make their IPL debut, the tickets were sold out in no time. Both of them are match-winners in any format of the game, but their slow start and early departure from the tournament will be a big disappointment for the fans. However, they can provide enough thrills until the time they leave to join their national side which will be playing against the touring West Indians.

The shift of venue disappointed the Indian public and the players alike but the very nature of the tournament is bound to be a great attraction wherever it is hosted. Of course, the Indian fans will miss watching their home teams live but like last year, the matches will be viewed by a huge percentage on television.

On the cricketing front, the change in venue created new challenges for the teams as they had to get acclimatised to the new environs and restructure their strategy. The international cricketers will have an edge over the inexperienced pack but still it is critical that the lesser players contribute for their team to succeed. All the IPL teams went early to South Africa to get a feel of the conditions there and began preparations in right earnest. The nature of pitches apart, the unpredictable weather will test the best of players as well, and the second edition is definitely not going to be a walk in the park for the batsmen at least as the bowlers will have some sort of assistance from the surface and the overcast conditions.

The fitness aspect is very critical in the T20 format, but I for one still believe that there is no substitute for skill if one is to succeed in any format of the game. To me a proven Test cricketer can be a good player in the shorter version also, but not the other way round. I say this because in trying conditions with weather interruptions, both the players and teams will require a lot of skill and adaptability to overcome the challenges.

This has been proven in the opening games by the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Shane Warne and Daniel Vettori. The ball is doing a bit at Newlands and with even the best of strikers of the ball not really getting into rhythm, it was left to the skilful players to carry their team on their shoulders, and that’s exactly what Tendulkar and Dravid did for their respective sides.

Tendulkar always plays with a lot of passion. His batting was a lesson for youngsters as he eschewed the common T20 method of throwing the bat at everything and instead worked the ball around. The little master reads the game as well as anybody does, especially when it comes to batting and his method is likely to be one of common sense rather than unbridled aggression. He has not played much of the T20 format but his skill sets are so complete that he cracked the code in no time. His match-winning innings was pleasing to watch, and so was Dravid’s.

Dravid rightfully decided to bat in his conventional style unlike last year when he tried to resort to power tactics which did not suit him. He, like Tendulkar, realised the need to be circumspect and brought in his vast experience into play. If he continues to carry on in the same vein, he may well end up at the top of the performance ladder. Tendulkar and Dravid would derive immense satisfaction if they contribute consistently as it would mean that they can play the young man’s game as well.

While it isn’t surprising to see the seamers doing well, strangely enough the spinners too have played an important role in the tournament, what with Kumble, Vettori and Warne weaving their web of magic. While Vettori is still playing active cricket, Warne and Kumble have exited the stage. And with the IPL being the only platform for them to make their presence felt, they have got off to a good start.

Kumble, who has not played the shorter version of the game for a long time, was expected to prove his worth and he had nothing but his faithful attitude to fall back on. He consumed Rajasthan Royals with ease and his five for would give the genial leg-spinner something to be happy about.

The old boys have been making a huge impact largely due to their skills which have made them everyday cricketers unlike the ones who fire once in a while. The IPL is reckoned by some as a mixture of cricket and business, but thanks to the skilful old boys the cricketing element is still intact. Otherwise, it will be more of a social carnival than an interesting format of the game.