Too much hype

The most disappointing feature of the English presence in this year’s IPL, even greater than Flintoff’s uneconomical bowling and KP’s inconsistent batting, was to see Paul Collingwood warming the bench for six games. By Hamsini Ravi & Harry Catchpole.

Rule Britannia Certainly not at T20. Following a disappointing campaign in the ICC T20 World Championship in South Africa in 2007, the much hyped English players came to the IPL second edition with great expectations. “The importance not just for myself, but people like Dimi Mascarenhas, KP (Kevin Pietersen) and Ravi Bopara developing the skills in this form of the game because it’s just getting bigger and better,” said Freddie Flintoff before the start of the tournament.

Flintoff and Pietersen, the most expensive players in this edition of IPL — both valued at $1,550,000 — have failed to make waves. Pietersen, who was chosen to lead Bangalore Royal Challengers ahead of Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid, failed to inspire his team.

KP promised much from his first game — at the helm of RCB he had seemingly reversed the fortunes of last year’s stragglers. There was a victory and some runs for the ex-England captain but both were short-lived. Five losses from the next five games and some frustrating dismissals meant that Pietersen returned to England with each of his 93 runs costing close to $16,667.

Flintoff proved even more costly. Entering the tournament in poor form with the bat, his wickets and economical bowling were to be his assets. His two wickets cost 52.5 runs each, or to look at it another way — over $750,000 each. Bernard Madoff has better value for money investments than that! Variation is the key to T20 bowling and until Flintoff can develop a consistent slower ball he will continue to struggle in this form of the game.

The most disappointing feature of the English presence, even greater than Flintoff’s uneconomical bowling and KP’s inconsistent batting, was to see Paul Collingwood warming the bench for six games. The man selected to lead England in the coming ICC T20 World Cup perhaps had the most to offer from the English contingent.

Collingwood’s sharp fielding, strong leg-side hitting and ability to take the pace off the ball with his niggling little seamers and cutters may well have been an effective ‘triple-threat’ to the opposition. Delhi has arguably the strongest squad and performed well without requiring the services of Collingwood or Owais Shah; another $550,000 well spent.

Dimitri Mascarenhas’ two wickets from two balls for Rajasthan Royals in his opening spell against Bangalore Royal Challengers and Ravi Bopara’s match-winning innings of 84 for the Kings XI Punjab also against Bangalore were merely the two lone ships sailing on the dull sea of English mediocrity.

If common cricketing sense had prevailed over publicity and big names, the franchises would’ve done well to pick T20 specialists, players in the county sides. Remember, the English county plays more T20 matches than any other domestic cricket circuit in the world. Graham Napier, an uncapped Essex batsman, who can bat anywhere in the line-up is such a worthwhile choice for the Mumbai Indians, but unlikely to get a run in the side — behind the bigger names of Dwayne Bravo and JP Duminy. If the IPL is about giving domestic cricketers an opportunity to play alongside international bigwigs, why restrict the opportunity to only Indian domestic players? We’ve seen players like Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha getting picked for the T20 World Cup squad, solely thanks to their performance in the IPL.

What does the English players’ less-than-ordinary performance mean for their future T20 careers and to English T20 cricket in general? Let’s look at the facts: England has played 15 T20 matches in all, and has lost as many as nine of those. In an honest admission to the media, coach Andy Flower said, “We’re utterly hopeless at Twenty20.”

The England squad under Collingwood consists of two uncapped players in Graham Napier and Eoin Morgan, and in Kent’s Rob Key and Essex ’keeper James Foster, England has returned to the players whom it had previously adjudged as not of international quality. The pressure will be great for these players to prove themselves.

Whether the host can combine the inconsistent talents of KP and Freddie, with the sometimes unorthodox skills that Foster and Key provide, and deliver performances that can bamboozle defending champion India and the other T20 strongholds, remains to be seen. What is certain is that a great deal will depend on skipper Paul Collingwood’s ability to sail the English ship with his motley crew.