When cricket took a back seat

Chris Gayle failed against Deccan Chargers in the crucial match, though he was too hot to handle for the Delhi bowlers.-PTI

The last round of the IPL, before the play-offs, would be more remembered for the incidents off the field as the cash-rich league grappled to protect its falling reputation. By Vijay Lokapally.

On and off the field, the Indian Premier League (IPL) continued to attract the attention of the cricket world. There was high intensity action on field when Chris Gayle and Dale Steyn glorified their profession with performances that stood out for sheer quality and innovation.

There was room for proper cricket too as signified by the success of bowlers like Umesh Yadav and Sunil Narine, who did not sacrifice their natural flair to accommodate the demands of the shortest version of the game. Then there were some incidents that brought the IPL, and especially the game, into disrepute. The episode involving film star Shahrukh Khan with a security guard and senior officials of the Mumbai Cricket Association was unprecedented. It was bad publicity again for the IPL when Australian cricketer Luke Pomersbach was accused of misdemeanour by an American national at the team hotel in New Delhi. The cricketer was arrested and released on bail following a complaint from the woman and the authorities were left red-faced. It elicited scathing criticism from all quarters with a horde of Parliamentarians joining the IPL-bashing brigade across party lines.

IPL was in the news for all the wrong reasons even as the players strove to do their bit on field to keep the focus on cricket. But, here too, the incident involving Ambati Rayudu and Harshal Patel, after a game between Mumbai Indians and Bangalore Royal Challengers, showed the poor side of cricket grooming as far as these two youngsters are concerned.

Patel was guilty of reacting to Rayudu's outburst and the duo was fined heavily. Rayudu's undisciplined antics had cost him dearly during his junior cricketer days and this has been one of the main reasons for this talented player losing out on an India cap.

Less qualified individuals have represented India and Rayudu must rank as one of the unluckiest to have missed the honour. If the IPL is a learning process it is obvious that Rayudu has failed despite having spent valuable time with Sachin Tendulkar in the Mumbai Indians dressing room.

But Rayudu produced a cracking show against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the away tie. It was in keeping with his cricketing merit as he hauled Mumbai Indians from a precarious 51 for five, pursuing 172, in the company of Keiron Pollard. This was excellent competition as Rayudu and Pollard overcame nerves and tore into the RCB attack. The task was accomplished with two balls to spare and importantly the result kept MI in the race for a position in the play-offs. But all the good work was tainted by Rayudu's boorish behaviour.

Ambati Rayudu stole a thrilling win for Mumbai Indians against RCB.-K.R. DEEPAK

The week also saw Delhi Daredevils take the top slot in the league with 22 points. This despite Virender Sehwag missing out on the last two matches against Kings XI Punjab and RCB. But then Daredevils had the combination to tame Punjab, which did well to keep the race alive by beating Chennai Super Kings.

DD was, however, swept off its feet by Chris Gayle at the Ferozeshah Kotla. There was little the bowlers could have done as Gayle put his bat to the ball with utter disdain and buried the opposition under an avalanche of fours and sixes. By hitting 13 sixes the West Indian confirmed that he remains one of the best entertainers in modern cricket.

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) did not falter in its matches against Mumbai Indians and Pune Warriors, both away games. Interestingly, KKR prospered as its bowlers did well in low-scoring contests. Gautam Gambhir and his team defended 140 against the strong Mumbai Indians batting and then shone against Pune as the latter failed to chase 137.

By finishing second in the table, KKR only lived up to its pre-tournament expectations. Gambhir had all along insisted that KKR had the combination and the substance to last the distance. He ensured the team did not digress from the chosen path and the consistency of the bowlers created winning positions from difficult situations. He came in for praise from coach Trevor Bayliss for carrying the team together as one family.

Trinidad off-spinner Sunil Narine was crucial to KKR's progress. Bayliss insisted that the extra pace that Narine generates makes him a sort of mystery spinner, not to forget his skills with the ball. His change of pace and accuracy tested the temperament of the best batsmen in the league.

Pune's defeat was a crushing blow for Sourav Ganguly. After the team's campaign was over, Wayne Parnell conceded, “We've been poor.” He was stating facts as nothing clicked for Pune. Gambhir was pragmatic when he gave Shakib Al Hasan the major credit for the victory. “He (Shakib) set up the game for us by the way he batted. He changed the momentum,” confessed the KKR skipper.

Another thing that Gambhir insisted upon was the team's ability to succeed on any surface. “We never complained about the pitch. We had decided that to succeed we had to combine together. I am very happy with the way each individual has chipped in. Even here (in the last match at Pune) I was always confident because we had quality spinners.” Here, too, Shakib followed up his good batting with some nagging spin.

For Ganguly, it was despair all the way. It was a picture in stark contrast when he took over as captain amidst fanfare. As the tournament progressed, Pune and Ganguly just faded. It was a sad story for one of the icons of Indian cricket and obviously impacted the team's overall performance.

Rajasthan Royals disappointed by losing the contest to Deccan Chargers as its batting came a cropper and the bowlers proved ineffective when it mattered. CSK, a compact combination otherwise, created problems for itself after having shown signs of improvement earlier and was distinctly lucky to qualify on better run-rate. CSK had to thank Deccan Chargers, which stunned Royal Challengers Bangalore in its last match. RCB had to win to qualify.

The last round before the play-offs, however, would be more remembered for the incidents off the field as IPL grappled to protect its falling reputation.

TOP PERFORMERS Chris Gayle:

Parwinder Awana: He had always wanted to make an impact at the big level. The IPL may not have been that stage but his wickets against Delhi Daredevils made sure that he will never be taken lightly again. His final analysis read 4-0-22-3 including the wickets of Virender Sehwag, Ross Taylor and Venugopal Rao in his first spell of 2-0-5-3. On his home turf, this was one of his best career moments ever. He then impressed again on a seaming track at Dharamshala as Kings XI Punjab stunned Chennai Super Kings. His nagging spell read 4-0-12-2. His victims were M. S. Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja this time.

Umesh Yadav: He loves to bowl quick because his mentor at Delhi Daredevils, T. S. Sekar, has instructed him not to compromise on speed. He is the ideal fast bowler, working up pace, rattling the batsman with bounce, enjoying the attention. "I don't think one should worry about the pitch. It is the confidence within you that helps you in tough situations," Sekar had told this well-mannered fast bowler. Yadav has only gained and progressed. His bowling skills have improved and he displayed them so well that he won the man of the match awards against Kings XI Punjab twice in the span of five days.

Sunil Narine: In a batsmen's game, he stands out with his art. Some call him a mystery bowler because of the variety he imparts. Coming from Trinidad, he did have a legacy to live up to. It would be too early to assess his potential but this competitive off-spinner promises a long tenure in international cricket. When someone like Rahul Dravid observes that he should be playing Test cricket, one needs to take notice of this Kolkata Knight Riders bowler who has been calling the shots in a fastpaced game. He had his memorable moment when he foxed Sachin Tendulkar and bowled him.