Posts Tagged ‘Indian Premier League’

A World Cup win can bring satisfaction of a lifetime and champion players rummage around for a recliner to relax while the medal sits on the chest perpetually. But winds of change have refashioned perceptions, where the IPL money rules the roost and other issues move to the back-burner.

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It’s down to the Round of 16 in the IPL – of course, that’s not the number of teams but the number of games left before the semifinals. All but PZ’s Kings are in with a chance. Some about to lose the grip but still hanging in there and some waiting for that one elusive win to move from waitlist to confirmed status.

Beyond the mathematics of points and run-rates, there are some clear, yet subliminal, strengths and/or weaknesses of teams that may have the final say at the conclusion of league stage. I have analytically tried to eye that for the teams still in fray. Take a look!

Mumbai Indians (MI)

The away ghost: As I pointed out in my last post, MI’s real test starts after Game 8 when they play 5 of their remaining 6 matches away and it turned out as suspected. They lost to Chennai and now have to face Punjab in Mohali and Rajasthan in Jaipur before touching base for their last home game. If MI loses these two as well, then all their hopes will be pinned on the game against Delhi Daredevils at home because after that their last two league encounters are also away games. MI may prove me wrong today itself by beating Punjab but if they don’t, then it remains to be seen if they can bury the ‘away ghost’ or are only ‘Lions at Home’.

Delhi Daredevils (DD)

Bowling quandary: Delhi’s problem lies in stringing together a winning combination that is consistent, more so in bowling than batting. Yes, the injuries to Nannes and Nehra haven’t helped matters but the replacements don’t look promising, as was visible in the runs they bled in the death overs against Kolkata. This may prove fatal for DD who still need to win at least two of their remaining 4 matches.

Rajasthan Royals (RR)

Shane Warne: Wonder what that man does to lift the team’s spirit but whatever that is, it’s nothing less than magic and only within the realms of a mentor like Warnie. The possibility that this may be his last hurrah as a player makes him doubly dangerous.

Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB)

Who to play and who not: Their issue is team selection due to a large number of quality expats (10 in total). This has compounded Kumble and Jennnings’ problems. The ‘who to play and who not’ question needs to be answered quickly or else the team may miss the bus.

Chennai Super Kings (CSK)

Just-in-time arrivals: We have already seen what effect Bollinger has had on CSK’s bowling and with Michael Hussey too in ranks now, watch out for Chennai. The welcome surprise has been Murali Vijay turning into a ‘technically correct butcher’. Vijay and then Hussey, Raina and Dhoni lower down will allow Hayden to play his natural game, which makes it intimidating for bowlers.

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR)

Tough assignment: The concluding games for KKR are against RCB, CSK, RR and MI respectively. So it means Kolkata cannot blink with four taxing games in a row. The only solace is that their last two matches are at home where they play well with a huge fan base.

Deccan Chargers (DC)

Living on the edge: Of the seven teams in fray, they have the bleakest of chances to make it. With four games left for them, DC has to win each one of those because of the poorest run-rate. That is the only way they can harbor any hopes of finishing in top four. Looking at their mixed performance in the season, it looks highly unlikely.

I hope there’s not more to it than meets the eye but it’s hard to fathom how can the experienced honchos involved in organizing the IPL can be so flawed to hand over one team an advantage that no other team has the luxury of.

What I’m talking about here is the itinerary of the IPL; not the timing of staging it, but the eye-raising allotment of venues that has rolled the dice unreasonably in favor of Mumbai Indians (MI).

No team other than MI enjoys the advantage of playing seven of their first eight games at home. Why? With due respect to MI’s team composition and world-class players, it’s not surprising a wee bit that the team is reaping rich benefits of playing in front of a home crowd in familiar conditions. They are almost through to the semis and this unfair advantage has a role in that besides the quality cricket MI is playing.

And if you think it evens out with MI playing their last six games away, then you are wrong. They return to Mumbai after three games before moving out again to finish the last two. That’s pretty shady stuff!

Even more surprising is that I hardly see anybody bringing this up despite being a logical point. It’s okay to wriggle the tongue and go gaga over a team’s performance, but the biased nature of the schedule giving MI an unreasonable edge over others should be accentuated.

On the contrary, the resurgent Rajasthan Royals (RR) play their first 10 games away and only three at home in Jaipur. Where on earth is this called justice? All of us are aware of the antipathy between the IPL Chairman and the Rajasthan Cricket Association, which makes the allotment of just three matches to Jaipur more suspicious than justified. Introducing Ahmedabad (4 matches), Dharmsala (2 matches) and Nagpur (3 matches) was a reasonable futuristic approach to spread the tournament to more locales but that doesn’t mean you slice away four home matches of a particular team.

The Telangana issue erased Hyderabad’s name from the list of venues and we were told that Cuttack is the surrogate home of Deccan Chargers (DC) this year. But that’s not true! Cuttack gets only two games, which makes DC play 12 away fixtures. What home are we talking about here?

If matches at neutral venues are away games for both the teams involved, then the organizers once again finds themselves on a sticky wicket by not scheduling MI to play even a single match at either Ahmedabad, Dharmsala or Nagpur. Another undue advantage!

But…all is well with Mr. Modi!

The IPL has just entered into its second week of gestation and is due to deliver its third champion on April 25th but the form-readers have already picked up their chief operators. Going by the 16 games played thus far, cricket brains are exercising taking the ‘odd two’ out on form and availability of resources.

Rajasthan Royals (RR) failed to impress even with Smith and Mascarenhas playing and now when they are not, the task has just become more demanding for Warne & Co. The little-known Indian players – barring Yusuf Pathan – have not made it any easier for the coach-cum-captain who himself is finding it hard to get back into the groove. Though they won their last match against an erring KKR, the tougher matches are yet to come. Shaun Tait is discovering that pace doesn’t always work in Indian conditions where you need to be clever with your variations. Other foreign recruits – Martyn and Lumb – have not delivered either. On the whole, it won’t be wrong to admit that they need to turn the tables in all departments of the game, which makes them the first of the two most unconvincing outfits.

Surprisingly, PZ’s eleven Punjabi Kings are fast losing their territory, both home and away. Last night’s super-over finish too looked more a Chennai blunder than a Punjab effort. The positive, however, is that unlike RR, Punjab has some real match-winners like Yuvraj, Sangakkara and Jayawardene in their ranks. The problem is none of these is clicking. On the bowling front, Brett Lee is being sorely missed. No other seamer looks even a silhouette of the blonde Aussie and thus oozing runs like a hemorrhage. Their current form doesn’t infuse any confidence in the punters; in fact, along with RR, Kings XI Punjab is the other team whom the bookmakers have almost eliminated.

That brings us down to six and if form is a searchlight, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Mumbai Indians (MI) and Deccan Chargers (DC) of Hyderabad easily come under its beam as three potential semifinalists.

Bookies’ favorite Delhi Daredevils (DD) began on a promising note but have hit a ditch rather than a speed-breaker, losing their last three and having played the most (5) games. KKR is following in DD’s footsteps and have lost their last two after winning the first two. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) too got a stutter last night, losing to Punjab, and are now level at four points with DD and KKR.

The form guide may suggest the above scenarios but the truth of the matter is that it’s still too early to predict. England, New Zealand and Australia players are yet to arrive and once all of them are here – Englishmen around March 26 and Aussies and Kiwis around April 3 – teams will have more ammo at their disposal.

So believing Punjab and RR would kiss a goodbye to this year’s IPL, I invite your intelligent guesses to take the following poll and predict which two of these six will miss out on a semifinal spot. My ESP tells me that it’s going to be a tossup between DD and CSK for the fourth semifinal birth, with KKR getting out of the race much earlier.

The scamper to enter Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla Grounds is nothing less than Lewis Hamilton trying to beat Ralph Schumacher to the pole, or vice versa of late. The queues become an F1 track, with nobody giving any leeway for the one following to race pass. It’s only when the ticketed gate number arrived that I got spared of all the pushing and shoving.

The next task was not as arduous but still quite challenging: to find a seat, and a clean one. While you can get one with a bit of an eagle-eying, securing a seat unsupplied with foot stamps is inconceivable. The stickers of a ‘gold mortgage company’ soon came to my rescue which I pulled out from the back-rest and pasted on the ‘ass-rest’; you can get two in case the ass refuses to ‘mortgage’ itself for one.

Indian crowds – I don’t know why – are impulsive standers on almost every other ball delivered. The cries of English-natured watchers, “baith jao bhai saab” (sit down brother), start reverberating in multi-lingual intonation and dialects.  And then one of those asked will look over his shoulder as if delivered a kiss of death for all his efforts.

Meanwhile, if your stomach’s angry for insufficient food supplies, better get it ASAP or else the short-statured like me have to stand on their toes to beat the taller versions and still get defeated by a mile. Slurping and sipping though is much fun afterwards and if Sachin gets going, like he did yesterday, you feel like the cat that ate the canary.

But life’s not all that beer and skittles. Delhi lost, and badly at that. Not just the Delhi batters, the crowd too started its long walk back. I joined in. The famous Delhi cricketing acumen was at large on the staircases, while a few still hung onto their seats.

My experience with cricket stadia is very limited but from the ones I have been to, Kotla asks more from your lower extremities than they can offer after prolonged sitting. The general parking lot is not in close proximity and in case you don’t have a ride parked, reaching home is nothing less than an adventure.

Only a Usain Bolt can catch the last Metro train that is about 2 km away and just 10 minutes from its scheduled departure. If you think of hopping into an auto-rickshaw, then you need to contest with around 10,000 others who are looking for one. Even if you do get lucky, it’s up to the driver who he wants to take; generally those who ask for a location falling in his scheme of things get the preference.

To hell with everything! A cab is just a call away but what you don’t know is that it’s a lottery if the call centre honcho can locate one that is near where you are. If he can’t, then it becomes even harder to keep a stiff upper lip.

Soon I felt like flogging a dead horse and got hold of my nerves leaning on a nearby concrete wall. An auto-rickshaw goes past me. I was least interested by now. It stopped! The driver came out, “Kahan jaoge?” (where would you go). I felt like saying ‘hell’ but actually told him. “Baitho,” (hop in) he said. I smiled and muttered, “ Yeh Delhi hai meri jaan!”

The win by KKR in the IPL-3 opener, though patchy, has sent the whole SRK contingent into delirium, reports my khabri. The positives for the Kolkata team were the performances by new signee Angelo Mathews, the DD-drop out Owais Shah and the signs of Ishant Sharma hitting some form. Besides, fears of leadership woes get safely assuaged seeing a vintage Ganguly marshalling his troops.

The game was there to be won for DC until the wicket of Adam Gilchrist that triggered a collapse of their batting mainstay.  Gibbs, Symonds and Rohit Sharma followed soon to nothing shots, leaving their fans bemused. Even if one of those would have stayed for a length of 5 overs, DC would have won. But it’s fair to admit that KKR was in better control of their nerves under an astute captain and an 11-run win can be called a comfortable one in the T20 format.

DC has to look seriously at its middle order or you can say its choice of shots. Gilchrist won’t be able to deliver every time and the other big players have to feature in important wins. Their bowling too, apart from Pragyan Ojha, looks a bit thin until Harris and Roach join the squad. So lots of stuff to address for the skipper Gilly and coach Lehmann.

Most of us expected Shahrukh to be leading the gold-and-purple gang in the stands but he chose to remain absent. It was only this morning that he let us know the reason through this tweet: “No party. They travelling to Kolkata early morning. Me going there too. I attend only our home games…so will be fun.”

The KKR boss did thank the wishes and suggestions of his fans in one of his morning tweets, but also made everybody realize that family, for him, is always first. Son off for a holiday with his school. just dropped him. How fast they grow up! Seems like yesterday he was a throbbing dot in mommy’s tummy,” said Papa Khan.

Nothing other than the ODI and T20 World Cups, not even the Champions Trophy, has maintained the anticipation levels as high as the Modi juggernaut called the Indian Premier League (IPL). And if we may take the liberty, even the ODI World Cup has its interest dwindling since the last couple of editions, albeit ever so slightly.

But it’s not the time to ponder anything else; rather just grab a drink, dig into your couch and get immersed into the IPL. It’s that time in the cricketing calendar when all the soaps take a backseat and the desperate housewives either get remote-controlled or join the gang.

What’s been the most welcome change since the inception of the mega event is that it has encouraged a family day-out that Indian households saw Westerners doing overseas. The grass-banks, tents and inflatable swimming pools may still be missing but the IPL has at least quashed that held-back attitude, which prevented ladies and kids coming to the ground for reasons obvious to us all.

Coming back to what I came here to tell you, I have appointed a khabri (see image) who will keep me and you posted about the latest in the IPL corridors and of course what unfolds on the ground. He will be working like a man on a mission for the length of the IPL, running from pillar to post and bringing you updates from every nook and corner.

So without much ado, I leave you just one-and-a-half hours away from the IPL opening ceremony, followed by the event opener between the defending champion Deccan Chargers and last year’s wooden-spooners Kolkata Knight Riders.

Oh! As I was about to leave, my khabri tells me that Yuvraj Singh had tweeted “looking forward to scoring lots of runs for my Team.” Looks like he is fighting fit back again. Good news for KXI Punjab!