By Arjun Juneja
Decried by naysayers and flayed by modern-day pundits, the IPL has stood to live another day, or season, as it may. Though it isn’t a revolutionary concept, T-20 incorporates an evolutionary form of cricket and has captured the minds and hearts of cricket fans in India and abroad. Even as doubts persist over whether it can fill the pocketbooks of team owners, its public profile is nigh unsurpassed.
The fifth season witnessed a number of off-the-field incidents that would be enough to drive a stake through the heart of any such international competition. A sting carried out by a news channel, a late-night beating meted out by a player, a rave party raid and even a team owner’s scuffle with ground security after a match. Among other incidents, these lowered the reputation of the Indian Premier League, considered to be one of the richest sports leagues in the world.
But what is heartening is that even as the TRPs fell the teams got their act together after the soporific fourth season. The reshuffling of the squads paid out dividends as no team lacked match winning performances. So close was the season that the only inconsequential match was the last one in the league stages between Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals. What did not hurt was also how the team at the bottom of the points table last season was at the top this time- Delhi Daredevils.
The senior Indian players flattered to deceive for the greater part as the young ones took the onus of performance on themselves. Be it bowling or batting, the likes of Parvinder Avana and Ajinkya Rahane seem destined to carve out a niche for themselves in the Indian cricket team. Long accustomed to producing better batsman and spinners than fast bowlers, the emergence of Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron was a sight for sore eyes.
The teams which made a mark this season were the ones led from the front by their captains with the exception of M.S. Dhoni who came good just in time to see his side to the final, but not all the way through. Five consecutive fifties by Sehwag saw Delhi Daredevils amass the most number of points by an IPL team in any season. Harbhajan Singh of Mumbai Indians never kicked into high gear and even though his team made it to the play-offs, it wasn’t enough to cross the finish line.
Gautam Gambhir, formerly of the Delhi Daredevils and now captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders, led without inhibitions. While amassing the most runs in IPL 2012 after Chris Gayle, it was his leadership that made the difference at pivotal points throughout the league. His passion for the game glistened on and off the turf as he was clinical in his dismissal of oppositions. Even as his team defeated the Daredevils at his original home ground- Ferozshah Kotla, his detached acknowledgement of the victory was as startling as it was admirable. The contrast in leadership style with MS Dhoni saw Gambhir win the day and the title.
Overcoming all odds, Kolkata Knight Riders won the IPL in its fifth season. The celebration of the victory was garnished with the fact that it had been one of the most competitive seasons in the IPL’s short but remarkable history. The man behind the initiation of the league is no longer at its helm, but under the leadership of Rajiv Shukla it has not done worse. If anything, it has prospered and that will be the status quo it would try to accomplish in the years to come.
The after-parties and the presence of cheerleaders is still slammed, but now the sweet sound emitting from the centre of the bat when it meets the ball is beginning to overcome it. The pages of newspapers dedicated to exploits of team owners are not less in number but the space devoted to the team’s performances has increased. Star power is a trait of the IPL that has been present throughout the five years, but when you watch the match, the real stars are on the field, not off it.
The quality of the IPL generation players vis a vis players from the traditional domestic setup may be questioned. Over the past 5 years, only a few have been able to make a major impact. But at least these cricketers will have their day in the field to prove themselves. The level of players with which they share their dressing rooms and take on the field cannot be belittled. Often lambasted as a league for retired players, the new generation of players may make that a feature of the past. And while quality players, good and old will always be a feature of the IPL, the young ones may finally get a taste of the spotlight.
A good performance in the IPL is not a ticket to the Indian cricket team. Not yet. But, it is a sign of the times to come. The rise of Lalit Modi’s brainchild has resulted in better facilities and pay for players in the whole of India, if not abroad. The emergence of professional T20 players may actually change the game of cricket. Not always for the better, but definitely not for the worse.
The game will not stay the same, but the IPL ensures that we have a say in its transformation. The T20 World Cup 2007 victory kicked off the preoccupation for T20 cricket for the Indian nation and its cricket board. Five years hence, there will be few who would look back with regret at the tournament that changed it all for a generation of cricketers worldwide. What they may wish for is a chance to try their hand at this form of cricket, in this era. Wouldn’t you?
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