The opening ceremony, which I caught only in snatches, seemed to have been organised impeccably, putting to the shade the chaos of the 1987 World Cup and the ordinariness of the 1996 version. The Bollywood touch was unmistakeable; the cash, unmissable. Ravi Shastri’s exuberance as a host complemented Charu Sharma’s lack of it. Sunil Gavaskar was lackadaisical, reading off a boring script. Ray Mali was anodyne, Lalit Modi, evangelical. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan’s pitch-reading was as banal as ever (The pitch will have something for the bowlers for the first eight overs. Why eight? And how?), while Ajay Jadeja’s inane questions were only saved by Vijay Mallya’s classy responses. Sample this.
AJ: I’ll ask you a question. If the Bangalore Royal Challengers need 20 runs to win and have about 5 overs to go, will you rather Rahul Dravid hit a couple of sixes and entertain the crowd or are you fine if Dravid and co. get it in singles and twos?
VM: Obviously, the focus is on winning… … … … let them focus on the game; I’ll take care of the glamour.
Or words to that effect. He has class, does Vijay Mallya.
Rahul Dravid s nervous, Sourav Ganguly s relaxed. It's business as usual. Dravid wins the toss and opts to chase. Sourav plays his first card by saying he would have batted first. Round 1 to the man they call dada.
Praveen Kumar bowls an excellent first over (and second and third); Zaheer Khan and Ashley Noffke have nightmare beginnings. Brendon McCullum looks too anxious to begin with; and Sourav hardly faces a ball in the first 10 per cent of the innings. In the second over of the innings (Zaheer’s first), something snaps. McCullum thumps two fours past midwicket; Zaheer’s shoulders sag. He comes round the wicket and, truth be told, has McCullum in a tangle, but the ball hits the back of the bat (even as McCullum attempts a flick) and flies over third man for a six. Pace of the ball, reinforced bat, or a hugely reduced ground? I suspect the last. Some more shots later in the innings, including a paddle sweep for six, reinforce the uneasy suspicion. Have they made the ground really small to ensure more batting entertainment? I desperately hope not.
McCullum continues his merry way, starring in 50-run partnerships with each of his four partners, and finishes with a scarcely believable 158 not out at the end of the innings. Teams have defended 158 in the past, and here is one man who makes so much. However good his form and great his talent, it’s hard to believe he would have made this if bowlers were not handcuffed so much. Any way, that’s a rant for another day.
The Kolkata Knight Riders finish at 222 for 3 in their 20 overs. We’re halfway through the match, and the match is over. So I step out to catch some dinner.
When I come back and turn the television on, the scorecard reads 46 for 7. I expected a one-sided affair, but not this bad. The Bangalore Royal Challengers stumble from there to 82 all out, with Praveen Kumar (who was their best bowler, notwithstanding a horror of a last over) top-scoring with an unbeaten 18. Has the search for Kapil Dev’s (not a name to throw while talking of an event like this, is it?) successor ended? On the other side, Ajit Agarkar finishes with 3 for 25. Want to bet on his recall to the national side for the 21st time?
But a small incident towards the end worries me. Dravid’s men are down and almost out at 71 for 9 in the 14th over. Ganguly bowls to Kumar, who has a go at it. The ball goes high in the air between mid-off and cover. It isn’t a difficult chance, but Ricky Ponting spills it. What are the odds Ponting would have dropped what was a relative dolly by Aussie standards in a one-day international between Australia and India and the bowler was Brett Lee?
So what’s the IPL about? I don’t know yet.