When I reflected on the first day of the inaugural IPL last year, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Today, on the first day of IPL 2, I was in a different frame of mind – I wasn’t expecting much from the tournament except some evanescent excitement. So I readied myself for the two games of the day. (Fortunately, and rather quixotically, the opening ceremony was scheduled for after the day’s games, so I happily gave them a miss.)
Unlike last year when there was only one game on the first day, there were two games today: Chennai Super Kings taking on Mumbai Indians first, followed by defending champions Rajasthan Royals against Royal Challengers Bangalore. MS Dhoni versus Sachin Tendulkar; and Shane Warne versus Kevin Pietersen.
My thoughts after these two encounters?
The heroes of the day were two veterans of the game – Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. They played innings that need building up, that were un-frenzied (Dravid hit one six and Tendulkar none), that were un-Twenty20 like. Theirs were true cricket innings, not what you can expect from the Twenty20-bred cricketer, who just goes bang-bang and hopes that the heavy bats and the shorter boundaries would take care of the rest. The batting on display from the two maestros was pure cricket, pure joy.
The team that batted the best followed three old-fashioned principles – a cautious start where protecting wickets was key (Mumbai Indians scored just 64 in the first ten overs but lost just one wicket), one batsman playing through the innings (Tendulkar scored only 59 but remained unbeaten till the end) and impetus provided by one cameo in the middle (Abhishek Nayar’s 35 off 14 balls including a famous mauling of IPL debutant Andrew Flintoff).
The conditions had something for the bowlers – there was movement, there was bounce and the odd ball gripped the surface. It may not satisfy cricket lovers who came upon the game via Twenty20, but it certainly made for absorbing cricket. The fifth ball of the sixth over of the Rajasthan innings summed up the conditions. It was the medium pacer Vinay Kumar bowling to the South African Twenty20 specialist Tyron Henderson. The ball kicked off a good length outside the off-stump, swung in and swooshed past the nose of the batsman who was trying to bend away. Oh, cricket pure and simple!
If such matches become the norm for IPL 2, then we certainly have a sequel that is better than the original, cricketing terms. But if the shortage of fours and sixes means that the larger viewing mass (the Twenty20 fan as opposed to the cricket fan) might be put off, the organisers may step in and arrange batathons. Until then, let’s enjoy what promises to be a more even contest.