Tuesday, May 12, 2009

IPL 2: Un-performances: Games 21 to 40

Game 21: Deccan Chargers vs. Delhi Daredevils

DD make heavy weather of their chase, but manage to bring the requirement down to 38 off 24 balls. Not impossible considering the in-form TM Dilshan and the ever-pesky Dinesh Karthik are settled in. This is when Adam Gilchrist throws the ball back to part-timer Venugopal Rao. Rao had just bowled a useful first over for only three runs, but you get a feeling that now is the time for the gentle seamers of Dwayne Smith, but Adam Gilchrist thinks otherwise. And he is left to rue his decision as DD plunder 17 runs off Rao, and thus walk away with the match.

Game 22 – Chennai Super Kings vs. Rajasthan Royals

A revenge match of sorts this is for CSK against last year’s winners RR. And they are going along steadily, reaching 120 for 4 off 17 overs. Not quite overwhelming, but not bad considering the conditions and RR’s relatively thin batting. Shane Warne’s new hero Kamran Khan comes on to bowl over no. 18. Four legal deliveries later, he limps off after conceding 21 runs. Leaving Dwayne Smith to bowl two deliveries, including a free hit. That’s the end of the game as a contest.

Game 23 – Kolkata Knight Riders vs. Mumbai Indians

It has been the story of this IPL, KKR contriving to lose from all sorts of situations. And with many contributors to their loss, it is difficult to identify match-changing un-performances. In this game, what stands out is Brendom McCullum’s confidence in his own batting form, coming in to bat at No. 6, after Laxmi Ratan Shukla. It is a bigger shocker than Sourav Ganguly’s first ball duck.

Game 24 – King’s XI Punjab vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore

You take a hat-trick with your donkey drops and then make a 50 off 34 balls in a chase of 146, and your team still loses. Who would Yuvraj Singh blame? Yusuf Abdulla for conceding 21 runs off his third over (after going for just six in his first two)? The bigger turning point to my mind was the wicket of Mahela Jayawardene. KXP need just 30 runs off 18 balls with seven wickets intact, a position from which even KKR would’ve fancied their chances. But Jayawardene tries one shot too many and holes out, the rest of the KXP team panic and they fall short by eight runs.

Game 25 – Deccan Chargers vs. Rajasthan Royals

Forget the result, forget the fielding lapses towards the end, the un-moment of this game is the decision that sent Lee Carseldine back to the dug-out. Ever heard of anyone being dismissed bat before wicket? And then there is the man of the match decision. Not Abhishek Raut?

Game 26 – Chennai Super Kings vs. Delhi Daredevils

There must a reason elders advice us not to look the gift horse in the mouth. Well as the CSK spinners bowl, DD is still in a good position after the 17th over, needing 36 to win in 3 overs with Dinesh Karthik going well. Karthik goes for a big heave off the first ball of the 18th, but manages to find the fielder. Luckily for him, Badrinath muffs the chance. Considering he got his boundary off the first ball, you would expect Karthik to use a bit of discretion? No, he chances his arm again, but finds a more sure-footed Muralitharan. Game over for DD.

Game 27 – Kolkata Knight Riders vs. King’s XI Punjab

Not one, not two, but so many spilled catches and missed run-outs – KKR looking absolutely abysmal on the field. The last-ball finish suggests a tightness that wasn’t quite there. This was a match of un-moments for KKR.

Game 28 – Mumbai Indians vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore

The un-moment of this game probably belonged to all those commentators and their pre-match predictions. Who would’ve predicted RCB would steamroll MI so brutally? A nine-wicket victory with 11 balls to spare? Come on now, stop dreaming.

Game 29 – Chennai Super Kings vs. Deccan Chargers

It’s a game that almost sent Sivamani into depression as the clatter of wickets either side of DC’s 4th wicket partnership is so loud it almost drowns out his drum beats.

Game 30 – King’s XI Punjab vs. Rajasthan Royals

The game KXP lost in the first over. Yuvraj imagines that he best captains by blindly following the moves of the more cerebral leaders. So he opens the bowling with spin, in the form of the portly Ramesh Powar. Six balls and sixteen runs later, there is going to be only one winner in this game.

Game 31 – Delhi Daredevils vs. Kolkata Knight Riders

Another non-fielding day for KKR, and they snapped pretty early in their defence of a rather respectable 154. Ishant Sharma’s second over goes for 17, with shoddy fielding displays from Sourav Ganguly and Ashok Dinda neatly complementing three boundary deliveries. Dinda is so upset he goes for a six off the first ball of the next over and KKR is in familiar territory all over again.

Game 32 – Deccan Chargers vs. Mumbai Indians

Concede a hat-trick to Rohit Sharma, and how are you likely to feel?

Game 33 – Royal Challengers Bangalore vs. Rajasthan Royals

If you lose to RR without Yusuf Pathan playing any role of significance, then you must’ve played really badly. Summed up by the dismissal of Rahul Dravid, caught down the leg-side off the glove for a duck. Coming as it did in the middle of a slide, it only hastened RCB’s collapse.

Game 34 – Chennai Super Kings vs. King’s XI Punjab

You may call it MS Dhoni’s moment, but I choose to call it KXP’s un-moment. They have just smashed Albie Morkel for 19 runs in an over and need a tough but gettable 43 off 24 balls, with Yuvraj Singh and Mahela Jayawardene at the crease. Dhoni tosses the ball to Suresh Raina, and the KXP heavyweights manage just four singles in the over. The game has swung decisively this time.

Game 35 – Delhi Daredevils vs. Mumbai Indians

A sorry total of 116 all out in 20 overs, two wickets in the first over including a run-out, all this was preceded by Mumbai’s big mis-move – Sachin Tendulkar not opening the innings. By betraying his lack of confidence (in himself as also in his middle-order), he also exposes the in-form JP Duminy up at the top. If ever proof was needed that Sachin is not a great captain…

Game 36 – Deccan Chargers vs. King’s XI Punjab

The man who came back. And scored a potentially match-winning 60 not out off 36 balls. And turned the match by conceding 20 runs off his solitary over. Andrew Symonds does take long to make this list.

Game 37 – Chennai Super Kings vs. Rajasthan Royals

It is a rather sedate game, the two champion teams boxing from the margins, more playing each other’s captains than the situation or the conditions. RR score a moderate 140 off their 20 overs. CSK chase steadily, inching up to a situation where they need 44 off 30 balls. Gettable, but by no means a done deal. The other Shane, Harwood, then delivers the killer punch. He runs into an unusually aggressive Badrinath, concedes 20 runs off the over, and hands the game over to CSK.

Game 38 – Mumbai Indians vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore

Chasing a challenging but gettable 158 to win, RCB are never in the race. That they score more than ten runs off an over only three times (and the third of these was the 16 in the last over when they required 33) in the entire innings sum up their approach. And then they have a problem if people call them a test team.

Game 39 – Delhi Daredevils vs. Kolkata Knight Riders

I don’t remember what happened in this game. Does anyone watch KKR matches nowadays?

Game 40 – Deccan Chargers vs. Rajasthan Royals

It is a comfortable victory for DC in the end, but for a large part of the game when DC is batting, the game is evenly poised. At the end of 17 overs, they are 130 for 5, not disastrous but hardly imposing either. One more wicket could’ve meant a chase of about 150 for RR. Siddharth Trivedi comes in, Venugopal Rao pulls a short one, Abhishek Raut misfields, a boundary results. The over goes for 17 and DC motor away to 166, a decisive score in the ultimate analysis.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

IPL 2: The first 20 games

A quick look at the key moments in each of the first 20 games of IPL 2.

Game 1 – Chennai Super Kings vs. Mumbai Indians

Yes, Sachin Tendulkar and Abhishek Nayar batted well. Yes, Harbhajan Singh bowled a teasing spell to introduce spin into the tournament, but the moment of the game was Matthew Hayden dropping a sitter off Andrew Flintoff. It was Freddie’s first over in the IPL, MI were just 33 for none in 4.4 overs, and catches don’t come easier than that. As it turned out, Sachin went on to score an unbeaten 59, MI finished on 165 for 7 to win by 19 runs and Freddie returned figures of 1 for 44 off 4. He was to go worse later, but this was certainly as inauspicious a start as he could’ve had.

Game 2 – Rajasthan Royals vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore

If the runners-up lost in the first game, it was the turn of the defending champions now. And when a team gets bundled out for 58 in 15.4 overs, it’s hard to pick one bad moment. It was batting of the highest ineptitude from Shane Warne’s boys. But if I were to pick one event, I would pick the 20th over of the RCB innings. Praveen Kumar nabs Rahul Dravid’s wicket, but then gets hit for two successive boundaries off the last two balls. This coupled with the six Dravid hit earlier and a couple of runs elsewhere meant that RCB had 16 runs off the last over. While the total was still a meagre 133 for 8, it gave RCB just a wee bit of momentum. Before the rails came apart in the RR batting.

Game 3 – Delhi Daredevils vs. Kings XI Punjab

A truncated game in the truncated version of the game is hardly meaningful, but the powers-that-be deign it so and so it shall be. Daniel Vettori’s spell surely turned the game around for DD, but I reckon KXP threw it away in over no. 11, when they lost three wickets, two to run outs. Reminded me of the way the Englishmen play their one-day cricket.

Game 4 – Deccan Chargers vs. Kolkata Knight Riders

Notwithstanding their cricket, KKR have perhaps been the most written about team in the tournament. And fittingly enough, they started with an inglorious performance, not least exemplified by an innings of spectacular ineptness from ex-captain Sourav Ganguly – one run of 12 balls. The one over in which Fidel Edwards ran circles around him was a YouTube moment of great bowling meets not-so-great batting. However, rumours that John Buchanan sent a bouquet to Harmeet Singh for dismissing Ganguly are grossly exaggerated.

Game 5 – Chennai Super Kings vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore

After their first matches, this was expected to be a close contest, but when CSK bludgeoned their way to 179 for 5 off 20 overs (though they looked good for more), things looked tight for RCB. And then they sealed their own fate with a classic anti-strategy: they sent a virtual non-batsman in Praveen Kumar as a pinch-hitting opener. He lasted precisely three balls, and predictably RCB never recovered, not from his dismissal but from their own muddled thinking. The game was also characterised by two exquisite reciprocal moments. KP Pietersen brought himself on in the 11th over of the CSK innings and picked up a wicket off his first ball. And when he came in to bat, he was taken out first ball by Muthiah Muralitharan. Noblesse oblige?

Game 6 – King’s XI Punjab vs. Kolkata Knight Riders

Yuvraj Singh’s bad luck with the weather continued as this turned out to be another truncated game. And since someone had to win, KKR did. But KXP could’ve still fancied their chances if only Karan Goel had held on to a sitter from Chris Gayle. KKR were on a mere seven of 10 balls and Gayle had barely wound up. Which he promptly did with two sixes and two fours in the next three overs.

Game 7 – Mumbai Indians vs. Rajasthan Royals

As one of the commentators rather inanely remarked, Lalit Modi apparently had a conference call with the rain gods but couldn’t convince them to hold off. A washed out game gave the defending champions their first points in this edition of the tournament.

Game 8 – Deccan Chargers vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore

After letting DC run away to 184 for 6 off 20 overs, one would’ve expected RCB to show some urgency and momentum in their chase. But when they lost their third wicket for 38, they had already consumed 7.2 overs, which prompted cricinfo to comment, ‘Rahul Dravid walks out to save the follow-on.’ It certainly looked that grim out there.

Game 9 – Chennai Super Kings vs. Delhi Daredevils

That this was perhaps the first real batting slugfest of the event was a sufficient downer. But when Chennai reached up to 156 for 4 in 15.5 chasing 190, they looked in command. That is when Andrew Flintoff did the rather English thing of getting out when just ahead, and all Albie Morkel could do was watch helplessly as a spate of run outs crash-halted the CSK chase. After going for 50 runs off his four overs earlier, Freddie really was so not the man of the moment here.

Game 10 – Kolkata Knight Riders vs. Rajasthan Royals

The first super-over in the competition, this was a game filled with anti-moments. KKR had no business losing this game, but they contrived to do so quite successfully. Munaf Patel did his best to lose it for RR. With KKR struggling a wee bit at 107 for 5 off 15.5 overs and needing a further 44 off 25 balls, Patel managed to concede 13 runs off one ball, a no-ball six and a free-hit six by Sourav Ganguly. However, KKR repaid the compliment when Yashpal Singh perished in a needless death-or-glory shot with eight runs required off eight balls. Surely KKR couldn’t lose from there, he thought. Well, they did manage to knot themselves up and just about managed to tie the game. And then came the super-over and a decisive anti-moment. Now why exactly would you let Ajantha Mendis bowl the super-over to that butcher Yusuf Pathan? Especially when you have the pace of Ishant Sharma in your team? Did Buchanan and his captains forget that an over meant only one over?

Game 11 – Kings XI Punjab vs Royal Challengers Bangalore

Admittedly, RCB should have posted a larger total than the 168 they ultimately managed, losing five wickets in three overs towards the end. However, they could’ve still made a fist of it if Rahul Dravid had not made a mess of a simple chance from Kumar Sangakkara. KXP were 59 for 1 in the 8th over and Sanga held on long enough to set the game up for Ravi Bopara and Yuvraj to finish it off. And oh yes, an Englishman finally played a role in a victory. No no, I don’t mean that was an un-moment.

Game 12 – Deccan Chargers vs. Mumbai Indians

It’s a game that will perhaps make the strategic break famous. Sachin was motoring along, as were MI, closing in on 84 for 1 off 10, needing a further 85. But come over no. 11, and Sachin looked tentative. He almost got out off the first ball, edged the second for a single, nearly yorked himself off the third and then perished off the fourth, scooping the ball to extra-cover. Mumbai came apart from thereon and ended up managing just 72 runs in the second tranche of 10 overs.

Game 13 – Chennai Super Kings vs. Kolkata Knight Riders

KKR actually did not lose this game. The game was rained off.

Game 14 – Delhi Daredevils vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore

This was a classic anti-game for Jacques Kallis. Why he agreed to open the innings we will perhaps never know, and why he shouldered arms first ball to Dirk Nannes today Kallis himself will perhaps never know. As if that were not bad enough, Kallis also bowled what was possibly the decisive over in the chase. With the match evenly poised, DD requiring 43 off 24 balls, Kallis comes in and concedes 19 runs. Unfortunate he was because one dropped catch translated into a boundary and then a mis-field led to a further boundary. But it was that kind of a day for the South African all-rounder, as he complemented his first ball duck with figures of none for 37 off three overs. His sister wouldn’t have cheered.

Game 15 –Kings XI Punjab vs. Rajasthan Royals

When a team gets restricted to 112 for 7 off 20 overs chasing a rather modest 140 for victory, it is tempting to ascribe some splendid semi-defensive bowling to the winning team. Well as Yuvraj’s team bowled, they were helped by another inept performance from the RR batsmen. Smith looked so out of sorts you wonder why they don’t drop him, the rest of the top order batted as if Irfan Pathan was a left-armed Curtly Ambrose and in the ultimate analysis, even 112 was a flattering score for RR, considering they were six down for 42. Ravindra Jadeja and Shane Warne had some batting practice as the game was long over.

Game 16 – Chennai Super Kings vs. Deccan Chargers

When a team is chasing a rather competitive 166 for victory, and you get a sense that they’ve got the game sewn up after just two overs, what do you make of it? That’s precisely what happened in this game. Adam Gilchrist started off rather sedately with a brace and a brace of boundaries in the first over and then a single. In the second over, Gilly turned the strike over to Gibbs, who after warming up with a boundary, endured a dot ball and a wide before hitting Manpreet Gony for a six and two more boundaries. Two overs, 31 runs, game in the bag. Needless to mention, Gony had no further role to play in the game, he had done his bit.

Game 17 –Kolkata Knight Riders vs. Mumbai Indians

In a game involving KKR, it’s tough to isolate moments of ignominy – they surely are putting in a team effort. If Ganguly’s 16-run over was a depth of misery, the systematic plundering of 28 runs from Mendis’ first two overs was decisive. Not to be left out, Chris Gayle conceded 14 runs off his first over. As for KKR’s batting… what batting?

Game 18 – Delhi Daredevils vs. Rajasthan Royals

Yusuf Pathan finally came good for RR and some one finally got the measure of Daniel Vettori, but the un-performance of this match, strangely enough, comes from the winning team. While Graeme Smith did well to hang around until the end, that he made just 44 runs off 46 balls (yes, a sub-100 strike rate) was telling. He scratched around a bit in the beginning, and one got the feeling he was not hanging around because he knew Yusuf was getting the runs; he just couldn’t do any better.

Game 19 – Kolkata Knight Riders vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore

Another game where both teams tried to lose, but since the rules demand otherwise, only one could. To take all but one ball to chase 140 is almost a defeat, but then if the opponent is KKR, can you lose even if you try? The low point of this game? Well, it was the very first ball of the innings. In a splendid show of confidence in his bowling attack, KP opens the bowling himself. And in the classic spirit of sportsmanship, the opposition skipper obliges, getting out first ball. After that, the match continued only because the organisers dictated so.

Game 20 – King’s XI Punjab vs. Mumbai Indians

Probably the most thrilling low-scoring game of the event so far, with both teams failing to achieve even a run-a-ball score. Very clearly, almost no MI batsman came to the party except JP Duminy. But in the cruel game cricket is, JP also qualifies for the down moment of the game. He brought Mumbai to the brink, a not-so-impossible seven runs off three balls. And this is when he perished, mowing the ball straight down to cow corner.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

IPL 2: Back to cricket

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.