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.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

IPL 2: My picks

It begins today, the second edition of the Indian Professional League. One of my teams ought to win. I come from Tamil Nadu, so the Chennai Super Kings is my team. I live in Mumbai, so the Mumbai Indians are not a bad lot in my books. I spent long years in Bangalore, so the Bangalore Royal Challengers don't put me off. Quite a bit of my family is in Hyderabad, so the Deccan Chargers won't offend me if they win. I like defending champions, so the Rajasthan Royals are on. And if one of the others win, well, I always love the underdog.

Will IPL 2 go the way of most sequels? Or will it turn out like Godfather? The next month will tell us. Follow me on @cow_corner as I try to twitter my way through the slam-bang event.