Friday, May 16, 2008

IPL ---- the mid season review


After my first post on IPL , even before it started, I think its time for a mid-season review. However, the flurry of matches and the rate of six-hitting doesnt permit me the liberty of an exhaustive review. Rather lets hold an awards function a.k.a the Oscars (or the Raspberry awards in some cases... ). We'll discuss the nominees on the way and eventually decide who is the winner under each category.

16. Best Venue : Well, this will always be a tough one to judge in India. Because the crowds throng the stadiums most places and they support their home team almost with fanaticism ( ya, even in Bangalore). But my top 2 candidates will be the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai and the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. The latter has been well entrenched in Indian cricket folklore with some memorable moments but the DY Patil facility at Mumbai came as a real good surprise, with people not only thronging the stadium even though it is far from the city centre but the even the authorities (read Lalit Modi ) placing faith in the wonderful facility by asking them to host the IPL final. The Eden, on the other hand, can boast of the most partisan crowd in the league and the frenzy of a 60,000 strong crowd can not be imagined let alone matched by some of those purists watching the New Zealand-England test match at Lord's. However the pitch at Eden for their first match against Deccan Chargers was a howler and hence a major drawback for the ground... Hence the Best Venue Award goes to the DY Patil Sports Stadium, Mumbai.

15. Best Cheerleaders : This is a potentially inflammable one.... and controversial too. Firstly, does Shahrukh Khan also count as Knight Riders' cheerleader (because then there's no competition then..) and not to forget the cultural police, with their raised brows, who have potentially stifled the competition with calls for bhangra and bharatnatyam in place of cheer girls. However, once you remove all these superficial contenders (including the proposed bar dancers for mumbai cheering squad..thanks but no thanks) the winner is the Royal Challengers Bangalore with the Washington Redskins being flown in for them. Mr. Mallya is surely the king of Good Times and he knows how to spread the joy. Infact the only high (pun intended!!) point of the RCB campaign has been the cheerleaders. More on that later.

14. Best Team Owner : Well Shahrukh Khan can legally participate in this one. Infact he would be a front runner, with all his energy oozing into the Eden garden crowd and his over the top celebration at Eden, after their victory over Delhi, lulling most into the belief that his team just won the league. Unfortunately, most other owners haven't had the panache neither the intent to match up to him (can they, even if they want ?). Preity's comment that her involvement is restricted to appearing at the stadium for every match doesn't earn her any brownie points with the awards and other corporate buyers have displayed no special flair at it. Infact, Mr. Mallya's chances slipped dramatically after the foot-in-mouth syndrome hit him and he started washing all that dirty linen in public. However, my pick for the Best Owner will be Mr. Mukesh Ambani of the Mumbai Indians. He hasn't been shy of spending the money, has kept his mouth shut very wisely while his team lost, patiently waited for his captain to come back and has been there most often to support his team on weekends or has been represented by his family. So the Best Owner for me is certainly Mr. Ambani.

13. Best Presenter: No this is not for the good ones, which means Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri are automatically excluded. However without these two and their wonderful skills at presentation the award has no takers unless you are looking for a one-eyed jack in a pack of blind people. Throw in a television channel which is more bothered about airing commercials than letting us know what is the decision of the third umpire and we have a complete package of incompetent people stepping up to microphone. The regularly references of unearthing young talent at IPL ( even for Rajat Bhatia who is 28 and has played 8 first class seasons), the irritating mentions of those obnoxious moments-of-success and ya, not to forget the cheer leader act the presenters get started with. Sometimes you wish that we could just put the TV on mute and watch the game alone. And to see Harsha Bhogle sit in one of the dugouts, I really feel he could have made himself more useful. I reserve my judgement on this.

12. Best Controversy: I would be doubting your IQ if asked you for nominees on this. Even though Shane Warne and Sourav Ganguly tried their bit at getting in reckoning, the original spoilt brats showed them their right place. And hence, this award goes to Bhajji and Sreesanth for the Slapgate. Just to vindicate my choice, I can say that Bhajji has put Sreesanth on the right track with his mouth sealed shut (ok..compared to his past) and mind on the game, while Sreesanth's little schoolboy-robbed-of-his-comics trick has finally made BCCI see Bhajji for what he is and the threat of a life-ban should really make the gentleman think twice before even opening his mouth.

11. The Critics Award for Best Bestman: This award basically means you are good enough for Test Cricket and just that. You are not fit for T20 and stay away from it if you don't want your ego bruised. And yet inspite of what you think, the award doesn't go to Rahul Dravid. That goes to VVS Laxman. Not so much for a chink in his Very Very Special armory of shots but because we are pained to see him labor for runs in a fashion as alien to him as a pasta is to my grandmother. Go on VVS, we'll still love you for what you have done to the Aussies. This is just not worth it. As for Rahul Dravid, that's a different story altogether and I think that has got nothing to with his batting.

10. Best Youngster/Young Talent (Indians alone!!! ): If I hadn't declared this category, I would be crucified for not having appreciated the main aim of IPL , to develop the young cricketing talent in India. This category has many nominees too because in India it takes only one good performance to be hailed as the next-big-thing. Also, Piyush Chawla can not be considered for this, can he ? Manpreet Gony would have done his chances well had he not fed Jayasurya those sumptuous balls outside off the other day and Amit Mishra despite his 5-for is a one-match wonder (and his 31 against Kolkata came when they were really not in the game). My pick will be Dhaval Kulkarni, who has bowled wonderfully in a team with Pollock and Dwayne Bravo. Pity that the team is doing not so well at this time but then they certainly have the talent to do much better.

9. Best Turnaround : We all talk about the vagaries of the shortest form of the game and hence, here is one dedicated to that. Nominees in this category include the Royal Challengers Bangalore for snatching defeat from jaws of victory against Chennai, Shane Warne for his 17 run burst in the final over of Symonds and the Nayar-Harbhajan assault which nearly brought Chennai down to their knees. However, the winner according to me is the Shoaib Akhtar show not only for its sensational display for pacy bowling but also for showing the strength of the human resolve. To be destined to the gallows only to rise up and deliver a Man-of-the-Match performance, revives the era of Botham, who came back from ban to capture the Ashes in the 80s. There is only one thing I need to ask Shoaib here. "Dude, who writes your script ?"

8. Best "Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag" : This is an award for the most evident disaster of the IPL. One which was foreseen yet acted out and has been cried foul over for quite some time now. No prizes for guessing this one. The Royal Challengers Bangalore take this one hands down. And I have no other competitor for them. Pity, a team with Kallis, Dravid, Misbah and Boucher had to land up with this but then a team with Jaffer, Sunil Joshi, Kumble and club-level local talent can't ask for anything more.

7. Best Surprise Package: I so very nearly gave this one away to the Deccan Chargers. Given their team and the nature of the game, one would have thought that they sat with the powers-that-be to frame the T20 rules. And they really have surprised us by managing to not qualify for the semis and going out of the race so early. Again highlights the view that cricket is a team game and can not be sustained by individual brilliance all the time. A point which does eventually bring us to the winner of this award, the Rajasthan Royals. A team with few big names and "Pathan's brother" (as if he aint a Pathan himself!!), it was destined for the last spot even before the IPL started and if it hasn't proved everyone wrong then it hasn't done anything in the tournament.

6. Best Individual Innings: Now that the trivial is out of the way, lets get on with the biggies (as if the players give 2 cents about winning or losing!!!). This one has to be one of the centuries but which one. Gilly's special effort was welcomed but not unexpected while Jayasurya just had to set the law of averages in order. Hussey had a tailormade pitch in Mohali for himself and Symonds had no one else to blame for letting his century go away in vain. So that gives us our winner. Brendon McCullum played a innings which put the pyrotechnic show to shame. Cometh the hour and cometh the innings at a place that has been attributed with the worst pitch apart from the worst team itself. We all knew he could play but just how well was in question. Did he answer that or what!!

5. Best All-rounder : What exactly classifies as an allrounder will always be shrouded under clouds but according to my whole judgement I am going give this award to MS Dhoni. Gone are the days when a keeper was a keeper today he has to be a batsman too. So unlike the batsman-who-can-bowl and bowler-who-can-bat concept, here is the player who bats and keeps well. Keeping to the guile of Murali has been accomplished wonderfully, an achievement surpassed by his batting, which inspite of glaring technical glitches as one Mr. Warne will tell you, has taken him to the top 5 batsmen list. Add to that the captaincy hat and then you understand why he is the costliest player to be bought in the auction. Captains are made but leaders are born and when Matthew Hayden calls him a great captain you just shut up and listen. And ya, sorry Shane Watson I really wanted to give you this one but then this was one of those photo finish races, if that is of any consolation.

4. Best Bowler: This award's winner can really walk with his head held high because T20 expects bowlers to be nothing more than the passing references, while we harp about the batsmen's heroics. However, when Irfan Pathan bowls you know who is the protagonist in the act. The talent was never in question but what was probably missing was the heart, a lion's at that, to survive in this heavily unbalanced game. Now with his mind and run-up in the right place he has shot right up to the top of the wicket takers list with an economy which is under 7. First up, he has swung it to scare batsmen mortally and in the slog overs, he has mixed it well enough to escape the fate of other bowlers. We can safely say that he is the best bowler in business when it comes to taking telling wickets and keeping their cost down. How this contest would have ended had Brett Lee stayed back is for us to ponder over. Did anyone whisper IPL window ?

3. Best Batsman: This is the toughest. No answer will make all happy and I agree everyone has already made up their mind on this but then these are my awards and I'll go ahead and give to Shaun Marsh. I don't care if he is a long way behind Gauti but then he has also played only half the number of matches as Gauti and his team's fortune has closely followed his own batting career in IPL. Admittedly, I dont know much about the guy's Aussie exploits but looking at him bat I can imagine he would be a force to reckon with wherever he goes. His handling of Murali was good and if it is any indication of the guy being Mohali's Atlas, then it was his dismissal that triggered their defeat against Chennai. Oh ya !! who would have won if Hayden, Hussey and Symonds had stayed back? An Aussie certainly but why is this IPL window chorus echoing around me !!!

2. Best Captain: Shane Warne hands down. I wont even pretend I had any other nominee even though MSD was awesome, Pollock inspiring and Sehwag tactful. That is because Shane was all these three and more, rolled into one. The surprise element, the clever change of bowlers and sudden shifts of the batting order have all paid off for the gambler. The junior members in his squad have almost taken to idol worship, not speak of the profuse words of praise from foe-turned-friend Graeme Smith. If the selection of Asnodkar was a brilliant then promoting Yusuf Pathan as opener against Deccan was a master piece. He has handled the fragile Shane Watson brilliantly and when the time for finishing off things came he put his hand up and snatched 17 runs from a Symonds over to get an unlikely victory. As has already been debated, maybe he is the greatest captain Australia, nay, world cricket never had a chance to watch in action. And ya, if I had missed out on this, he has bowling well too.... as one Vijay Takawale and he'll tell you all about it.

1. Best Team: The daddy of all awards. Should it blindly belong to the table topper. Maybe not. But certainly among one the top 4 deserves it. Chennai have started deceiving after flattering earlier and the fourth position is too unclear to get a single nomination. So Mohali and Rajasthan are at logger heads for this. Mohali have ridden on their big performers. The best bowler is from Mohali and so is the best batsmen, add to that Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Yuvraj, Sreesanth and you ought to have the best team in the tourney, which not only has the weight in the resumes but also performances on field to prove. But then look at the Royals, poor souls, being the cheapest franchise, Warne doubling up as their coach and a motley crew of local talent resembling almost a Lagaan-like story. It is to this Cinderella story of the victorious underdog that I give my best team award. Its a romantic story to say the least that has created heroes out of mortals and made huge marks on the psyche of the Indian cricket fan. That in the presence of all the bigwigs, the well equipped, the well cash-stacked franchises, this team has managed to get to the top of the tables with proper application of cricketing knowledge, shrewd captaincy and urge to succeed. I dont care who goes on to win the IPL from here on but even at the end of the IPL it will take some serious brain storming to unseat Royals from the Best Team position.

And hence ends the list of my mid-season IPL awards. Surprisingly, no Tendulkar, no Ganguly and no Ricky Ponting make to any of the lists but then we still have significant contributions from McGrath, Jayasurya, Pollock reminding us of the old adage "Class is permanent and Form temporary". Hopefully by the time the season ends we'll have many new contenders for the good ones and the ugly ones will be happily discontinued due to lack of nominations...
Till then I deliver my verdict in favour of IPL, which with all its brazen marketing and branding has indeed come up trumps this time!!!!

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