If anything has to be read into the first 10 days of this edition of the IPL juggernaut, it’s definitely turning into a “Captaincy” special edition. While we did see fielding standards escalating to another stratosphere, and last ball photo-finishes almost becoming a norm, the thing that is becoming evident is the enhanced role that a captain plays in setting the mood of the team and having an impact on the little nuances of the game.
As we take a glance at the points table as of today (14th April 2013), it clearly has a bottom of the table contender, but there is no clarity of who is a clear leader. We do have the Mumbai Indians on top, and if we go by the way the edition is shaping up, there is very little to differentiate them from the others following. I say this, because still there are more than 10 games per team to be played, and a lot of water has to flow. Rameez Raja, made a point in the Extra Innings, yesterday that the deserving top teams are making a surge for the top 4 slots, I agree, ever so small but a definite surge there.
However, when I look back at the 10 days, the few things that catch my eye are as under:
- Fielding: A matter of immense personal delight. I am amazed and chuffed with the fielding capability displayed especially by the Indian Contingent, and especially the uncapped lot. While we tend to get enamored by the “classic” catches, and of course that stunner from Gurkirat Mann (signature of IPL6), it is the ground fielding that has impressed me no end – this I say looking at the number of last ball finishes (or the narrow margin jailbreaks) that we have had. There have been the regulation howlers too, but overall all the hard work put in by the respective fielding support system is definitely paying rich dividends. Mumbai Indians stand tall here – Certain J Rhodes, has been working diligently with this lot, and this season (till now), he will be feeling tremendously broad chested with pride. They are burning the field with their anticipation, athleticism, intensity and agility. Beyond, IPL these are great wins for India Cricket as a whole.
- Indian Quotient: I have always maintained, the recipe for success in IPL isn’t who you have in terms of your foreign players, it is the other 7 Indian Players – who decide how good you are. The foreign players must be over and above, picked with specific abilities to add to the zing of the teams. So teams, writing strategies that revolve around certain foreign players are finding themselves increasingly stuck with their backs to the wall (If those certain foreign players don’t come good, or worse when they are non performing captains). Angelo Mathews, is a classic case. It is a gross mistake for the Pune outfit to keep the most tactically and ability wise adept T20 player Smith, warming the bench because the captain cannot be dropped. This is where the team think tank gets it wrong, and gets too dazzled by the foreign brilliance and doesn’t pay much attention on the Indian composition. Look at the teams which are doing well,
- Mumbai Indians – Sachin, DK, Rohit, Rayudu, Munaf, Bhajji, Ojha and that new kid R Dhawan. That is a strong Indian lineup. Now look at their foreign bench – Ponting (Picked purely for his intensity and leadership – don’t be surprised if he doesn’t do too much with the bat, but the way he has fired this unit up, that’s what he was hired for), Pollard (All round pro – multiple capabilities), Mitchell Johnson (Fast & swing bowling), Malinga (You know what!). We always knew MI can be a deadly force to reckon with, only if they have good leadership – Ricky fills in that void. This is the best they have looked ever.
- For the little they have played KXIP, have shown some promise in their Indian section. Dependence on Gilly, Hussey, Mehmood etc still remain – yet the Vohras, Manns, Mandeeps, Praveens etc. have shown some spunk in their first game. This is a team always known for some late surge then missing the play offs by one win. If their young and relatively unknown bench can turn up some good performances, who knows they might just about push their stake by a notch or two.
- Not much to write for CSK, their repeated successes over the years is because they probably are the best balanced side, with the Indian side being more stable and capable with the foreign players adding to this stability.
- RR: Rajasthan, too have done reasonably well till now based on their Indian quotient – Dravid, Rahane, Binny, Sreesanth, Menaria, Shukla, Trivedi etc. While Hodge, Cooper, Badree too have come to the party, and Watto is yet to fire, it is the Indian side of things, that have pushed the envelope.
- Sunrisers: Its heartening to see the opportunity provided to unknown entities like the Reddys (Akshat and Aashish), Hanu Vihari and its doubly pleasing to see them grasping these chances with both hands. Ishant, Parthiv and Mishra have been doing their bit to give Sanga, White, Perera and Steyn the required support. That makes this outfit strong. They have looked to be a bit thin in batting, but the key would/could/should be the return of Shikhar Dhawan. That, Shikhar will be a different player after that unforgettable test debut is a given. Uber point to note is the composure the team is showing. Under the older owners they looked heavily under pressure. Also the think tank had too many non-performing assets. It certainly looks like the team is enjoying in this new avatar. Touchwood!
- RCB is a peculiar case. They have put their eggs in few baskets and hoping their rockstars to come good. This may be a deadly trap, if the punt doesn’t click. Their Indian bench look thin (as we found with RP yesterday). Pujara’s absence is felt. But with The Karthiks (Arun and Murali) not bringing in too much value, Mayank, RP, Syed etc. blowing hot and cold, there’s too much pressure on Kohli and Vinay.
And, for the ones that are faltering – KKR, Pune Warriors & DD: Woeful performances from the Indians till now have resulted in their present table positions.
It isn’t rocket science. Its pure logic or say mathematics – 7 is greater than 4. I do understand the focus to get those 4 right – maximum bang for the buck, but to severely underrate the 7 – cardinal sin. Going forward it’s the names like – Yuvraj, Tiwary, PAthan Brothers, Chand, return of Shikhar Dhawan, Chet Pujara etc. that will have a reasonable impact on the tournament.
- Pushing 40 – More than amazement, this is matter of pure admiration, respect and delight. To see Dravid slugging it out with the bat and on the field, Ponting drenched in sweat throwing himself and screaming his gut out, Gilly all fired up, Mehmood squeezing out every drop of talent from his armory, Hodge continuing with his precision-ary role of ultimate mercenary, The Hussey brothers dogged, determined and disciplined…. They surely aren’t the Papa’s army. They are hardened professionals who mean business. They in fact seem to be better prepared and in the mood for the tournament. Their professionalism is a lesson to be learnt by everyone. They are here to justify the dollar invested in them. Their fitness, cricketing prowess, astute thinking, and overall intensity is adding a very unique charm to the competition, and somewhere igniting the fire to pull out the playing boots amongst all those 40 year olds (Add Hoggy to that list), who do have a lucrative career option here – only if they are willing to work hard. Dravid giving up the comfy commentators chair to go and get in shape for IPL (that too couple of months back) – is a lesson for the likes of Sehwag, Nehra, Gambhir, who for the last 2 years haven’t been able to find that corner where they dropped/lost their form.
- Captaincy: Ponting, Dhoni, Kohli, Dravid, and Sanga – a lot has happened in their corners, the way they have led their sides. Their own involvement and performances notwithstanding – it is their personality and inspiration that has made their teams evolve into their own. I am tempted to put Gambhir in the list, for his team always endorses his brand of leadership as an effective one (And I agree too), yet I shall underline it once they start winning. For the moment, Gauti looks a bit lost – all that fired up exterior’s alright, but have often seen him running like a headless chicken. (With his Indian players not coming good, he is feeling the heat). Almost seems, he is waiting for someone to pull him out with a dazzle of brilliance. For the Rest – Gilly – early days, Mahela – he simply doesn’t have the team yet he has been trying his level best to get that unit fired up (again the problem with DD is there are too many Sehwag cronies there, and their outlook is very similar to their mentor’s – scanty respect for fitness, discipline etc. Difficult to get such souls stirred up) & Angelo (this one is a purely bad choice as captain. He may be a good skipper material for Lanka, but for an outfit as diverse at PWI, he isn’t the choice. He clearly looks not in control.
Captaincy has been a critical cog since edition one (Warne, Giclhrist, MSD, Gambhir) and it will be the same this year too. Glad to see MI and RCB have found themselves a long term solution in this space. Augurs well for them. RR looks stable under Dravid (Question is will they sustain). For the 3 SL captains, they are the handicap for their teams when they play in Chennai – as they sit out to fulfil Amma’s ego-friendly thirst. (Commentators have been mulling over the question of should foreigners be the captains – My take is, they should if they are the best candidates, or if they have been hired with that in mind. For captaincy isn’t just a role to fill that can be done by any Indian? Case in point, Bhajji captaining MI. Didn’t work, did it?. You need specialists. Sometimes, these selections can be beyond just personal performances – Captaincy can be a specific hired skills, e.g. Ponting. And once selected the Captain needs to be given the mandate – “you are the leader for the season, do it your way”. A good captain will work hard to “lead” the team, and the team will love it being led. Dinesh Karthik’s emergence as the deadly #3 is a testimony of how much he is loving it playing under Ponting. So are the others. The smiles on MI player’s faces indicate what the skipper has done to them. Even Mitchell Johnson, who had lost his inswing under Clarke and others, has rediscovered it under Ponting. Lot to read there. If MI go onto win the summit, Ambanis will have to cut a big performance cheque for the Punter).
What Virat and Gambhir will need a bit more is their composure, especially when they are under the pump. At present their “wearing my heart on the sleeve” demeanor is causing a few butter fingers at crucial moments.
- Team Persona: This one was noticed by my Wife (an Ardent Cricket watcher, herself). She opined that gradually all the teams have started resembling the personality of their Owners…hmm. Let’s see:
- RCB: Flamboyance, Live life king size – Gayle, Kohli, De Villiers, it’s like an endless party
- CSK: Closely knit, In their own world, stable running corporation – India Cements
- KXIP – Unsure, Praying to god – make something happen, fragmented at times
- RR: Conservative, Calculative, High on planning/strategizing, Resourcefulness – Manoj Badale & co (Ignore the Shilpa connection, she doesn’t even know what’s happening in the team. The real owners are Badale)
- PuneWarriors – Lost
- MI – Big names, Ruling the roost with sheer might of personality and power (10/11 players international players), Money can buy everything – Ambanis. Reliance
- KKR – Wearing their hearts on the sleeve, almost saying a massive “Up Yours” to the world at large… “I am the king” syndrome. You know who I am indicating there.
Funny, but this is so true. When it all started, the thinking was, the owners will just be owners. Sit in a corner and hope (pray) they make money out of it – like umpteen sports team owners across the globe. But this is a great case study how much the thinking and persona of the ownership rubs off in architecting a team’s shape and individuality. Uncanny… huh?
These are still early days. The table will (it better!), undergo massive churn. There are still some players who haven’t made their appearance, who are nursing some tendons/cartilages somewhere. A lot what’s expressed here, might get thrown out of the window soon. Yet, it’s fascinating to see so much already emerging in this edition of this wonderful caravan.
To top it all, the fan has been the real star. Every year they turn up in truckloads, showing a prominent middle finger to the mid-summer heat. Every game, has registered a full house, with the aisles infested with crazy cricketing hearts, rooting for their city. Somewhere, my heart goes out to the naysayers from the early years of IPL who had bravely predicted – fans will find it difficult to embrace this city based loyalty – I hope the Pie is humble and yummy!