Tuesday, April 25, 2017

IPL 2017: Glam, Scam & Sixes in Kohli-Era

Already half-way through the tournament, IPL 2017 has kept its promise. From discovering the Next-Gen cricketers to presiding over record-breaking events, the ongoing edition of the IPL has been a tad different from its predecessors. The media and critics have found no reason (so far) to castigate the cash-rich league on the usual villainy associated with it. Rather, the tournament has managed to enthrall audiences with its proclivity for nail-biting sub-plots and irresistible pre-match build-ups. 

The IPL has solidified its claim of being the mother lode of thrilling climaxes, largely thanks to the cinema industry's waning capability for a thumping script. The Eden Gardens faithful were treated to a sumptuous rasgulla as their skipper Gautam Gambhir got all the ingredients spot on with his bowlers ripping apart the famed Royal Challengers Bangalore batting line-up like a hot knife through butter. The Virat Kohli-led outfit succumbed to a demoralizing defeat en route to posting the lowest ever score in IPL history. Mumbai Indians wrote itself into the annals of T20 folklore by becoming the team that has played the most number of matches. 

Individual heroes have lit up the tournament with some breathtaking efforts. Topping the list is Rashid Khan, the young leg-spinner whose exploits with the ball has catapulted Afghanistan into the cricketing map. 

Rishabh Pant, another emerging star of Indian cricket, showed why the tournament is sometimes a cauldron of emotions - courtesy his breathtaking knock against RCB in a losing cause following days after his father's demise. 

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar's match-winning spell, including the prized wicket of a rampaging Manan Vohra, distracted everyone from the six-hitting mela. 

Who can forget young Sanju Samson's attractive maiden century, watched from behind the stumps by his idol and none other than Indian cricket's most decorated skipper MS Dhoni, who he is tipped to succeed in the limited overs format. 

Perhaps the most unconventional moment came when Hashim Amla, a proven test-match specialist, raised his bat on completing a quick-fire century. A man who once had reservations about playing in the league teeming with cheer-girls & after-parties has now ended up being the most eye-catching batsman around. 

The IPL has always been a thing of dreams for the many upcoming talents associated with it from a professional angle. We can now safely say that it also presents a realistic opportunity for anybody wanting to savor a taste of one of India's great sporting experiments.

The Indian Premier League – the unrivalled poster boy of T20 franchise cricket – was born 10 years ago amid euphoric celebrations following India’s world cup triumph. It is ironical that it took inspiration from the NBA and today has surpassed it in terms of average attendance by almost double the margin and has become the 6th most watched sports league in the world, just behind heavyweight leagues like the EPL & NFL.

The first three matches of IPL 2017 reached 185.7 million viewers, almost 15% higher than last year. It is likely to rake in more revenues in advertisements, with the estimated ad income set to rise to Rs 1,300 crore from Rs 1,200 crore earned last year. The total brand value of the IPL has jumped to $ 4.16 billion and contributed $ 11.5 billion to the GDP.

But the IPL has evolved from being a mere substitute to those miserable Indian TV soaps to being a viable alternative for the cinema-crazy public (In 2017 AD, even the TV is being shunned in favor of live streaming matches online on smartphones!)

Initially, if the IPL represented an item song in the Indian psyche, it would be fitting to argue that within a decade, it has acquired the makings of a full-length feature film with an ever widening star cast. In many ways, the IPL’s impact on cricket is similar to the liberalization reforms introduced to the Indian economy and the political climate of the early 1990s. The continuous rut of international cricket (socialism) and the idol-centric fanfare (The Indira & Rajiv years) were replaced with “borderless” cricket (globalization) and the impact made by lesser known talent (like how coalitions governments have become the norm in electoral terms).

The steady injection of money (and rejection of Lalit Modi) saw to it that the cash-rich tournament remained a lucrative offering for local players, corporate bigwigs and even for its newer playing venues situated in Tier-2 cities. The IPL is no longer dependent on the personalities of the marquee players as much as it is reliant on the perpetual six-hitting hysteria by the batsmen in order to rake in the crowds. As the IPL enters an exciting phase of its chequered journey, Seasonal Magazine takes a sneak peek into the highs & lows of the adolescent league.

While India ushered in another set of legislation, namely the GST, set to impact the economy, it becomes worthwhile to note that the IPL could also benefit from some wholesome changes with respect to attracting a truly global audience. The involvement of Afghan players is a heartening exercise and perhaps the first step towards taking cricket outside its traditional strongholds & moving away from the revenue surety offered by Indian brands by expanding to other markets.

But, as recent trends seem to suggest, will the IPL also fall prey to an anti-globalization backlash and a yearning for the return of cricket to its pristine form? Exit polls, as we have seen, may have turned out to be damp squibs but the overriding sentiment is in favor of IPL taking the world by storm and developing into a truly international, grandiose epic, perhaps like the hit drama series Game of Thrones.

The very first edition of the IPL had its fair share of controversies. As is most often the case in India, politicians would latch onto anything they believe is against “Indian sensibilities”. Only this time the cheerleaders, who are a regular feature in most sporting events world over, were at the receiving end of their “sanskari” ire. They were even banned in certain stadiums and people were left to rue the political interference so early into the tournament. However, it was the Sreesanth-Harbhajan saga that left everyone scratching their heads: Sree was reportedly slapped by his fellow Indian teammate at the end of the match and was expelled from the rest of the tournament. Arguably, a first in Indian cricket. Was this to be accepted as the new normal? Although the incident was quickly brushed under the carpet, it was an unfortunate blot in the league’s inaugural season.

The 2009 IPL season was shifted to South Africa, courtesy a clash of dates with the Indian general elections that year. Again, politicians reminded us that they were second to none. However, it was to be a blessing in disguise as the world took notice of the league’s growing popularity and laid the foundation for globalizing the T20 format. There was also plenty of reason to cheer for all the franchise owners as they made a profit for the first time with the Raj Kundra-Shilpa Shetty owned Rajasthan Royals alone getting returns close to Rs. 35 crores.

The 2010 season was unique in several ways. It was the first time that matches were broadcast live on Youtube in order to harness the booming digital wave that was gripping the country. Yet again, the IPL was forced to succumb to political whims with matches being moved out of Hyderabad. This was attributed to the possibility of unrest due to a Telangana state succession. IPL also welcomed the “rebel” cricketers for the first time from the now-defunct ICL including Kiwi speedster Shane Bond as the BCCI flexed its muscles enough to justify its supreme authority over cricket matters in India. The Supreme Court-appointed Lodha Committee would later give the BCCI a taste of its own medicine.

Following the 26/11 attacks and the terror attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore, security was beefed up in all stadiums in India but it still couldn’t prevent the detonation of bombs in the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore. Former cricketers Sir Ian Botham, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh and Shaun Pollock urged the players not to give in to terrorism by opting out of the league. Although there were no major casualties, the IPL quickly gained traction as a vulnerable target for terror outfits.

Once established, the IPL started with its expansionary goals in an effort to spread the league to a far greater base. This was manifested through the addition of two new IPL teams – Pune Warriors India & Kochi Tuskers Kerala for the 2011 season. However, having begun just weeks after India’s historic world cup victory, both the fans and players were emotionally drained and fatigue resulted in low TRPs in the early stages of the tournament. As the season panned out, the teams battled it out fiercely to boost enthusiasm among fans. Many uncapped players like Paul Valthaty, Swapnil Asnodkar, Kamran Khan became household names but soon frittered away. As for Kamran Khan, the last he was heard of was when he was working on his father’s field as a farmer and not playing any active cricket. The news shocked many, including the man who first identified his immense talent, Shane Warne.

The following editions continued to throw surprises as IPL franchises got embroiled in ownership issues leading to the termination of Kochi Tuskers Kerala. 5 players, all of them uncapped, were charge sheeted for match fixing. TVR plunged to even lower levels with the overdose of T20 cricket taking a toll on viewers (the 2012 edition received 18.7% less viewership than the previous season). Shah Rukh Khan, the owner of the KKR team, was banned from entering the Wankhede stadium for 5 years after a heated altercation with security officials there. Luke Pomersbach, a RCB player, was arrested on charges of rape of an American woman and assaulting her fiancé. Rahul Sharma and Wayne Parnell were busted at a rave party in Pune and was tested positive for drugs. The IPL began to turn into a liability and earned a bad reputation for these incidents. On the brighter side, the 2012 edition was regarded as the most competitive as it witnessed the most number of tightly fought contests with 19 matches producing results in the very last over.

The 2013 edition marked the end of DLF’s title sponsorship, which was bought by PepsiCo for a period of 5 years. 2009 champions, Deccan Chargers were disbanded and were renamed as a new entity called Sunrisers Hyderabad under a new ownership. This time, political events from across the sea, prevented Sri Lankan players from participating in IPL matches in Chennai as a sign of protest condemning the ethnic violence against Tamils. However, the incident that really shook the edifice of the IPL, and by extension the BCCI, was the arrest of Ajit Chandila, Ankeet Chavan & S Sreesanth for spot-fixing charges. The three were later acquitted but it opened a can of worms from which the BCCI top brass could never really exonerate itself.

N Sreenivasan’s arrogant refusal to step down, until charges of his nephew Gurunath Meiyappan’s involvement in the scandal were proven, tarnished the image of the BCCI leading to a vociferous public campaign to clean up India’s all-powerful cricket body. For a tournament that thrived on mass public backing, it didn’t take too long for people to turn against the box office success that had put India on the pinnacle of cricketing dominance.

Image result for csk champions photo

In 2014, the Indian elections yet again came to haunt the IPL organizers and the early phase of the tournament was shifted to UAE. There were mounting tensions between the BCCI and state associations after Lalit Modi was made chairman of RCA resulting in the removal of Jaipur as an IPL venue. Much of IPL’s cricket action took a backseat in terms of the headlines but when news broke of Yuvraj’s record-transfer to Delhi Daredevils for a whopping Rs. 16 crores, the focus shifted back to the 22-yards. The Fanpark initiative helped in bringing the IPL to hitherto cricket-agnostic parts of the country and earned the BCCI some respite from the barrage of criticisms.

In its 9th edition – the tournament was played without two of its most successful teams, CSK and RR: both outfits banned by the SC-appointed Lodha Committee following their involvement in the spot-fixing and betting scandal. In their place, Gujarat Lions & Rising Pune Supergiants made their IPL debuts.

Regardless of being India’s best known sports commodity, today the IPL has transcended sports or even current affairs and is embedded in the social system, a replication of our culture – one that embodies all that we as Indians either hold dear or choose to shun. As the renowned sports lawyer Desh Gaurav Sekhi once remarked, “the IPL has taken all of Indian society, thrown it into a blender, shaken it with some olives, and served it as a heady cocktail of intrigue, sport, games, controversy and general entertainment”.

Put simply the IPL is an entity that is fashionable to dislike, but at the same time, is a regrettable necessity for Indian society. It’s a necessity because it embraces so much of Indian culture that it is now synonymous with it. It’s a regrettable necessity because it has been stature-blind in its ability to jilt careers, cause scandal and perhaps also distract exam-goers and pressurize family breadwinners!

Given the immense footprint of the league, the only obstacle in its way was itself, and as frequently happens, it has managed to trip itself up numerous times. While there is much to scrutinize about the murky underbelly of the IPL and its perceived credibility gap, the T20 league is larger than life, and twice as loud.
Leaving aside its controversy-prone existence, the IPL’s astounding popularity can guarantee itself a fantastic future and do wonders for the sport. Only the most cynical will dismiss it as a mere racket or a fad. The roster of each squad conjures up the image of a sumptuous buffet, which remains the main USP of the IPL. The following players might well turn out to be the season’s special items or like the proverbial “icing on the cake” for their respective team’s fortunes.

Sunrisers Hyderabad

Batsman: Yuvraj Singh

Ever since his wedlock late last year, the flamboyant left-hander has had many reasons to cheer about. From notching up a long awaited ODI century to scoring quick-fire cameos in the ongoing IPL, Yuvi back in his elements. His straight-batted six of Umesh Yadav underscored the old saying ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. His resourcefulness as a part-time left-arm spinner is also legendary, dating back to the 2nd edition of the IPL when he secured a thrilling hat-trick. With Yuvi slowly getting back into his zone, SRH have in their ranks, not just a valuable all-rounder, but a proven match-winner.

Bowler: Mustafizur Rahman

Fondly referred to as “Fizz”, the Bangladeshi bowling spearhead has catapulted his country to some exciting wins in recent seasons. His uncanny action, in addition to his mesmerizing variations, makes him a potent threat to deal with for most batsmen. However, even with his recent exploits in national colours, Mustafizur is already a household name in the IPL community having shown his mettle by scalping 17 wickets in SRH’s successful campaign last year. He is best remembered for his lethal yorker to KKR all-rounder Andre Russell and will once again look to bring the best in business down on their knees.

Gujarat Lions

Batsman: Jason Roy

Don’t let his restrained nature floor you even for a moment! Beneath the unassuming character is a marauding willow-wielder who is constantly in search for runs. Jason has been a regular in the English ODI & T20 team only for little over a year but instantly shot to fame following his excellent batting display against India in the recently concluded bilateral series. Technically an opener, Jason is being used as a floater by his IPL franchise and has already hit some lusty blows to stake his claim as a permanent top-order batsman. Although he will be fighting for a place in the team against the likes of Finch, Dwayne Smith & Brendan McCullum, Jason offers an explosive option at the top with his clean striking.

Batsman: Brendan McCullum

Who can forget his whirlwind knock of 158 against RCB in the IPL opener way back in 2008? Brash, brutal and brilliant to watch, Brendon McCullum can bruise bowling attacks like few other men in international cricket. A wicketkeeper-batsman, he was responsible for getting the IPL off to an electrifying start, lighting up the tournament's first match and showing what the format had to offer. His knock against Australia in a Twenty20 international, where he brazenly scooped 155 kph offerings from Shaun Tait and Dirk Nannes over the wicketkeeper's head at Christchurch in 2009-10, is regarded as one of the best T20 innings ever. Regardless of his natural wicket-keeping abilities, McCullum is also a remarkable outfielder and has plucked some outstanding catches at the boundary, almost defying gravitational laws.

Bowler: Ravindra Jadeja

From being accused of gaining from Dhoni’s continued patronage to showcasing below-par performances with the bat, Jadeja’s career has seen it all in a short span of time. However, one can be rest assured that whenever “Sir Jaddu” does his trademark ‘sword-dance’ or points to the heavens after outfoxing a clueless batsman, his critics are forced to run with their tails between their legs. More recently, his critics have had little reason to complain with his outstanding display against the Aussies winning him the Man of the Series Award. Long under the shadow of his fellow countryman R Ashwin, Jadeja has gradually carved out a name for himself, even surpassing him to become the top-ranked bowler in Test cricket. Much will be expected out of the left-arm spinner as he looks to compensate for the absence of all-rounder Dwayne Bravo.

Bowler: Basil Thampi

Knocking out Steve Smith, yorking Chris Gayle and rattling Keiron Pollard, Basil has already impressed everyone with his ability to generate pace off a quick-arm action. David Warner even handed Basil his shoe after the latter had fallen in his bowling follow-through! Like many Kerala boys, Basil was almost off to the Gulf for work a few years ago, to support his family. The young, tear-away fast bowler was persuaded to stay back and got enrolled at the MRF Pace Foundation, after which he has never looked back. His prime strength lies in his ability to clock the 140 km/h mark without breaking a sweat. He’s also got a nasty yorker ball in his arsenal, earning him the prized-wicket of Chris Gayle. In a rather pedestrian bowling attack, Basil has been the lone bright spot for the Gujarat Lions and looks well on course to knock on the selector’s doors for a senior team call-up.

Royal Challengers Bangalore

Batsman: Virat Kohli

There is no mountain too high to climb for India’s new commander-in-chief. He is the No. 1 ranked T20 batsman and he was in his brutal best when he single-handedly launched RCB into the IPL playoffs last year, notching up 4 tons in the process. However, success for the franchise hasn’t gone beyond this. After stuttering at the final hurdle in 3 seasons, including a heartbreaking loss to SRH in the final last year, Kohli will need to ensure a title challenge for their loyal supporters. As usual, RCB has struggled to find the right combination resulting in massive defeats but Kohli knows that his team has the firepower to go all the way. The team & fans, on the other hand, will be gearing up for yet another Kohli onslaught!

Bowler: Yuzvendra Chahal

Although he may look pocket-sized, Chahal bowls with a large heart. After his brilliant 6/25 display in the T20 decider against England, the feisty leg-spinner is the go-to man for his captain in the most crunch situations. He is also the darling of the RCB fans who have elevated him to a level alongside Chris Gayle, AB De Villiers, Virat Kohli etc. The most striking aspects about his bowling are his consistency and courage to toss the ball up to the batsman, both markers of a blossoming spinner. He’s been their highest wicket-taker in the last two seasons and will be hoping to unsettle batsmen with his wily leg-breaks.

Delhi Daredevils

Batsman: Rishabh Pant

The swashbuckling left-hander has left everyone awe-struck with his explosive batting. After his epic 57-run knock against RCB went in vain, many came to learn the news about his father’s demise only days before. His resilience in the midst of a personal tragedy was lauded by all with renowned commentator Harsha Bhogle remarking that ‘there’s something special about him’. Pant is actually not a new kid on the block. He’s been a prolific run-scorer since age-level cricket days and a fruitful Ranji Trophy season earned him a call up to the senior national team. However, it was his pyrotechnics in the U-19 World Cup which won him accolades. Pant, along with his DD teammate Sanju Samson are serious contenders to take over from MS Dhoni in the limited overs games. Until then, Pant will just continue to make the ball soar high into the stands.

Bowler: Pat Cummins

The lanky Australian fast bowler hasn’t looked back since making his first-class debut in 2011 for New South Wales. He picked seven wickets on his Test debut and topped the wicket-takers’ chart in his maiden Big Bash League. Sure enough, he became the youngest player to receive a central contract with Cricket Australia. In the last two test matches against India, Cummins replaced the injured Mitchell Starc and bowled with rapid pace and venom, proving that he is shaping up to become the next Brett Lee of Australian cricket. Like Lee, Cummins has the ability to use the long handle to good effect making him a reliable pinch hitter in the death overs.

Mumbai Indians

Batsman: Nitish Rana

An attacking left-handed batsman from Delhi, Rana has put up meaningful contributions in the List A circuit and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy this year apart from being the top run-getter for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy. Over the years, Mumbai Indians have invested in and encouraged young openers like Shikhar Dhawan, Aditya Tare, Unmukt Chand etc to play their natural game. Currently, Nitish Rana stands to benefit from the freedom given by his franchise to play a fearless brand of cricket. He’s already played some crucial knocks and has worn the orange cap quite a few times. Having started on a good note, Rana will look to become the surprise package of the tournament.

Bowler: Jasprit Bumrah

There is a reason why young Jasprit Bumrah is being touted as India’s “death-over specialist”. For long, India had struggled to find a bowler who could be effective in the death overs. Dhoni’s long search finally ended when Bumrah answered his calls with his ability to bowl consistent, Malinga-like yorkers. Although only in the nascent stages of his career, Bumrah has grown from strength to strength by shouldering the responsibility of finishing off the death overs or cleaning up the lower-order batsman with ease. The credit for his rapid rise must go to Mumbai Indians and he will aim to repay his faith by firing in those toe-crushing yorkers when it matters the most.

Kolkata Knight Riders

Batsman: Manish Pandey

While it is true that Manish Pandey’s name has been doing the rounds ever since he became the first Indian centurion in the IPL, it is equally strange that his career hasn’t picked up as much as he would have liked. While it took one spectacular innings to thrust him into the limelight, Pandey’s only other notable knock was a match-winning ODI century against Australia in the CB series. He was unlucky to miss out on a berth due to an excess of talented middle order batsmen in the Indian lineup. Pandey will be hoping to impress upon the selectors that he belongs to the top league as he’s already a mainstay in KKR’s scheme of things.

Bowler: Sunil Narine

Another West Indian who needs no introduction in this part of the world. This ‘mystery spinner’ from the Caribbean took IPL 2012 by storm and terrorised batsmen across all teams with his unique skills. Picked up by the Kolkata Knight Riders after a successful 2011 CLT20 for Trinidad & Tobago, Narine finished IPL 2012 as the Player of the Tournament with 24 wickets at a miserly 5.47 runs per over. He was the single most prominent reason for KKR’s IPL triumph and was retained by the franchise ahead of the 2014 Player Auction. He continues to be skipper Gautam Gambhir’s go-to bowler in all situations. With a refined and modified bowling action, Narine would be looking to work wonders like the previous editions.

Kings XI Punjab

Batsman: Glenn Maxwell

Glenn Maxwell’s potential as an all-rounder was recognized in his debut season in Australia’s domestic circuit, in 2010 itself. A versatile batsman who can bat anywhere in the line-up, Maxwell also adds value with his off-spin and contributes by saving runs on the field. A hard-hitter of the ball, he was recruited by KXIP in the IPL player auction 2014 and has since made vital contributions to the team. Maxwell despites dot deliveries and can be seen flashing his bat at any ball that gives him width. He is arguably the perfect man to have in the middle if the team is looking to counter-attack or finish off games with aplomb! The Australian was integral to the team’s success when they made it to the final in 2014 and will be hoping to set the stage alight again in 2017.

Bowler: Sandeep Sharma

The right-arm medium pacer from Punjab, Sandeep Sharma rose to prominence during the 2012 Under-19 ICC Cricket World Cup. His four wickets in the final propelled India to the title and made him India’s joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 12 scalps. The pacer, who made his first-class debut in 2011, was also part of the Indian team during the 2010 Under-19 ICC Cricket World Cup. He earned a contract with the Kings XI Punjab ahead of IPL 2013 and was bought back by the franchise in the 2014 auction. He has earned high praise from experts for his ability to swing the ball and has played a key role for his state side Punjab in recent times.

Rising Pune Supergiants

Batsman: Steve Smith

Australia’s talismanic skipper currently is at the helm of affairs at the Pune franchise, getting the push ahead of India’s former captain MS Dhoni. An acrobatic fielder, a decent leg-spinner and a gritty batsman, Steve Smith has been on a run scoring spree in recent times, including the series against India where he smashed 499 runs. With his comfortable driving and pulling skills against the fast bowlers and quick-silver like footwork against spinners, Smith poses a great threat to the opposition. He is also a brilliant tactician evident from his smart bowling changes in the series against India. With his ability to score runs at a steady pace, Smith will prove to be one of the key players for RPS in IPL 2017.

Bowler: Ben Stokes

A year ago, Stokes was brought to his knees by a bulldozing Carlos Brathwaite that spoiled England’s party in the world T20 final. Today, Stokes operates as a critical player in the RPS lineup as he made headlines by becoming the most expensive player (a record price tag of Rs. 14.5 crores) in IPL history. Stokes is an aggressive left handed batsman and a right arm medium fast bowler. He comes with a rich experience in the shorter format of the game and has the ability to take on bowlers, when he is in prime form. Making his debut in the IPL as a quality all-rounder for RPS, it will be great to see how Stokes with his power-hitting skills and with his quick bowling will take on the opposition.

Carl Jaison

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