Friday 13 May 2011 

Comment: The IPL Game Changers

Comment: The IPL Game Changers
Comment: The IPL Game Changers
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Chris Gayle looks a happy man. After all, he is doing what he loves doing, decimating bowling attacks with aplomb. Adding to his happiness is probably the fact that he doesn’t have to return home to play Test cricket, something he has seemed disenchanted with in the past.

And this joy has rubbed off on the Royal Challengers Bangalore, making play-offs seem like a walk in the park. They are unbeaten since he joined the team and with not much time to go until the trophy is handed out, how many will bet against him carrying his team all the way?

It was a brilliant gamble bringing him in for the injured Dirk Nannes, perhaps the single purchase wherein the value accrued from the player is more than what was paid. Of course he is only contracted from this one year, being an injury substitution.

Even so, it won’t be any relief to other teams for Bangalore will have first dibs on giving him a new piece of paper to sign. Not grabbing him in the players’ auction earlier in the year was mistake enough and it is obvious repetition will be firmly avoided. You don’t dilly dally with cricketers who can change around your fortunes in the blink of an eye.

When Gayle smashed his second hundred in the IPL, Virender Sehwag had only set the stage alight a couple of days back, with a scintillating T20 knock. Is he any less destructive than the West Indian batsman? The answer would be a firm no, but what marks the difference in fortunes of the Royal Challengers and the Delhi Daredevils. It is the thought process that goes into accumulating a strong squad.

You don’t simply get a spearhead and then get in players who have to be pulled in by that one man. Gayle may have done it, but if the law of averages comes into effect in the latter stages of this season, what bets on the rest of Bangalore’s batting order rising to the challenge?

Sehwag doesn’t give the impression of being a captain who can inspire someone like an Irfan Pathan into confidence, and form thereafter. His approach towards cricket seems uncluttered and after all these years, it is not going to change just because the Delhi franchise owners goofed up in their team selection.

Alternately, it does bring a fascinating thought to mind: what would someone like MS Dhoni be able to do with this sort of a squad? The answer was perhaps given by Gautam Gambhir in a Knight Riders’ press conference, that he as a captain is as good as his team. Neither Gambhir nor Dhoni is the point man in their respective sides. Instead if you really need to point a finger, it could be Yusuf Pathan for Kolkata and Ravichandran Ashwin for Chennai Super Kings.

The dissimilarity herein is in that while Pathan was in ebullient form for the Rajasthan Royals, for Kolkata he has been a bit under the shade primarily because the rest of the batting is so strong. At Jaipur he would have batted near the top more often than not and would invariably be Shane Warne’s prime throw of the dice.

Gambhir though relies on well thought out plans and classic cricket manoeuvres of batting or bowling out the opposition. Ashwin continues to be priceless for Dhoni simply because there can be no value attached to a spinner who consistently bowls with the new balls and comes out on top in his battles with numerous batsmen. He wasn’t in the focus much in the first two seasons, but in the third he relegated Muttiah Muralitharan to the bench. So much so that Kochi Tuskers buying him wasn’t a loss for his old team.

It might not be completely agreeable that Dhoni isn’t the central idea of the defending champions. After all he has worked the magic for the national side innumerable times and Chennai’s record too speaks for itself. You might want to think that in T20 cricket, the captain’s job has gotten just tougher. Come to think of it, it has instead gotten a tad more hectic because the pace of the game has increased. Otherwise he has to keep tabs on all the same things as he is supposed in the other two formats of the game.

Can you imagine a captain letting the game drift in ODIs or Tests? Would his team eventually win there? The business minded approach in IPL has made T20 more result oriented and therefore the captain’s profile has increased in weight only that much.

That however doesn’t mean that franchises are willing to pay more for someone who could guide their players from a distance. The prime example of that was Brian Lara not getting a buy in the auctions when he was professing his own cause in the media.

Even someone like Sourav Ganguly was neglected, because when selected in any team, he is seen as a leader almost immediately. Of course age was a factor and perhaps a touch more than when Shane Warne first started playing the IPL. On the wrong side of forty, he will leave this year and not return next season as a player, maybe only as a coach or mentor. But starting now would have been pushing the envelope for someone like Lara.

So the question remains, what are Pune Warriors doing with Ganguly in their squad for just the last handful of games? The answer could be a complex one, ranging from putting him on course for getting a full contract next season in place of the substitute one. Or that he can certainly find the loop holes in Pune’s strategy for this year and help them build on for the next season.

After all this was their first shot at glory having spent the most in terms of dollars at getting an IPL team. And whether you are an ordinary cricketer or a game changer, the bosses will only pay you because you can win matches for them!

Chetan Narula

© Cricket World 2011