24th May: Mumbai Indians v R. Royals, 14:30 GMT
24th-28th May: 2nd Test, Headingley
The fifth season of the Indian Premier League promises to be an intriguing one. No, it is not because of the competition that will be witnessed on the pitch alone. For this tournament is not about cricket alone. There are many riders attached to it, entertainment and money being prominent ones. Chetan Narula looks ahead to IPL 2012.
Over the years, the IPL’s pull has somewhat lessened. Television ratings are an ample pointer towards the two aforementioned parameters that go into making any season a success. And those same TRPs have been falling steadily. Something similar has been witnessed at the grounds, where people thronging to see the stars in action have decreased steadily over the four years.
You can blame cricket fatigue for this, yes. But therein lays the problem. Nobody wants to ignore the IPL, national associations and boards are now beginning to schedule their international calendars in such a manner that their players get maximum IPL playing time. The ICC might not give it an official window, but this is good enough. A clear cut demarcation in the calendar year for the one prime T20 commodity and everyone is happy. Except the fans that is.
2011 was a classic example. The IPL season followed immediately on the heels of the ODI World Cup, also held in the sub-continent. More importantly, India were crowned champions, a feat achieved after 28 years. That exhausted the watching and paying public, both emotionally and mentally. Fewer people turned up to watch most of the games and it is anybody’s guess if the numbers will swell this year. There might have been no important series preceding this, still India’s woeful performances in the last year or so haven’t really enticed anyone.
It can be said that IPL and cricket in general have different audiences. This is true up to some extent. Only fanatics watch round the year and then there are those who will keep a tab both on the scores and on their lives. But the IPL attracts primarily those who are excited most by the inter-city rivalry. And this category of fans don’t really come out in hoards when team India is playing, barring for the World Cup. And so there is hope yet, that in only its fifth season, the IPL will stand the test of time.
Hereon in, let the talk be about the participating nine teams and who are the real contenders amongst them.
One has to begin with Chennai Super Kings, the two time defending champions. They have been more or less in contention all through the four seasons and it is difficult seeing past them especially when they retained their original combine in the auctions last year. From there, they have only strengthened further with the addition of Ravindra Jadeja and Ben Hilfenhaus to their ranks. Add MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo and Ravichandran Ashwin, and they have enough firepower to make it three in a row.
The sternest of challenges to them is going to be manifold. Perhaps this will make things more interesting. Mumbai Indians are strong as always, with a little doubt creeping in late as Harbhajan Singh takes over captaincy reins. Even so, a freed up Sachin Tendulkar becomes even more dangerous a batsman.
Royal Challengers Bangalore will be hoping for an encore from Chris Gayle and if not, Tilakratne Dilshan grossly underperformed last season. Virat Kohli’s form makes him the best limited-overs batsman currently and the addition of Muralitharan to their spin ranks only swells their power.
Expect a big thrust from Kolkata Knight Riders too, for they have been perennially the under-performers. The rebooted auction last year allowed them to draw up their squad again. Gautam Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan, Jacques Kallis and Brendon McCullum are names when put together, can scare any bowling attack to death. Their biggest strength though might be in coach Trevor Bayliss who stays in the shadows and churns out results. This could be their year.
These were the four teams in the semi-finals last year and it is but natural that they will be contenders again this season. But from the rest, the most progress in terms of player movements has been made by Delhi Daredevils. The addition of Mahela Jayawardene, Ross Taylor, Andre Russell and Kevin Pietersen to Virender Sehwag, David Warner and Irfan Pathan lends much steel to their batting, which was their main strength prior to 2011 auction. With such a winning hand they can atleast think about challenging again, unlike much of last year when they were simply also-rans.
To say that these five times have a sure shot chance at glory would be foolhardy and who more than Rajasthan Royals have taught us so. But things have changed a bit from early on in the sense that Shane Warne is now gone from the scene and Rahul Dravid takes over the reins. Both of them are legends in their own right but totally different players. It remains to be seen if Dravid can inculcate the same intensity from this bunch of players.
Deccan Chargers, Pune Warriors and Kings XI Punjab make up the rest of the numbers. These three teams have seen their fair bit of changes. Cameron White will lead in Hyderabad, Pune will be missing Yuvraj Singh wholesomely yet will be buoyed by the leadership of Sourav Ganguly, and Kings will have Adam Gilchrist performing dual roles of captain and coach.
All three sides boast of a good mix of players – foreign and Indian - but will they be able to step up to the plate when it matters is a question that will take some answering.
© Cricket World 2012
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