While watching the first game of the 2016 Indian Premier League – a quite straightforward victory by newbies Rising Pune Supergiants over the Mumbai Indians by nine wickets, largely thanks to a undefeated 42-ball 66 by Ajinkya Rahane – I felt listless. Kind of flat. Unexcited.
It’s a slightly worrying sign for a tournament that has, among other things, unabashedly declared itself ‘#IndiaKaTyohar’. It is supposedly a tournament whose USP is spectacle, excitement, thrill and the grandiose. So why does this event, supposedly meant to exhilarate, seem to have got off on the wrong foot (pun mildly intended)?
Maybe it is a case of fan burnout. The ICC World T20 concluded with the West Indies’ victory over England in the final 3 April – less than a week before the IPL began at the Wankhede Stadium. Maybe it’s just too much cricket to digest in one go.
I’ll have the usual
I get the feeling that despite the entertaining, emblematic success of the World T20, it inadvertently (and therefore more distressingly) highlighted what old school critics of T20 cricket have been moaning about for ages: that it delivers quick fixes at the cost of well honed craft, that satiates the modern audience’s lack of patience through instant gratification rather than slow cooking and that it encourages power slogging as opposed to any real technical prowess.
Notice how the most memorable moments of the World T20 actually demonstrated a failure of the skill involved in playing the sport. The two emblematic images of the tournament belie the mismanagement that preceded them.
Take the amazing last over by Hardik Pandya in the game between India and Bangladesh. The over that looked finely balanced in the beginning. Then which looked like the Banglas had claimed for themselves. Then became the most extraordinary denouement Indian cricket has seen for a long time. In India’s favour, of course.
Imperfection and rashness combine
Only it was actually a terrible over. Of Pandya’s six balls, three were poor and only one was passable. Consecutive boundaries were struck on the second and third balls, meaning Bangladesh needed only two runs off three balls to win the game.
Even the second boundary was improperly caught by Mushfiqur Rahim. He didn’t connect with it quite right, but it had enough to take it past MS Dhoni behind the stumps. Imperfection was rewarded. Underperformance was punished. A comedy of errors, really.
Only it didn’t feel like a comedy. At the end of it all, the Banglas were on their knees in despair, having thrown away that golden chance to lose by one run. And India were celebrating for having thrown it away only to steal it back.
Post match analyses will tell you the Banglas got rash and impatient. They shouldn’t have looked to finish the game with one big hit. Played smart. Taken singles. Got over the line in the safest way possible.
It was more a case of errors begetting more errors. But it has also become one of the most incredible finishes associated with Indian cricket. Older fans may remember India’s defeat to Australia in the 1992 World Cup by the same margin. Shoe feels much better on the other foot, doesn’t it? And it happened in HD.
MS Dhoni’s uprooting of the stumps will likely be played on video highlights packages for a long time.
Power before precision
But India didn’t make the final. The West Indies did. And they looked like they had lost the game when the final over rolled around.
Enter Carlos Braithwaite. Ben Stokes had been formidable right up until that last over. But that’s when it all went horribly wrong for him.
Stokes’ deliveries were almost identical, with not a lot of variation in them. This obviously meant that if Braithwaite got the first shot right, the rest would follow.
And that’s exactly what happened. It’s not a surprise that the first six of four was the best; Braithwaite displaced his feet smartly enough for him to get the ball to the shortest boundary.
Even then, it says a lot that it required brute force to dispatch these anodyne, mechanical deliveries. Even then, the bat never made a completely clean connection with the ball. Even then, it was a case of imperfect sixes that were sixes because of raw, lusty intent. Not timing. He hit them just that damn hard.
The West Indies’ emotional victory, having battled intense conflict and scrutiny, was a dramatic revival of the Caribbean spirit. The men’s team followed their female counterparts and the junior side as the respective winners of their tournaments, signifying a triple whammy of sorts.
But when entertainment that is born of glorifying the ‘just about’ is not even that exciting (the game reduced to a plodding pace after about a quarter of the first innings, although it was mitigated by the number of wickets the Mumbai Indians had lost), is it fair to have that hope?
I suppose the IPL could prove me horribly wrong by sparking into life at any moment. Prove that all the talk of burnout is codswallop.
I hope it does.
Image source: india.com
Contributed by: Sushain Ghosh