The appetite of the Indian cricket fan is insatiable. I for one was under the impression that they would have had their plates overfull with six weeks of World Cup fare and reckoned that the response for IPL-4 which commenced just six days after the final between India and Sri Lanka would be lukewarm. I could not have been more off the mark. Going by what one has seen over the first few days of the Twenty20 competition its popularity has not dimmed one bit. Matches have been well attended, fans have been glued to the TV yet again and wherever you go the discussion is no more on the World Cup but all about the Super Kings and the Knight Riders, the Royals and the Chargers, the Warriors and the Tuskers.
That sums up the fascination for IPL and the Twenty20 format. Ever since its inception in 2008 the cash-rich tournament with its big names, razzle-dazzle, the Bollywood touch, the cheer leaders and effective entertainment value has touched a chord around the cricketing world. In its fourth year it has lost none of its cricketainment - a phrase forever linked with IPL. And while Twenty20 as a format has no doubt caught the public fancy in a big way the IPL has enhanced the scope with its emphasis on teams and cities that one can readily identify with.
Also over the years the IPL has succeeded in exploding some myths associated with Twenty20. It was supposed to be a batsman oriented format with the emphasis being on fours and sixes and big hits and with bowlers reduced to willing slaves. On the contrary there have been keen contests between bat and ball. One must realize that in this abridged version it is not just the bowlers who face the pressure of being hit every time. The batsman too is under the intense weight of expectations. There is just no time to get your eye in with the result that the slog starts virtually with the first ball. Under the circumstances a miscued or rash stroke is always on the cards and this is where the bowler scores a point. A couple of dot balls and again the batsman is under tremendous pressure to get a move along and this has led to a dismissal as we have seen so often in the IPL. Just the other day we had the example of Delhi Daredevils being bowled out for 95 well inside 20 overs. As Mark Ramprakash put it "the nature of the game is risk and you have to accept that there is risk involved when you are looking to score so quickly."
There is a place in the game's shortest format for strategy and tactics too. Indeed it can be argued that captaincy in this format is more difficult than in Test cricket or ODIs since the skipper has to make all the decisions like in the other formats but here the thinking has to be swifter. One false step and the team could well be out of the game. This is where intuitive captains have succeeded for in Twenty20 you can't wait for things to happen; you have to make things happen.
As Adam Gilchrist has said the demands on the captain in the Twenty20 format are "extreme to say the least. The mind is racing to try and think an over ahead, while still trying to control the current over. As we all know the course of a game can be changed in one over, in two or three hits. It is demanding and you have to be aware of situations."
In short, the shorter the format the more important is the captaincy. In Test cricket and first-class cricket there are times when the flow of the game will dictate what happens and what decisions are to be made. Things just flow along in its natural way. Yes, at crucial times the captain's tactical knowledge will come in handy. But in Twenty20 decisions have to be made almost every delivery. The captain has to be very alert and very aware at all times.
In a way it is a good thing that the captain has a bigger role to play, where he can dictate terms and he has a lot more to do in changing the flow of the game. He plays around with his resources a bit more and goes with his hunches a lot more than he would in the longer version and this adds considerable interest to an already immensely popular format.
The IPL may not be the highest form of the game which is generally recognized to be Test cricket. All the same watching bowlers frustrate batsmen by bowling yorkers, by pitching the ball at the pads and giving them no room to get away with the big hits for which he is all too eager is quite a revelation. If the batsmen are innovative the bowlers are no less crafty and this frequently has led to engrossing contests.
But perhaps the most positive aspect of the IPL has been the sight of players of different nations turning out for the same team. It was believed that this could help the cricketers forget bitter memories of the past and bring them together. Tom Moody certainly feels that way. The former Australian all-rounder expressed the view that when cricketers are playing in opposite sides things can get heated. "But when players get together in a team, the game tends to take control of all egos and past discrepancies," said Moody. And yes, there is a special treat seeing Dale Steyn bowl to Jacques Kallis, Muthiah Muralitharan engrossed in a duel with Kumar Sangakkara and Sachin Tendulkar running out Virender Sehwag!