If proof was needed that three formats of cricket can survive and thrive, the Indian Premier League has provided us sufficient pointers. For the old-timers who have been watching Tests and ODIs for decades, the T20 format is like being forced to drink instant coffee.
Having got used to the rich filter coffee, the instant one, they say, has a synthetic taste. Yet, after that one mind-blowing knock of 175 from Chris Gayle in Bangalore the other day, now even the purists believe they have got to see something unique!
The instant cricket which Gayle produced has shown that when it comes to a contest between bat and ball, it is the batsman who still has the edge.
Knocks like these not only provide huge entertainment but also reach out to audiences which are not cricket-specific, with even multiple Olympic champion Usain Bolt raving about it. This is the sixth edition of the IPL and, as yet, there has been no saturation for T20 lovers.
If anything, most matches leading to the halfway mark have only shown that contests are intense and innovations aplenty. If one takes a look at the way captains have handled their teams till now, it makes for an interesting analysis.
Cricket has been seen as a sport where the skipper has a huge role to play on the field. Traditionally, it is believed that a captain will be one of the star performers on a regular basis, as now exemplified by another man in very good form—Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Watching the Chennai Super Kings skipper play match after match in each format and lead his side with intensity is fascinating.
In this tournament, though Dhoni began sedately, his demeanour on the field has been commendable. He has batted with supreme flair, and has hit ferocious shots, which are an amalgam of hand-eye coordination, power and timing. His ability to whack sixes deep is indeed breathtaking and it reflects the captain’s state of mind.
Move from Chennai to Royal Challengers Bangalore, one has got to see Virat Kohli lead with purpose. For someone whose international career is just four years old, the bully image of Kohli is good for the sport.
Leading a side which has done fairly well till now, Kohli has shown that he can be imaginative as a leader and soak in the pressure well. It is well known that if one is to talk of players in the India side with potential to be touted as future captains, Kohli has the required qualities.
On the other hand, last year’s winning skipper Gautam Gambhir has been unable to provide the thrust which Kolkata Knight Riders need at this stage.
With so many players in his team under-performing, even the in-form Gambhir has looked ordinary. For the defending champions to figure in the last- four stage, Gambhir will have to do something special to provide them the spark.
The biggest surprise, though, has been Mumbai Indians. When the franchise decided to buy Ricky Ponting at the auction, it seemed a bit strange. As one who is past his prime, making Ponting the captain may not have been the best decision after all.
But what has come as a bigger surprise is Ponting deciding to drop himself and handing over the reins to Rohit Sharma. Mind you, on paper, this is Mumbai, a side with many heavyweights in it, though Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh have looked pedestrian till now.
One is not sure whether this trend of a captain dropping himself due to lack of form will be seen that often. Ponting has done it in the IPL, as have Sri Lankans Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews, but to imagine captains in Tests and ODIs to do so is perhaps asking for a bit too much.
However, the former England skipper Mike Denness famously dropped himself during the 1974-75 Ashes series in Australia, after making just 65 runs in six innings.
The beauty of sport also has to do with innovations, so if skippers are going to take a cue from the IPL, we could witness many more such novel ideas. I was reminded by one of the traditional cricket fans how in the old days, England accommodated Mike Brearley sometimes just for his leadership skills.
What a change this is, as now captains take a call if they deserve to be in the playing XI. If Ponting has been out of sorts, Rahul Dravid is enjoying his stint as Rajasthan Royals skipper. For a side without many big names, Dravid has managed his resources well and also batted with enthusiasm.
The same, however, cannot be said about Aussie legend Adam Gilchrist, who, while steady with the gloves for Kings XI Punjab, has had a terrible year with the bat. This is a case of a skipper persisting with himself despite wretched form, even though he admitted he was on borrowed time.
With another four weeks to go for the IPL finale, we could see many more innovations. The fare has been rich and that’s reason enough to believe we will continue to enjoy the slam-bang pyjama cricket!
Rahul Dravid is doing well as Rajasthan Royals skipper but Kings XI Punjab captain Adam Gilchrist is struggling.