IPL2: First Impressions
Apr 20, 2009 04:55 PM

The first two days of the IPL have gone by and one aspect is clear at the moment, this is going to be different, not the same thing that we saw in India last year. What does that mean? Well, if you have closely observed the matches that have been played so far, then you will have the answer yourself, this is going to be no slug fest of batsmen who want to plonk the ball to the other side of the boundary. 130-140 appears to be a very competitive score, big hitters seem to have a lesser role, spinners are not being taken for granted

and bowlers in general don’t feel like a marginalized species. Looking back at IPL 2008, it was a slugfest. It started with Brendon Mc Cullum’s blitzkrieg century and continued in the same vein till the end with batsmen like Shaun Marsh and Swapnil Asnodkar making merry at many a bowlers’ expense. But this time, the games have begun and they are different.

At Capetown, the first match was between the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Superkings. The latter were starting favorites because of their exploits last season. And, it seemed so at the toss when under overcast conditions and a pitch report that had things about moisture and spongy bounce, the Mumbai Indians were inserted. It was certainly not a stroke maker’s (read Sanath Jayasurya) paradise and he had to scratch around with Sachin Tendulkar for some hard earned runs. It was clear that throwing the bat around was not the wisest thing to do. For two men with close to 20 years experience in international cricket, this was not something new and they gave a rather steady platform before Jayasurya succumbed to the limbic instincts that he had curtailed for some time. But Sachin was intent (by strategy) to carry on till the end and it was a masterful blend of caution and aggression that saw him do so, in the process scoring the first fifty of the tournament without taking any undue risks. The only instance of lusty hitting was in the last 5 overs when an explosive Abhishek Nayyar savaged the Superkings attack, Flintoof getting special treatment. In the end, all that was managed was 160 on, In reply, the way Chennai Superkings went about the chase might have suggested that there was around 180 on the board. Aggression is good, but the batsmen seemed to think that they were on the placid pitches of India. It would be right to say that most of the wickets were gifted to the Mumbai Indians, courtesy some reckless hitting by the Superkings. Even with all the flashiness going around, Flintoff and Hayden managed to put together a partnership that made things look good before another bout of ill advised aggression brought down their hopes. In the end analysis it was only Hayden and skipper Dhoni who had shown the acumen to adapt to the pitch and play according to the need of the hour. But, the rest of the batting line up has to have a re-look at the way they are pacing their innings.

The second game was a repeat of the first. The Bangalore Royal Challengers were in trouble first up at 2 wickets for no score. But again it was the orthodox and sensible batting by Rahul Dravid that saved them the blushes, Kevin Pietersen chipping in with a valuable 30 odd. Again, the total looked extremely gettable for the Rajasthan Royals. But, repeating the Chennai Superkings’ mistakes of the first game, they looked to get off the blocks in a flash. It was pure impunity that made Asnodkar attempt an ambitious pull in the very first over. Even though the bowling was good and tight, it was the wanton shot selection that made the Royal’s register the lowest score yet in the IPL, as Warne said, it was embarrassing. Day 2 affirmed the initial feelings from Day 1. Once again, low scores with a more measured approach ensuring success rather than unplugged aggression.

To sum up on the batting front, it can be said with authority that it is the teams that are ready to bring discipline in to their stroke selection will ultimately call the shots. This is going to be no slam bang variety of 20-20, you have to stick to the basics and respect the bowlers, because, these are not the flat tracks of India. There is bounce, there is swing and very importantly, there is hope for anyone who comes on to bowl. This is going to be an even contest between bat and ball. Another interesting observation that has been made during the two days is that playing surfaces are not as hard as you would have expected them to be in South Africa. The reason being attributed is that this is the fag end of the cricket season in the country and the wickets have been on continuous use for the past 4 months or so making them a bit dusty. That explains why Harbhajan, Kumble, Warne, Vettori and Pragyan Ojha did star turns on the first two days. The ball was definitely taking turn, as early as the 10th over of the first innings and as the tournament progresses it will definitely get better for the tweakers. It is not going to be easy to step out to them, the first four matches have had around 7 stumpings, the batsmen being beaten in flight and by turn. Kumble made full use of the assistance and poor batting, returning with figures of 5 for 5 from 4 overs.

Finally, the first two days of the IPL have also seen some very strange choices and decisions. The strangest choices of course were made by a few batsmen while playing shots. That apart, the team selection was puzzling. Chennai decided to leave Muttiah Muralitharan in the dug out, that was a tactical blunder one feels, nobody leaves the wizard out of any team and Delhi chose not to play Glenn McGrath, something that has never happened before.

So, the tone is set. IPL2 is no slam bang run feat only for batsmen. It has got something for everyone who is ready to think, apply and adapt. In essence, it is going to be good cricket, an even keel between bat and ball and in the end one hopes, cricket will be the winner.
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