The IPL Timeshare

The first week of IPL 10 was like visiting your timeshare for an yearly vacation.  There is an element of the familiar and an aversion to try anything new. So the Maximums, Strategic Timeouts, cheerleaders and the loud commentary are back.

More worrying is the timeshare mentality of some of the franchises.The teams seem to be playing true to the stereotype built around them without any attempt to evolve.

Delhi Daredevils and their fetish for bowlers in general and pacers in particular. This is a team that had failed in the past with a line up of medium pace trundlers but refuses to learn. They lost two of their most reliable overseas batsmen in De Kock and Duminy. Who do they bring in as replacement ? Ben Hilfenhaus. This in a lineup that already includes Cummins, Morris, Brathwaite, Shami, Khan, Khaleel Ahmed, Milind, Saini and Mishra, Yadav and Nadeem in spinners. Its probably TA Shekhar’s influence but you can’t help but question the reasoning behind these decisions. At the moment the “Double Ds” look real short on batting and hopefully it does not come back to haunt them. If it does it would just reinforce the timeshare feel of this edition of IPL.

Credit where its due though. Rishabh Pant looks like the real deal. The courage and single mindedness he displayed in the first game was beyond description. How he could compartmentalize after cremating his father earlier in the day is beyond me. As someone who has gone through the experience I could not help a lump in my throat forming overtime he laid bat on ball.

While on him – can’t help but question the decision making of the more senior Amit Mishra. He would have been a contender for the infamous “Match Ka Mujrim” if that still was a preferred TV channel format. Why one would think of outdoing Pant on this day is beyond comprehension.

Samson flattered to deceive again – true to stereotype. As I write, the match on Tuesday is underway and Samson is blazing away but Pant still seems more assured on the crease especially against the slower bowlers.  If Samson does come good this season it would be long overdue.

The Pune team, RPSG (I didn’t realize they had dropped the s from Supergiants to become one Supergiant – why bother? ) looks to continue the stereotype from last year. It looks in shambles on and off the field with the owners a trigger happy with their tweets. There seems to be a curse of the most expensive purchase in the auction. Seldom have the players lived up to the hype – Stokes seem to be headed in that direction. Still his bustling energy, Tahir’s unalloyed exuberance and Steve Smith’s endless run hunger seem to be the few bright spots in this team. Beyond that any team that relies on Ashok Dinda as a pace spearhead is headed for trouble and so it proved last week.

Gujarat Lions is another team to bring about a sense of deja vu – pick a bunch of quality overseas openers and then try to fit them in the playing XI. Without Bravo around and relying solely on a lineup of Indian military medium pacers this team has struggled.  Praveen Kumar and Kulkarni are honest triers but seems to me that the attack lacks a potency, an X factor if you will.  The “frog in the blender” Kaushik seems to be able to land the ball on the line most of the time – which is a biological wonder if ever there was. Based on limited evidence I cannot fathom how someone can control the ball without getting the whole body lined up at the point of delivery. There have been more unusual bowlers who have defied conventional wisdom and gone on to achieve unparalleled success so there may be a case for him. At the moment thought its hard to imagine Kaushik becoming the game changer the Lions so desperately need.

Punjab could surprise and that could be a new update in the resort town. The team does not seem to have changed a whole lot but Maxwell as captain seems to have revitalized the apprach.  Punjab have placed faith in Manan Vohra more than anyone else, sticking with him through various changes. I would think its high time for Vohra to fire – his previous IPL outings have been underwhelming.

The old feeling of IPL being an old boys’ club returned when the team mentor Sehwag got the franchise to recruit Ishaant after he remained unsold at the main auction. Sehwag’s statement after the acquisition seemed to imply that Ishaant was recruited more due to closeness with the mentor than on any real quality bowling ability.

KKR and Sunrisers Hyderabad seem to be well balanced. Typically the first match of the season sets the tone with McCullum kicking off the IPL 10 years ago with the memorable hundred. This time there was no McCullum like feat but Yuvraj still managed to revive old memories.  I have been skeptical in the past about Yuvraj’s continued utility in T20 but I suppose I have the entire duration of the timeshare to adjust my views on this.  Rashid Khan seems to be the talk of the town right now but I have to watch highlights of his bowling to experience the hype.  Hyderabad was innovative in their team choices with Mustafizur earlier and Rashid currently. It would be no surprise if this team goes on to the playoffs.

Still a lot of action to come and hopefully there are moments that stand out. Moments that rise above the repetitive shots of the big screen on the stadium and the multitude of loud tropes and cliches that the commentators dish out.  But then again as has been proved over the past 9 years, this is a package that blends the rough with the smooth, the sublime with the ordinary, ability with the hype.

10 years on ….

02/19/2017

I can feel a buzz in my head – and I haven’t had a drink in three years. It’s literally minutes before the auction for the IPL and I guess it takes a special kind of a nut to be excited by an auction – something that some derogatorily call a place where cricketers are treated like cattle.

I still remember the first edition vividly. I was laid low by a spinal injury that limited my movement. I had one of those cervical collars that make your neck stand out.  A sure fire way to catch attention but you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. I remember I would sleep in a sitting position for 2 weeks – it was just too painful to lie down.  The makeshift office at my home was to be my world for those few painful days. Luckily there was cricket.

But wait – this seemed a different kind of cricket. Cheerleaders, Bollywood stars, celebrity team owners and “Maximums” – was I dreaming? Delusional with all the pain killers? It was like when multiple dreams come together and you wake up trying to figure out what it all meant.

Propped up on my chair with feet on the table wasn’t the best way to watch but the alternative was too painful.  In that situation even the endless strategic timeouts did not seem jarring. I timed those with timing of the painkillers.  Kids, don’t try this at home. Leave it to the experts. But take it from me that painkillers and T20 make a heady combination.

I was wondering how this would all turn out. But out came McCullum and after that all was right with the T20 world. This was a mix that couldn’t and wouldn’t go wrong. And we were off on a whirlwind ride.

I always thought that a typical baseball season in the US was interminable with 167 matches in the league stages. IPL schedules seemed intent on giving the MLB a run for their money with about half of the matches in a third of the time. The fact that it still remained a viable product proves that this was an idea whose time had come.

With the nature of blink and miss T20 games its hard to think of many matches as being truly memorable. There are still moments and vignettes. Hitherto unknown players coming to the fore and becoming headline news has become a healthy habit with this tournament. Swapnil Asnodkar, Paul Valthaty, Manpreet Gony to name just a few – were players who had their five minutes of fame at the IPL stage. It was great while it lasted but unfortunately it could be measured in a T20 minute.  But these guys dared to be brave on the biggest stage and for that they deserve our adulation. Great going boys – nobody would be happier if you could prove there is some spark left in the seemingly dying embers.

In the past few months there have been quite a few words written about big data and how that could be used in T20 format. A Moneyball type analysis with terabytes of data available on performances in T20 leagues the world over. That might be an interesting exercise to see if one could predict what the franchise owners think based on number crunching possible ahead of the auction.  Would definitely be an interesting thought experiment to come up with hypothesis and watch those either being validated or blown to bits.

Past 10 years have made household names of some of the participating players. They also have seen teams go from household names to oblivion. Allegations of corruption have surfaced, teams have been forced out of the league, new teams have come in. What has not changed is the excitement around it and almost undivided attention it commands across the cricketing world. . IPL for all of its flaws has not lost its relevance and that it saying a lot – since the flaws have been significant.

Cricket has been a part of my life – all important events have a cricketing memory to go along with it. While it’s true IPL will always bring back memories of physical pain I had endured it’s also true that I keep coming back to it every year for the sheer pleasure of performances and personalities.