To most cricket fans nothing comes as a greater joy than the sight of a six being hit. The shorter version of the game provides immense opportunities to watch such big hits, power-hitting as they say. The soaring ball as it either disappears into the top tiers of the stadium or scales over brings a kind of enjoyment that manifests in the form of roar and cheers that follow the big-hit act. K.L. Rahul the other day was the source of such joy and excitement as he came up with a match winning 98 for Punjab Kings that had eight soaring hits which made compelling watching. With over 600 sixes registered in the league phase and many more boundaries to boot, the IPL 2021 until now had enough to keep the audience, basically those glued to the TV sets, riveted to the action in the gulf. Add to that is the technology of instantly gauging the length of the shot and the excitement is complete! To be sure there is bound to be more such joyful sights as the IPL gets past the business-end. Indeed from a cricket lover's point of view, this is just the beginning for the main course to come in the form of the T 20 World Cup that follows the Indian feast at the same venues in addition to Oman!
Undoubtedly this limited version of the sport has lifted the image of cricket from one that was known more for the laboured but technique-rich five-day game to one that assures instant delights. If the 50-over version itself was a game changer or the version that ushered in the new thinking then it is the even shorter version that seems to hold a special appeal. In keeping with the needs of this limited-over version seems to be the evolution of the cricket bat which is now in tune for the bit hits. A powerful swing of the willow with matching timing ensures the ball is hit with the meat of the bat to send the sphere soaring to heights or scorching the turf to the boundary. How many batsmen have made a name from this ability! To many it opens up a new vista to a future of immense possibilities and the IPL has proved to be the most adorned event where such new 'characters' take birth, so to say! This year's edition, partly held in India and partly in the UAE, thanks to the pandemic, has been no exception.
While the known stars sparkled, the interest was even more on the new talents who shot into prominence. Mention has to be made of Venkatesh Iyer and Ruturaj Gaekwad for instance, two young men who basked in the settings to demand attention. The tall left hander Iyer's approach was a stand out. Quick to adapt to the requirements, he had his bat to talk and the runs flowed from boundaries and sixes. No bowler was spared and Iyer thus announced his arrival to the big stage. Already with a reputation of having scored a scintillating 198 off 146 balls in the Vijay Hazare one-day tournament he had that distinction extra polished to a sparkling best. In addition to his batting was his right arm medium pace bowling to give his cricketing personality a healthier look. In the same category falls the right hander Ruturaj Gaekwad, strong with his arm and sure with his shots. A century maker in the Gulf phase, Gaekwad was a consistent player for Maharashtra in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament. What is more he played a key role in his team Chennai Super Kings reaching the final.
Often in the excitement that batters evoke, the role of the bowlers take a back seat. Not that their efforts do not make an appeal. On the contrary, in this year's edition one key highlight was the way the bowlers were able to keep the scores at modest levels. Rarely had a side's total crossed the 200 mark or even reached near to that in the Gulf. Tight bowling backed by sharp fielding can be easily concluded as a key reason. Here too some of the best bowlers in world cricket had exhibited their wares and in this midst some new names too made a splash. The one who comes to mind immediately is Harshal Patel, the Gujarat player who later switched base to Haryana. The medium pacer looks to have a friendly pace but where his skill lay is in the variations he brings in to his deliveries. That he was found difficult to be dispatched was his biggest plus point in addition to his ability to pick wickets. Harshal has already become a star wicket taker in IPL 2021. Statistics say that with 29 wickets so far, Harshal already has the most number of wickets in an IPL season as an Indian bettering who else but renowned Jasprit Bumrah (27)!
Yet another in this category is this young lad from Jammu and Kashmir, Umran Malik. Tear away fast bowlers are rare and rarer still in India. Yet here was talent who made everyone rethink. Touching 150 kph, he had even India skipper Virat Kohli speak highly of a great discovery. Who knows with proper guidance and moulding, Umran, before long, could well be another alongside Bumrah to form a famed duo of pace bowers!
What the IPL gives these talented players, batters and bowlers, is also the enriching opportunity to mingle and learn, playing along with some of the best known names in world cricketers. Indeed overall, one thing Indian cricket can always be assured of as things stand now is the regular supply of quality players for as the IPL has shown there are plenty around to pick from.