Bowlers to the fore in this year's unfinished IPL
A premier sporting event in the midst of a raging pandemic is never easy. But then IPL had been a great success when held in the UAE last year when the pandemic had not taken as big a form as now. Even then BCCI, on that occasion, thought conducting it overseas was a better way, looking into the logistics hurdles they had perceived would be there in India. But then the England cricket series at home must have given them confidence. The neatly organised Test and limited over fixtures, with the norms of bio-bubble and no spectators in stadium in place, worked off well. There was not even one moment of anxiety as the event was conducted with full satisfaction with the fans getting plentiful on the television.
So it was thought would be the experience of IPL too. Indeed for a while everything had looked well though the talk of players being under stress because of the stringent bio-bubble conditions did surface here and there. But then the detractors had begun to air their discontent. How could a sports programme of such a nature go on in the midst of sorrow and devastation around brought by the pandemic was the question. As it happened the debate did not take major roots for the virus found a way to breach the bubble! The IPL's temporary end thus was, as one national daily put it, a “sudden death”.
In no time the action from the cricket ground died out. The IPL is over for now, to be revived at a later date but nobody could guess when. Uncertainty looms around on what the future holds. Already UAE is being thought of as an alternative venue. Only time will know what happens next. There are so many factors to take into account including whether a window would be available in a packed international cricket schedule. More than that, would the virus wane in the next few months! Indeed imponderable.
Nonetheless this partially held edition did provide enough drama and action to catch the fans' eyeballs. Big scoring feats, as usual were there but what must have come as pleasing revelation was the way the bowlers rose to the occasion to make a big difference. This has to be something new in an event which has always been considered batsman-friendly in nature. Indeed the IPL as we have always known was never short of fours and sixes or the big hits that soar high into the galleries. Like lambs to the slaughter, bowlers, even those established and had a reputation in world cricket, were treated harshly. In fact there was a time when a score of 250 and above were not uncommon and there were centuries galore. How could one forget, Brenden McCullum's 158 off just 73 balls in the 2008 opener! Then there was Chris Gayle who posted 175 off 66 balls in 2013. For bowlers then nightmares were common. But then that was entertainment and fans loved them even if it looked so lop-sided as a contest.
Considering that, what happened this time with promise of more (before curtains came down suddenly) certainly can be considered a welcome change. At least there was a worthy contest between the bat and ball. Big hits were there but there were also moments of inspiration for bowlers to fine-tune their wares. The start did not provide an inkling to what was in store. Matches did go like old times with 200 plus totals becoming normal affairs and close finishes providing all the excitement like the way Chennai Super Kings went down to Mumbai Indians in a last ball thriller. After scoring 218 for four CSK had looked a winner until Mumbai Indians stole victory off the last ball. What is significant is that of the first 30 matches, there had been only eight totals that exceeded the 200 mark. Bowlers in the main were able to keep the run rate in check while also picking up wickets at crucial moments to spice up the contests. To that extent they managed to put the pressure on the batsmen and in the process displaying a bowling variety that attracted instant praise.
That in a nutshell was the story of this year’s unfinished IPL. As the contests warmed up even totals of just over 150 or about had been defended. What is more, scores began to be restricted to the 140s with the lowest a little over 100. Not just that seemingly small targets became imposing ones in the face of determined bowling. Mention has to be made of Andre Russell who took five wickets in two overs for Kolkata Knight Riders against Mumbai Indians – something unprecedented in the IPL. There has also been a second five-wicket haul by Harshal Patel for Royal Challengers Bangalore against MI. But the pick of them all has to be Deepak Chahar. Playing for CSK against Punjab Kings Chahar came up with a performance that will be hard to beat. The right arm medium pacer who has played three ODIs and 12 T-20 internationals finished off with impressive figures of four for 13. He had sent in 18 dot balls in his four-over spell – a record that could stay for a while. Totally there were five four-wicket hauls in the short span of this year’s competition, to reinforce the sterling role that the bowlers had played this time. Their bagful of tricks and innovative ideas made the big difference.