Thrills and spills at IPL

IPL is now more than 16 days old and I have hardly seen a ball, save for the news. It’s sad but true. I just can’t stay up late at my age. However, I have seen enough to know that there is something good in IPL. Many have said that it lacks interest because it’s not full international cricket. I take the point, but there is merit in IPL.

IPL has been dominated by the big names, and in particular the Antipodeans and even more specifically, the Aussies. After 16 matches, Australians have been nominated man of the match on seven occasions. Three Indians and and three Sri Lankans have achieved the honour. But enough of man of the match – let’s face it, you don’t always have to do much in a match that is just 40 overs, to win the accolade.

More important are the moments. Roy stepped up to the plate, hit 117 not out and gave Warnie some serious stick. In the same match, Warnie returned the favour, hitting two successive sixes off Symonds to win the match in the final over. Exciting stuff. Gillie gave Mumbai a touch up, smashing 109* from 48 balls. He brought up the 100 in 42 balls in just the 10th over! Scoring 200 in a 50 over match remains a Holy Grail. McCullum’s 158 in match one was startling enough, but I dare say it has been unthinkable that a 200 could be scored in T20 but it Gillie has shown us that it is statistically possible.

While Symonds was giving stick and Gillie was touching up, Harbhajan was dishing out his own special brand of medicine to his “little brother”, Sreesanth. All I can say is that I’m glad it was one Indian to another and it couldn’t have happened to two nicer guys. I can’t believe Harbhajan did it and I can’t believe Sreesanth cried. He actually cried. I don’t know if it was the pain or the humilitation. It sure says something in favour of sledging. Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me. I’m pleased to see Harbhajan has been suspended for the rest of the tournament and that is going to cost him $800,000. What a pillock – when the two teams lined up to shake hands at the end of the match, Bhaji decided he’d rather slap Sreesanth than shake.

On a more positive note, let me offer a profile. I scanned the scorecard of game 15 and came across Manpreet Gony, bowling his heart out for my team, the Chennai Super Kings. He took 3-34 and dismissed Boucher and Dravid and I wondered who the hell he was. The answer is that he is a 24 year old Indian who has played five first class matches and taken 13 wickets. And now he has the chance to rub shoulders with the best cricketers in the world, even get them out and earn a little pocket money as well. I think that is super stuff.

Most of the Aussies and the Kiwis are off to play some real cricket now but the IPL show will go on.

What a spin out

IPL is about to start but let me say, with a last gasp before that happens that…

India took the third Test by storm to level the series. Having been themselves levelled by the South Africans in the previous Test, this came as a bit of a surprise. Or was it? The match was played on a dust bowl where the pitch was cracking 24 hours BEFORE the match started. The only reason that India did not play three spinners was that Kumble was injured.

Kumble was not needed in the end. The Indian spinners took seven wickers in each innings with the part-timers (Sehwag and Yuvraj) grabbing a total of five between them. Harbhajan opened the bowling in South Africa’s second innings. The match was well poised at stumps on day two with India eight down, holding a narrow lead. On Day three, South Africa had wiped off the deficit with eight wickets in hand. Then before you could say, “I’ll wager a fiver on the Boks”, the Boks had collapsed for 121 and India had smashed the winning runs. And Hershelle Gibbs wasn’t even playing.

Please don’t take my comments on the spinners’ paradise as criticism of Indian cricket. It’s not. I think there should be more of it – countries should be preparing pitches that suit the local conditions and players. It is a cricket tradition. I think it’s great to go to a location with an expectation of how a pitch will play. The many cricket pitches around the world that have had distinct characteristics add to the fabric of the game. In the past, when you went to Perth you would get your head knocked off. In Sydney, the ball turned square. In Melbourne, you could count on grubbers after day 3. And in Adelaide, the tail enders need not concern themselves too much about padding up. My broadly, England, New Zealand, South Africa and the sub continent all have conditions particular to that region and some individual pitches that “break the mold”.

In more recent times, there has been a tendency to homogenise pitches and I don’t think it’s been good for the game. Whether the trend has been motivated by a desire to ensure matches last longer (the homogenisation has generally taken the form of sterilisation) or as a result of criticism against homemade pitches, I don’t know. But I can’t see anything wrong with the locals cooking up a pitch to suit themselves. After all, there are no restrictions on who can play in either side. For example, when touring the sub continent, it was always in the interests of the tourists to send good quality spinners. Of course, you can’t just pluck a good spinner out of your hat, so it encourages cricket authorities to develop all forms of the game. One of Australia’s trumps in the Warne and McGrath era was that the home sides were “damned if they do, damned if they don’t”. Australia did not care whether it was dust bowl of a green top – as long as the ball did not swing, they would win the match.

How do ya feel Shiv?

One of those rare One Day matches came along yesterday. The West Indies won a match. And not only that, it was won off the last ball. And not only that, the last ball was a six. In a finish that dreams made of, the West Indies needed 10 from the last two balls and Chanderpaul tonked a four and six, in that order. Not bad. Vaas, after conceding just 3 runs in the first four balls of the over, finished with a half volley and a juicy full toss.

But the shocks didn’t end there. Shiv, who did make 62 runs was overlooked for man-of-the-match honours. In a moment of clarity, Larry Gomes saw past the hysteria and gave the award to Dwayne Brave for valour (4-32 and a hard hitting 36).

All that excitement has given me an idea. Wouldn’t it be great if all matches finished like that one? They are all too few. There’s been much talk of how the One Day game has become stale and predictable. We’ve had rule changes and even new formats (Twenty20) to try and address it. This is the idea. Games will be shortened to two balls only. The winner of the toss will chose whether to bat or bowl. The batting side will need to score 10 runs from the two balls to win. Teams will play best of 137 games in a single day. I can see it now.

Calypso Comeback

The West Indies have scored an expected win in the second Test in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. Well, I didn’t expected. In a lowish scoring match, that ran for just four days, the West Indies polished off the 254 runs required, while losing only four wickets. The main contributors to the cause were Sarwan (102) and the ever faithful Chanderpaul (86 not out). Australia should be worried.

It’s old news now but following the 1st Test run fest in India, South Africa has steam rolled India in the 2nd Test. Slightly misjudging the start of the Twenty20 festivities, India were dismissed in exactly 20 overs for a rather dismal (even for T20) 76 runs. South Africa realised it was actually a Test and piled on 494 before declaring at the end of day 2 (they must have wanted to play golf or something). After some resistance from India, South Africa prevailed by an innings and 90 runs.

While on the subject of South Africa, let me say that I think that the Australian and South African authorities have it way wrong with the scheduling. South Africa must be real pretenders to the throne. In fact, I think they would give Australia a real touch up if they played now. The trouble is, we’ll have to wait until the end of 2009 (almost two years) for a Test match. As you all know, countries are supposed to play each other in a Test series (minimum 2 matches) at home and away, every four years. When South Africa came back into the fold in 1992, back to back three match series were scheduled in Australia and South Africa in 1993/1994. It is understandable that all concerned were keen to play Test cricket in both nations as soon as possible. The trouble is that they have stayed on that cycle. There are two problems. Firstly, whereas Australia plays England in 10 Tests in any given four year period, and India in 8 Tests, there are just six matches between South Africa and Australia. Secondly, the matches all fall in a period of about four months. It’s a long time between hostilities. Last time the two teams met (2005/06), Australia still sported McGrath and Warne and was as powerful as ever and was smarting from the loss of the Ashes. Next time the two meet, the Ashes will have been contested twice, McGrath and Warne (not to mention Langer, Martyn and Gillie) will be forgotten and Dale Steyn will be an old man. It is disappointing.