Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Herschelle Gibbs, Shahid Afridi, Rohit Sharma, Scott Styris… with a line-up like that you were so sure Deccan Chargers would walk away with the IPL title in 2008. They finished last.
This, when the team that had seemed the stingiest at the auction — they got a retired has-been to lead a bunch of nobodies — proved the smartest. Shane Warne and Rajasthan Royals were the trailblazers whose template is still studied and followed in the IPL. The subsequent editions would see more T20-centric trends, most of which were shortlived.
With Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Anil Kumble topping the charts in 2009, they would say how the newest format surely had a place for the ageing stars. Those backers of ‘golden oldies’, however, would take a smooth U-turn on days when Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting would struggle to keep the dot balls down or when Muthiah Muralitharan would go at 10 runs per over.
There have been seasons, or phases, when classical spinners have been placed on a pedestal. This would often coincide with the fastish off-spinners with flatish trajectories being looked down upon. Then, suddenly one day, Dale Steyn would bowl a blinding spell and the narrative would quickly change. Then, for a few fleeting days, the express pacers would be seen as game changers.
An AB de Villiers hundred would trigger talk of T20 being a game of innovators and adventure-seekers. But when an Ajinkya Rahane would score a hundred, new arm-chair words of wisdom would emerge: “Whatever the format, text book cricket always works best.”
This time around too there will be an ample dose of trend-spotting and U-turners. So here are a few predictions of what could lie in store during the 2014 season. In case Delhi wins, there will be talk about Kevin Pietersen’s Warne-like transformation of the team.
Royal Challenger’s Bangalore’s success will see the pundits talking about the importance of packing teams with impact-batsmen like Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, de Villiers and their latest signing, Yuvraj Singh. This logic will turn on its head if it is the Sunrisers Hyderabad who win the title. Since they are filled to the brim with star bowlers, the ball will dominate discussions.
A Kings XI Punjab triumph will see the return of the ‘old’ argument as they have a strong 30-plus brigade — George Bailey, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Mitchell Johnson, Murali Kartik, Shaun Marsh and Virender Sehwag. In case any one of the three teams — Rajasthan Royals, CSK or Mumbai Indians — end up on top then the talk will be about the beauty of continuity as they all have retained most of their stars.
T20 is a highly unpredictable format and the IPL, with its ever-changing teams and venues, is too tough to call. As in any most sports, there will always be trends but they shouldn’t be mistaken for formulas of success. Here, no two games are similar. Neither are any two seasons identical.
(Sandeep is the National Sports Editor)