There was a lot of action on the field and very little off it. It was exactly what the IPL needed. For all the glamour and talk associated with it, the IPL is a cricket tournament and its success depends entirely on the kind of cricket that is played.
Yes, the atmosphere contributes to the overall package, it is important too, but without the cricket there is nothing. That is why this was one of the best years for the IPL. The focus was on the points table till the very end, youngsters were being talked about, ageing stars were being egged on and team loyalties were on display. The cricket won and that is why the IPL won.
Two teams stood out for me and both made strong comebacks in the tournament because of the kind of cricket they played. The Royal Challengers were probably a bowler short in the top six, a spinner short really, but they were wonderful to watch. A spin bowling all-rounder will be on their shopping list, and there aren’t a lot of those around, but they are a team to watch out for because apart from Chris Gayle, everyone else is young and even Gayle showed he has cricket left in him.
The other team, and their turnaround was fascinating, was the Mumbai Indians. I have seen them closely over the years and I have always thought that for all the riches they possessed in the team, they seemed to be storing up for a rainy day. In saving up, almost hoarding, resources, they gave the impression they were missing the moment. And so they sometimes gave the impression they were a team worried about what might befall them and in doing so, resources often went under-utilised. To be fair, the Mumbai Indians were still the number two team in terms of matches won in the history of the IPL, and so they were doing a lot of things right too, but you almost wanted them to go out and show off their skills.
They did that this year and if one performance were to symbolise their attitude, it was Rohit Sharma in the final. A sensational run-out had reduced them to 1-1 after the first over and teams in the past would have waited for the tide to turn. Instead Rohit Sharma took on the situation and within two overs, he had dragged the game towards the Mumbai Indians. At a big moment in the final, they took the aggressive option and by backing themselves, MI ran away with the game.
A lot of other decision making was aggressive in intent. Kieron Pollard got the number he deserved, got the balls he needed at the start of his innings and returned to being one of the most feared players at the end of an innings. There is a trinity there. AB de Villers, Andre Russell and Pollard and they all need to bat up the order not face a few balls at the end.
Finding their feet
After messing around a bit with Ambati Rayudu, the Mumbai Indians finally found a role for him too and you could see how he flowered as the tournament progressed. And you had to admire the way they backed two very inexperienced but talented cricketers in Hardik Pandya and J Suchith. Their selection was a triumph for the scouts and for the think tank.
If you can play four Indian batsmen in the top six, it allows teams to pick two overseas bowlers. The Mumbai Indians did that when they won in 2013 and they did that again with Mitchell Mcleneghan doing what Mitchell Johnson did. It allowed them to control the first six overs and give Vinay Kumar the right role, which is to bowl the middle overs behind the new ball.
And with Malinga and Harbhajan, two veterans with a little question mark over them, showing their class and playing with a smile, the Mumbai Indians got their bowling sorted, which is often the key in T20 cricket.
Ideally, teams should have eight batting and six bowling options. Look at the line ups for Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders when they were winning.
And, to be fair with a bit of luck, Mumbai Indians got the opening pair sorted. Few teams have had to fiddle around with that part of the team as much as they have. It is only a 120 ball game but the essence of a lot of cricket, bowl and face the new ball well, is still valid.
It is a measure of how good they are that CSK, who seemed to be sleepwalking occasionally, sometimes reading from an old script, still managed to top the table and finish runners-up. I thought they were just a bit short of energy and excitement in their ranks and sometimes looked like they were playing just another game.
I expect a couple of movements there in the off-season.
I enjoyed this IPL. While you always look for bright young talent, there was a lovely touch from the veterans. Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh were magnificent and so was Zaheer Khan once he started bowling. 19 dot balls in a game out of 24 for someone believed to be past it was stunning.
Now, if only we could have seen a bit more from Yuvraj and Sehwag, that would have completed the picture!
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