The sixth edition of the much coveted IPL got off to a limp start. It seriously did. A broken stump lay there quietly out of its peg on a lively wicket at the Eden Gardens to signal the beginning of yet another chapter of a raucous tournament that is fast turning into the most sought after exhibition of jumboree cricket anywhere in the world. The bermuda shorts version of the game may not charm the well mannered cricket follower, but there are so many other reasons to moist that stiff upper lip and soak in the entertainment. Just do not call it cricket if that can assuage the pain of assault on your refined senses. Allow yourself to be sucked into this soap opera though, since the invasion is inevitable with or without your invitation. Besides, there might yet be something in the buffet spread that might just leave you satiated and charmed.
The very first ball of this IPL reminded you of the oddities that lay in store this Indian summer. As an almost packed stadium rose as one to cheer Brett Lee untying the tentative defenses of Unmukt Chand with the very first delivery of the season, there was an air of unmistakable irony that filled the air around the iconic stadium. If dismissal was a hard pill to swallow, Chand must have felt it bloating inside his mouth as the 20-year-old trudged slowly back to the bench. The noise of nearly 100,000 of his own folk cheering lustily for an Aussie assassin will linger inside those tender lobes.
Chand’s mother might not have been proud of the lad this evening. But trust me ma’m, even Geoffrey Boycott would have refrained from invoking his granny to try her wobbly Yorkshire ways against the one that zipped past your young boy’s blade. And believe me, the venerable British slow coach hasn’t refrained from inviting her to the middle even in the heat of an Ashes battle. And then we have our fair share of oldies too, so do we really need his granny? Shahrukh Khan was in his element jumping up and down, making the most of pretending to be young. IPL owners are allowed some slack, at least while the show is on. And so long as they manage to stay sober!
Rajat Bhatia, the 33-year-old Delhi cricketer who helped his regular team to the Ranji title in 2007, was out there in the adopted colours of Kolkata, raiding the fort with his seemingly innocuous deliveries to derail the Devils. He might have to offer complimentary passes to all his friends and family just to have a few souls in the stands to watch him perform for Delhi in whites, but he had the nation watching in thrall even as he went about his night job as a knight in purple and gold, many even paying for the sight.
There was an even more blatant sight on offer. Not many men understand the guile of Sunil Narine, least of all a Jamaican with a lone appearance in Tests and two runs to his name. Even the seasoned IPL mercenary in Narine was left pursing his lips attempting in vain to hide the pain of teasing, tormenting and eventually tricking his compatriot Andre Russell to spoon back a catch almost as if he were returning the cherry in a net somewhere near Trinidad.
The wily spinner turned the ball either side and kept it straight at will. Time isn’t a commodity traded in the titsy bitsy version of the game, but then there was enough of it for the 24-year-old wizard to quietly stuff four scalps into his bulging bag of victims. Watching the West Indian wizard produce those four overs with the lazy grace of a man in no real hurry for a miserly 13 runs was in itself worth the price of the ticket for those who squeezed themselves inside the gardens. It was as if he were Morpheus in Matrix, living a different reality on an otherwise agitated plane.
Amidst the ruins of the Delhi durbar was a Sri Lankan hero, standing tall despite the storm in the middle and the one that is compromising the participation of his countrymen outside the ground. Mahela Jayawardene showcased the value of concentration and raw spirit as he brushed aside the political dust to stand by his men on a sinking boat. 66 invaluable runs came from the steady skipper even as his men were all at sea in the enemy’s lair.
9 teams, 54 days and 72 matches in store. If last year’s show is any indication, you might find the odd man in formals offering an insurance for being in the stands. One can only wonder if that mark of 732 sixes will be bettered, but there was enough irony in the fact that the first six of this year’s edition was baking in the oven for almost 19 overs.
In the end, it was barely worth the lost winks, considering that the Knight Riders only had to amble to an easy victory. Gautam Gambhir may have lost the attention of the national selectors, but the IPL is just a game for metal raiding miners. And as Chris Gayle taught us, discarded men make fine mercenaries. Gambhir played his role to the hilt, getting the Riders off to a flyer despite the early loss of Manvinder Bisla, who was softened up by Irfan Pathan with a couple of blows below the belt.
Eoin Morgan might be an Irishman playing for Middlesex, but he could easily have opted for a life in London or Leicester among Gujarati folk. His easy partnership with Yusuf Pathan confirmed that on a pleasant night in Kolkata. Expect some feisty action on the road ahead, for the circus will only gather more gravity. Meanwhile, learn to enjoy the song and dance.