Friday’s double-header in the IPL highlighted the quirkiness and vicissitudes of fortune that sport can entail. There were hat-tricks in both matches, a highly implausible occurrence in itself. Even more improbably, one hat-trick bowler finished on the losing side!
That cricket is a funny game is a truism. But I doubt Samuel Badree, the underrated West Indies leg spinner playing his first match this season, would have seen any humour in what transpired in Bangalore’s match against Mumbai. Rather, he must still be mortified.
Victory seemed a formality after Badree had sent Mumbai into a tailspin, claiming four wickets in a remarkable opening spell, only to see the pitch queered, as it were, by big Kieron Pollard with support from hardy lower order batsmen.
By contrast, the other ‘tricker’ Andrew Tye’s IPL debut ended in jubilation. He led Gujarat to their first win this season against beleaguered Pune who slumped from a strong position to finish with a modest score against a powerful batting line-up.
Pune looked poised for around 200 when Tye came on for his second spell. From 106/3 at the start of the 13th over when he got the dangerous Ben Stokes, Pune crumbled to 171/8 in 20 overs, Tye’s ensuing hat-track preventing any scope of recovery.
That Badree and Tye bowled superbly is beyond question.
That the results were diametrically opposite was, I believe, because of the mental make-up of the Mumbai and Pune teams respectively, as evidenced so far this IPL season.
Mumbai’s never-say-die spirit showed up once again as they won from a near impossible situation. Three of the four matches they’ve played this season have been humdingers, two of them last-over finishes. If anything, this shows great will to win.
On the other hand Pune, after beating Mumbai in their first match, have been seen to easily surrender the advantage, or fail to take charge when the opposition have looked most vulnerable.
This reflects low confidence and less than desired ‘jelling’ between players rather than lack of ability.
The ambition of a side and the chemistry between players finds expression in performances. Mumbai’s ‘secondary’ stars — Nitish Rana, the Pandya brothers — have risen to the occasion to take their side home in the first three matches.
Pollard, under flak for failure to come good in these three matches, rose to utter brilliance in the fourth, scoring 70 in extenuating circumstances against Bangalore. To take his side from a pathetic 7/4 to win was a tour de force. But this was possible because of the faith reposed in him
Pune on the other hand have still to find their bearings. There is no dearth of high quality players, but the performances have been patchy and disappointing: more so from Ajinkya Rahane and M.S. Dhoni.
Dhoni, who enjoys cult status in limited overs cricket, has been under particularly harsh scrutiny as he has struggled for runs. It can’t be easy to meet extraordinary high expectations from fan and franchisee, but that is the lot of a player with a track record like Dhoni.
His wicket-keeping and advisory skills (now that he is not captain) are taken for granted and the focus is almost entirely on his batting. Frankly, Dhoni has looked out of sorts yet. But I believe he is too good a player to be languishing too long.
That said, the results of Friday’s matches have thrown open the league. Ten days into the season, each team has won at least one match, and there have been some topsy-turvy results to suggest that there is no front-runner or laggard as yet.
Those that started brilliantly (Hyderabad, Pune, Punjab, Kolkata) ran into obstacles, those that struggled initially (Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat) recovered quickly enough to ensure that they are in the running. Pune and Bangalore have been disappointingly inconsistent, but things could change swiftly.
What’s become clear, however, is that team composition and balance is more crucial than just the presence of megastars to win matches. That is an important lesson already for the player auction next year!