Sunday, May 24, 2009

IPL 2009 Final - Just 2 Observations


When Bangalore lost all their batsmen, and the only "specialist" left standing to shepherd the tail was Robin Uthappa, I got a strange feeling that maybe the league's Least Valuable Player (or Most Useless Player) had one last hurrah left; that maybe, just maybe, he'd pull something special out of his sleeve and offer one more glimpse of the early talent and promise which we had seen when he first made his way into the Indian team. In the penultimate over, when he walked out and calmly hit a six, even those who are convinced he's thoroughly useless would have felt a quickening.

"Ootapatta", as he was once memorably called by Ian Chappell, did not disappoint however. He stuck to his guns and earned full marks for consistency. He remains, hands down, the most useless player in the entire IPL. On a day when the likes of Vinay Kumar and even Harmeet Singh stepped up their game a notch for the big game, this man found another low and sunk gracelessly to it. With 14 runs to get off the last 4 balls, when some serious hitting was required, what does 'Ootapatta' do but go for his favorite lift over the shoulder past fine leg maneuver. In the previous IPL he'd made this shot his own, and imbued this ugliest of Cricket shots with a particular ugliness all his own. When he tried it today, without success, the frustrated anger on Kumble's face was so obvious, echoing the frustrations of all of us in India who had once thought this idiot might amount to something someday. Not any more I guess. He conclusively proved his utter uselessness today. I would be so surprised if he ever plays professional cricket in a serious capacity ever again. I would not be surprised at all if he persists in the grind of Indian first class cricket for a few years, and then finds niche doing "expert" commentary on some TV channel, like Ajay Jadeja.

Hyderabadi Flavor

One of the things IPL 2009 will be remembered for is the way in which an Aussie icon tried to take over an Indian franchise through some backroom maneuvering and succeeded in destroying both the team's spirit and its prospects. Both Buchanan and Ganguly are icons in their own right, but the manner in which Buchanan decided to discard Ganguly shall become a case history in how to destroy a team's spirit and competitive prospects.

In the controversy surrounding the debacle of the Knight Riders, very few people will have noticed how another Aussie went about taking over an IPL franchise with complete success, including supplanting a beloved local icon. The manner in which Adam Gichrist went about taking charge of the Deccan Chargers is a study in contrast to Buchanan's.

Last year, the Deccan Chargers were led by VVS Laxman, who while gamely trying his heart out was clearly not up to the task. He made a couple of handy contributions, including a fighting 50, but he could not inspire his team and they placed last. Gilchrist, the man who won two world cup finals on his own, could not have been happy. It is not hard to figure out that the owners of the Chargers listened to Gilchrist who asked for a free hand. It is to their credit that they did, and did not go in for the wholesale disruptive changes that Vijay Mallaya went in for. It may be noted that while the #s 7 & 8 teams from last year ended up in the finals this year, they took dramatically different routes to get there. While Bangalore spent a lot of money to hire the ineffectual Pietersen, apart from Ryder, Van der Merwe, etc., Deccan were largely unchanged from last year. The only change was in the captaincy and the coaching staff. Even there, the difference was stark - Mallaya threw his weight about and almost alienated Dravid who had been the stand out performer last year; Ram Reddy quietly convinced Laxman to stand down as captain and announced Gilchrist would lead. Even the timing was very different - Gilchrist was appointed captain well in advance, in contrast to Bangalore or even more strangely Kolkata who waited right up until a fortnight prior to the tournament before dropping the "multi-captain theory" bomb. Kolkata's blundering was all the more surprising because captaincy had not been their problem last year. They had lost close games, but not because of Ganguly who had batted well and even bowled well in a couple of games. I guess it was just Buchanan's sheer cussedness in the end, that he persisted in changing the captaincy even at the risk of alienating Ganguly, earning the anger of the most partisan fan base in India, and destroying the team spirit. In contrast, Gilchrist not only did not alienate his icon player, he in fact made sure to keep him visibly happy while coldly sitting him out. The finesse with which Gilly accomplished this exceedingly difficult task is another case study in leadership - one which Buchanan and Shahrukh could learn a lot from.

Everyone could see today how happy Laxman was at the Chargers victory - one to which his contribution was zero. Though he started the season in the playing eleven, the minute he showed problems with his form, Gilly lost no time in sitting him out in place of the tyro T. Suman. Admittedly, Laxman's ego is not the same size as Dada's but he is one of the true immortals of Indian cricket. Gilchrist took a huge risk which could have backfired. It is to his credit that he accomplished this very smoothly.

Apart from this, he led the team well, again almost without seeming to. He brought the best out of Sharma and Singh, the two young Indian internationals in the side, and ensured that the internationals delivered - especially Gibbs, who unlike last year, fortunately hit form AND motivation both, just in time for the IPL. He also backed his young Indian players to the hilt, especially Pragyan Ojha who performed like a champion, but also Rao and Ravi Teja who were good last year but struggled on the South African pitches this year. Even Harmeet Singh, who looked hapless until today, delivered when it really mattered. Among the internationals, Scott Styris remained a passenger, and Chaminda Vaas rode the bench except in one or two games. In fact, once Harris found form with the ball and Symonds arrived from Dubai, the side was well set and hit the cruise button.

The obvious happiness on Laxman's face today and the obvious camraderie between him and Gilchrist in the dressing room when the winning runs were hit, are probably Gilchrist's greatest achievements in my eyes, because they point to another lost opportunity for Australia which opted for the crusty in-your-face captaincy style of Ponting after Waugh, instead of what could have been a smooth-as-single-malt Gilchrist touch. They could have avoided some of the heartburn and fan backlash of recent years if Gilly had been in charge rather than Ponting. Their loss is Hyderabad's gain however, and the IPL's.

It is even more revealing of the man that Gilchrist made it a point to mention Hyderabad fans in his acceptance speech - something neither Pietersen nor Buchanan would have bothered about, and even the great Dhoni forgot about in his "our bowling was poor"concession speech yesterday. Apart from his explosive batting and his smooth leadership style, it is Gilchrist's great political skill in negotiating the treacherous ego-ridden waters of Indian cricket with ease that are the most remarkable to me. This is the same man after all, who not so long ago had accused God of bad sportsmanship. Gilchrist Garu rocks!! Not my favorite man or choice of IPL winning captain, but you gotta admire his exceptional skill. Not a slouch with the bat either.

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