So far the IPL has lived up to expectations, and even beyond. I think the most important trends have been
1. The early predictions of the Indian youngsters struggling with the alien conditions of South Africa have been proved somewhat true. Without exception the young batsmen, weaned on the batting friendly flat wickets of India, have been surprised by the unexpected bounce or late swing, or the ball suddenly stopping on the soggier wickets down south around the Cape. Nearly all the sprightly batting discoveries of last year - Shikhar Dhawan, Swapnil Asnodkar, Wriddhiman Saha, Ajinkya Rahane, Abhishek Nayar, Venugopal Rao and many others, have struggled and been failing so far. That is ok. This is valuable education for them. They will have greater respect for technique from now on.
2. Tendulkar is God. There is no doubt. He is batting with fluency and almost complete freedom. Mining a rich seam of form, he is playing like a king. The swat pull off Ishant Sharma's short ball for a six was thrilling. If Jayasuriya maintains his form and plays a couple of big innings, it will give Sachin that much more freedom to do his thing.
3. The late order big hitter is an absolute necessity in T20 cricket. The ideal setup is to have a string 1 & 2, then a slightly less strong batsman at 3 to steady things, and one roving big-hitter at 4-5-6 to biff them out of the park from overs 16 to 20. Teams that have this kind of setup are bound to do well.
Team 1 2 3 Late Hitter IPL Rank
Mumbai Sachin Jayasuriya Dhawan not settled 3
Kolkata Gayle McCullum Dada not settled(IPL1 - Gul) 8
Bangalore Ryder Uthappa/Kallis KP/Dravid not settled 7
Hyderabad Gilchrist Gibbs Bilakhia Sharma/Smith 1
Delhi Sehwag Gambo AB Karthik 2
Jaipur Smith not settled not settled Yusuf 5
Chennai Haydos not settled Raina Dhoni 4
Chandigarh not settled Goel Sanga Yuvraj/Irfan/NS 6
The teams that have got this combo right have won. In fact, even Bangalore has won only when at least 3 out of these 4 key batting guns have fired.
The late hitter position is of such importance that it is often the difference between win and loss. Delhi won today because one of the openers and then Karthik fired. Jaipur is being carried by Pathan but struggling due to the loss of form of both openers. Deccan Chargers are sitting pretty because Gilly, Gibbs and Sharma have been consistently firing. Haydos and Raina have managed to hide the problem of Dhoni's slump in the late order. Kolkata's on field problems are largely due to McCullum's inexplicable loss of form, and they are sorely missing Umar Gul who had last year lit up Eden Garden (and Dada) with his effortless sixes.
4. The Pakistanis should have been reallowed once IPL moved to South Africa. This is plainly political and unethical on the part of BCCI. Now is not the time to abandon Pakistan Cricket. Just look at the amazing story of Afghanistan. Similarly, Pak Cricket is about the only feel good story coming out of Pakistan for some time now. The mercurial and aggressive Pakistanis always add value to 20-20 teams.
5. The Sri Lankans are absolutely worth their weight in Gold. Each one of them is sincere, contented and invaluable. Dilshan, Malinga, Sanga, Mahela, Sanath, Murali, Mendis - they have all been key to their respective side's fortunes. They are such cool people, they remind me of the Wests Indies of early 1980s. Each one accomplished, skilled, confident and yet utterly humble and down to earth. An amazing group of cricketers.
6. The Indian bowlers are loving South African pitches. Its fun to watch the surprise in the faces of the youngsters when their first or second ball hits the hard deck and takes off, hurrying the batsmen. By the second overs they are getting a wicket and its happy days, atleast until the end of the IPL when they must return home to break their backs on flat Indian pitches.
7. Kamran chucks. Kamran does have a very suspect action. Uthappa openly sledged him as "chucker" and no one complained. I have rewound his action on my DVR and I would like to reserve judgment. He does seem to have a bent elbow till dangerously late in his bowling action, but his arm seems to straighten to legal limits just before his back starts twisting forward in his slinger action. The only reason I said he chucks, is because there is no predefined meaning of chucking in Cricket. Every unusual action is chucking of some sort. Its either that, or some kid from the Bumfuck, Iowa equivalent of India invented a whole new way of generating amazing pace from a short and rather slow runup. For his sake, I hope this is not the first step on the road to the MRF Pace Academy. They will destroy him - take away his pace with biomechanics and accuracy drills. I wish Warnie sends him to Australia for some training and strengthening. The boy has no future in Indian cricket otherwise.
8. Some people who should gracefully retire from Cricket - Uthappa, Agarkar, Sanjay Bangar. Uthappa is probably the single most useless player in the entire IPL. If there were a LVP award, he would be the obvious candidate.
9. Those who think Yuvraj can be replaced are foolish. Yuvraj is a unique and irreplaceable talent. On his day he is the most awesome player in the world, on a plane of existence where few can touch him. He is mighty Achiles, with one single fatal flaw like Achiles. Yuvraj is constantly burdened by self doubt and his father's outrageous expectations. His bum knee does not help either. He should have had that surgery a long time ago, but even more than that, it is his partying that has imperiled his career. It is because of late nights and booze that he got injured in the first place - fat and out of shape, he hurt his knee at Kho Kho and will never be the energetic young Cover fielder that he used to be in his early days. And yet, he is superhumanly talented and continues to prove his worth.
10. Team India is generally in good shape for the 20-20 World Cup. If key players like Gambhir, Sehwag, Raina, Sharma, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Munaf, RP, Ishant, Karthik, Pravin, Ojha, Chawla, Yusuf and Irfan can carry their current form to England, they will be serious contenders to repeat their performance from the last tournament. Now if DHoni would just play one of his explosive innings, all will be well with the world.
PS - I also believe that if Kamran's action is cleared (on the outside chance) he should play the World Cup for India.