February 29, 2008

Revisiting the ICC World Twenty20 2007

I had no intention of posting today but just couldn’t resist writing on February 29 as I certainly don’t want to wait for 4 more years to avail the opportunity. I was thinking about what to write the entire morning as nothing of interest in the game of cricket was underway. After my last post I also didn’t want to sit and criticize the Australian clowns who are playing the Lankans now in a match whose result is purely academic. Then the thought of writing about the best cricketing incidents of 2007 came to my mind, but I decided not to go with it as it would be too time consuming. I also couldn’t write about last year’s World Cup as it was probably the most boring World Cup in the history of the game and it was very controversial too, because of the untimely demise of Pakistan’s coach Bob Woolmer. That was when I thought of writing about a cricketing event in 2007 which took the cricket fraternity by storm- the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 which was hosted by South Africa. The success of this event was overwhelming even though purists slammed it saying that it would destroy the game completely. The tournament, which was popularly known as the Twenty20 World Cup, was just 13 days long, and it brought the ICC more revenue than the month and a half long World Cup in the West Indies.

The first match of the tournament was played between the World Cup hosts West Indies and the Twenty20 hosts South Africa on September 11, 2007. This match was one of the best matches of the tournament. South Africa won the toss and elected to field first and when the West Indies started batting, South African skipper Graeme Smith realized that his decision was completely wrong. The Windies had got off to a flier and reached 50 without losing a wicket in just 5.2 overs! The carnage wasn’t over as Chris Gayle blasted the South African bowlers all over the place and the Windies brought up their 100 in just 9.4 overs out of which Gayle had notched up 64. The first wicket fell at 145 when D.S. Smith departed for 35. Gayle reached his century, the first in international Twenty20 history off just 50 balls. He got out in the 17th over for a magnificent 117 in 57 deliveries with 7 fours and 10 huge sixes. Windies ended their 20 overs with 205/6. South Africa needed to accelerate from the beginning if they wanted to win and they did just that as the openers knocked off the first 50 runs in just 4.5 overs. In spite of losing 2 wickets, the Proteas also reached 100 in 9.4 overs. Gibbs and Kemp hammered the bowling and the South Africans won in the 17.4 overs. Gayle’s brilliant effort went in vain but that knock is certainly unforgettable.

The next match worthy of mention is the India-Pakistan league encounter. Pakistan won the toss and elected to field and the Indians were in deep trouble at 36/4 with Mohd. Asif taking all 4 wickets. Robin Uthappa played one of the best T20 innings under pressure to get India out of trouble. He had scored 50 in 39 balls by the time he was the fifth man out for 82. Dhoni and Pathan hung on and helped in taking India to 141/9. Pakistan was also in a spot of bother at 87/5 but Misbah-ul-Haq played spectacularly and Pakistan had 5 runs to win off 3 balls and had 3 wickets in hand, Misbah was facing Sreesanth and he smashed the ball straight to the boundary for four and brought up his half century. Now it was 1 to win off 2. Sreesanth bowled a well directed bouncer off which Misbah couldn’t take a run. That made it 1 run to win of 1 ball. Sreesanth then fired in a yorker which was played well by Misbah who then scampered for a run and was short of the crease as Uthappa had thrown the ball to Sreesanth who then went on to dislodge the bails. Misbah was run out for 53 off 35 balls and the match was a tie! But T20 rules need a bowl-out to take place in the event of a tie so that there is a winner at the end of the match. India held its nerve and won the bowl-out 3-0 as the Pakistanis missed the stumps on all occasions! India had defeated arch-rival Pakistan in an intense match and the media just couldn’t forget this moment as Dhoni won his first international game as captain.

The India vs. New Zealand match was a good one too. New Zealand was put into bat by the Indians and they blasted 190 runs in their 20 overs. The Indian openers started well but the middle-order couldn’t hold on and India lost the match by 10 runs. Gautam Gambhir played well for 51 off 33 and so did his opening partner Sehwag who scored 40 off just 17 balls and was the first Indian wicket to fall.

Then there was the match played between Australia and Zimbabwe in which Zimbabwe won! I haven’t been able to write about that match as I don’t have many details about it. There is also the Australia-Bangladesh match which wasn’t very interesting as Australia chased down Bangladesh’s 123 easily. The match, however, had a typical T20 knock by Adam Gilchrist who blasted the Bangladeshi attack for 4 sixes and just 1 four in a 28 ball 43, a superb effort if you ask me.

Another interesting match was the one in which Pakistan thrashed Australia by 6 wickets. Australia scored 164/7 in their 20 overs. Pakistan successfully chased the score in 19.1 overs thanks mainly to captain Shoaib Malik and Misbah-ul-Haq who both made unbeaten half centuries. Malik scored 52 off 38 while Misbah scored 66 in just 42 balls. Misbah’s knock was one of my favourite individual batting efforts in the tournament. Another wonderful innings was by Justin Kemp of South Africa against New Zealand who hit 6 sixes and 6 fours to score an unbeaten 89 off 56 while helping South Africa chase down New Zealand’s 153.

One of the most famous matches has to be the India-England encounter as it was a treat to cricket lovers all over the world. We all know what happened in this match but I will start from the beginning. India won the toss and chose to bat. The Indian openers- Sehwag and Gambhir started cautiously before milking the bowling and had an opening partnership of 136. Sehwag scored 68 off 59 with 4 fours and 3 sixes and Gambhir scored 58 off 41 with 7 fours and a six. Both got out in successive overs and Uthappa followed them back to the pavilion. When Uthappa departed in the seventeenth over, the scorecard read 155/3 and Yuvraj Singh joined Dhoni at the crease. At the end of the eighteenth over Yuvraj had a tiff with Flintoff, at this point Yuvraj was batting on 14 runs in 6 balls, out of which 12 runs had come with the help of 3 fours. When Stuart Broad came into bowl the penultimate over of the Indian innings, Yuvraj greeted him by whacking the first ball for a huge six on the on-side. The next ball too was flicked for six. He hit the third and fourth balls for two huge sixes on the off-side. The last two balls were hit for hit for massive sixes as well, both being on the on-side. Yuvraj Singh had become the first player in the history of Twenty20 cricket to hit 6 sixes in an over and the fourth to do so in senior cricket, the others being Gary Sobers, Ravi Shastri (who was commentating while Yuvraj achieved the feat) and Herschelle Gibbs (who did it against Holland in the World Cup). Yuvraj also scored the fastest 50 T20 cricket in the process, in fact it was the fastest 50 in any form of the game. Before he got out in the last over of the innings he hit one more six, this time off Flintoff before falling to the same bowler for a brilliant 58 off just 16 balls with 3 fours and 7 towering sixes. He batted for only 15 minutes and his strike rate was a phenomenal 352.50 as India finished with a mammoth 218/4 in their stipulated 20 overs. Ravi Shastri’s statement during the course of his commentary aptly sums up Yuvraj’s heroic effort, “He came in like thunder and leaves with lighting.” The Englishmen came quite close as they ended on 200 as India won by 18 runs.

India’s next match was against the South Africans, who till then were unbeaten in the tournament. India’s hero against England- Yuvraj was unable to play the match due to injury. India chose to bat after winning the toss and were in a lot of trouble the score being 33/3 in 5.1 overs. India lost their fourth wicket in the eleventh over when Uthappa tried to loft Morne Morkel over the top but managed to hit the ball straight to Graeme Smith, the score at that point was 61/4. From here, Dhoni and newcomer Rohit Sharma built a crucial partnership which was broken in the last over of the innings. The fifth wicket partnership between the two was worth 85 runs. The partnership ended when Dhoni was run out for a 33 ball 45. Rohit Sharma held his nerve to hit the last ball of the innings for six to bring up his 50 off 40 balls and also take India to a respectable 153/5. I was backing the South African team to win the game as they are one of my favourite teams. I wanted the result to be such that both India and South Africa qualify for the semi-finals which would mean that New Zealand would be knocked out of the tournament. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be as India shocked the Proteas and not only won the game but in the process knocked the Proteas out of the tournament to set up a semi-final clash with the Australians. R.P. Singh bowled remarkably well in this match by picking up 4 wickets for just 13 runs in his 4 overs.

The first semi-final played between Pakistan and New Zealand was pretty much a one sided affair as Pakistan thrashed the Kiwis and reached the finals. However, the second semi-final played between India and Australia was a wonderful match that will never be forgotten. The intensity with which the match was played by both teams was something completely indescribable. India won the toss and elected to bat. India started very cautiously and were 41/2 in the eighth over. Yuvraj, who had missed the last match against the South Africans walked into bat and the entire equation of the match changed. He got off the mark with a six off Stuart Clark, who till then had been the tournament’s best bowler. In the tenth over he hit Brett Lee for the longest six of the tournament, a hit that was 119m long! Uthappa too joined the party but was run out immediately after hitting two consecutive sixes, their partnership was worth 84. Uthappa scored 34 off 28. Yuvraj however continued his assault on the Aussie bowlers bringing up his half century in just 20 balls. By the time he departed in the fifteenth over, India had already made 155 runs. He scored a wonderful 70 runs off only 30 balls with 5 fours and 5 sixes. Dhoni accelerated towards the end scoring 36 off 18 before he was run out in the penultimate ball of the innings. India had scored 188/5 at the end of their 20 overs. The total was a good one but the Aussies were in no mood to give up, Adam Gilchrist hammered 2 huge sixes of R.P. Singh and was looking dangerous when Sreesanth removed him with a brilliant delivery that knocked back Gilchrist’s stumps. Hodge too didn’t last long and the Australian scoreboard read 68/2 in the ninth over. Symonds joined Hayden at the crease and the two men combined to hammer the hapless Indian bowlers all over the place. Sehwag bowled one over and was hit for 20 runs. When there was no option, skipper Dhoni gave the ball to Sreesanth who still had one over to bowl. He struck immediately by claiming the wicket of Hayden to whom he bowled an absolutely fantastic delivery to shatter Hayden’s stumps. In his 4 overs Sreesanth picked up 2 wickets for just 12 runs, in one of the most economic and spirited bowling performances in the history of international T20 cricket. As far as I know, I don’t think any bowler has managed to get Gilchrist and Hayden bowled in the same match. This was clearly the turning point as the Indian bowlers made inroads from this point and India won the match by 15 runs setting up an India-Pakistan final, something that no one would have imagined when this tournament began.

It was September 24, 2007 as India faced Pakistan in the final of the ICC World Twenty20. The two teams playing were the same two big teams which had been knocked out in the preliminary round of the World Cup in the West Indies and here there were now playing the final of what many called the Twenty20 World Cup. India won the toss as usual and elected to bat. As Sehwag was injured, Yusuf Pathan (Irfan Pathan’s elder brother) got to make his international debut as he came out to open with Gambhir. He was almost run out without facing a ball but that wasn’t to be, he then went on to hit a six off Mohd. Asif in the first over itself but fell to the same bowler after scoring 15 runs in 8 balls. Other than Gautam Gambhir no one could face the Pakistani bowlers with ease. Umar Gul was in very good form after having taken the wickets of Yuvraj and Dhoni. He also got the wicket of Gambhir for a well made 75 of 54 balls with 8 fours and 2 sixes. Gambhir has been the best Indian T20 batsman with 4 half centuries. Rohit Sharma accelerated towards the end and took India to 157/5 of the stipulated 20 overs. Sharma was unbeaten on 30 off 16 balls. R.P. Singh was bowling brilliantly and got the first breakthrough in the first over itself. Imran Nazir hammered Sreesanth all over the place in the second over but R.P. Singh got Kamran Akmal bowled for a duck in the third over. Akmal got out while attempting to play the pull shot (something which he calls his favourite shot, but I would call his weakness) Just when people thought that Pakistan were in a winning position, India managed to restrict them to 77/6 when Shahid Afridi, who was named the Player of the Tournament fell for a first ball duck as he tried to hit Irfan Pathan out of the ground but only managed to find Sreesanth. But Misbah had other plans as he played very sensibly and kept decreasing the required run-rate. Sohail Tanvir too joined him by scoring 12 runs off 4 balls, the scoring shots for him were 2 huge sixes off Sreesanth who managed to get his wicket too. Seeing that no other player was playing to get Pakistan victory, Misbah decided to take matters into his own hand and hit Harbhajan for 3 sixes in an over. It all came down to the last over- Pakistan had 13 runs to win with a wicket in hand and Dhoni gave the ball to Joginder Sharma who had also bowled the last over against the Aussies. He may have done the trick against the Aussies, but giving him the ball now was a gamble as Misbah was on strike. Joginder started of with a wide and then bowled a dot ball. Pakistan now had 12 runs to win off 5 balls and Misbah was batting on 37. Joginder bowled a full toss and Misbah smashed the ball for a huge six. The pressure was clearly on Joginder as he began his run up to bowl the next delivery. Once the ball came to Misbah, he moved across and scooped it behind the wicket, the ball went up in the air and everyone who was watching the match had their eyes on the ball, which I thought was going for either a four or a six. I was watching the match at a friend’s place and just then I thought what would happen if a fielder came under the ball. Just then, Sreesanth came under the ball and managed to take what was probably the toughest catch in his life. The catch wasn’t difficult, in fact it was a very straightforward one, but Sreesanth would obviously be thinking of many things like what would happen if he spills the catch and it would have been really difficult to concentrate knowing that people all over the world were watching the ball fall down towards him. It was a fantastic finish to a wonderful tournament. I can’t recollect a final match of a tournament being so thrilling. The only instance that I can recollect is India’s victory over England in the Natwest Trophy final at Lords in 2002 when Sourav Ganguly’s men chased down a score in excess of 320 within 50 overs thanks to Mohd. Kaif, Yuvraj and Ganguly himself. India’s victory at the ICC World Twenty20 was on a different level altogether.

Who would have thought that a team which till the beginning of this tournament has played only one international T20 match would turn out to be the best T20 team in the world? Irfan Pathan was the Man of the Final for his brilliant bowling as he took 3 wickets for just 16 runs in his 4 overs. The team was given a grand welcome when they came back to India (wasn’t that obvious) It is rather strange if you think that India won an ICC tournament without the “Big 3”- Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid playing. Yusuf Pathan, who just played in the final, will have a medal for having been part of a team which won an ICC tournament but the “Big 3” who have contributed a lot to Indian cricket and in fact cricket as a whole don’t have any such accolade. It would be ridiculous to say that these players don’t deserve to keep playing after India’s Twenty20 triumph as ODIs and Tests are a different ball game altogether. That, however, doesn’t mean that the T20 triumph isn’t a big thing, it is and I feel proud to have written a post which reminded me of India’s road to the final and ultimately, their victory in a form of cricket, which till a year back the BCCI thought wasn’t important at all.

February 27, 2008

Aussies- An ‘Obnoxious’ Bunch of Hooligans

Before I get on with writing about today’s topic, let me tell you readers that my posts are based on the facts. Along with this I also make it a point to give my personal opinion about what I write. Some readers have been voicing their protest over the way I write, I have been told not to write so formally. This advice was given to me after my post about the IPL, which the reader felt was not only long, but too formal and had most of what the papers had and was hence a little taxing to read. I wouldn’t like to name the reader for the reader will obviously know that I am talking about him/her. I am open to personal views but I would like to give an answer to the above complaint. I would like to make it clear to all of you that I also tend to get a little emotional when I voice my personal opinion, you would have noticed this in the very first post on this blog which was about the aftermath of the Sydney test and also in the post which I wrote when Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid were dropped from the team for the CB tri-series. As it happens, the reader whom I am talking about doesn’t happen to follow the game much and as the post on the IPL was basically about the money involved and the teams playing in the league, it wasn’t as exciting as a post about action taking place on the field. Also, the post had to be formal as it was mainly about a huge business venture by the BCCI and aren’t all business ventures supposed to be formal?

Coming to today’s topic, which is mostly based on personal opinion, I will mostly be writing about the erratic behavior of the Australian Cricket Team. My last post was about the wonderful match between the Indians and the Australians at Sydney on Sunday. I remember having briefly mentioned about there being a tiff between Ishant Sharma and Andrew Symonds when Ishant bowled Symonds with a wonderful slow delivery towards the end of the Australian innings. I also remember calling this a petty issue in my last post, but it so happens that the Match Referee- Jeff Crowe didn’t think of this issue as a petty one and fined Ishant 15% of his match fee. The videos clearly showed that it was Symonds who started the issue but he wasn’t even told a thing!

In my opinion Symonds is equally responsible and should be punished too. He was also the one who started the altercation with Harbhajan during the second test at Sydney and even then he got away without a punishment. Judge Hansen of New Zealand who heard the Harbhajan appeal also mentioned that Symonds was determined to interfere in the banter between Harbhajan and Brett Lee, and that was what led to the entire episode. In response to this statement by Judge Hansen, Symonds wrote in a newspaper that these statements on his integrity made his “blood boil”. This statement clearly shows that Symonds is a person of loose character. This man deserves to be called a monkey, not because he looks like one but also behaves like one. I mean, there is proof that he started the entire thing and even then he believes that people are questioning his integrity! This is absolutely ridiculous!

After the Ishant incident, the Indian team manager said that the Australian team has been repeatedly provoking the Indian players, which is obviously the truth. That brings us to the latest issue which occurred yesterday when the Indian team was busy demolishing the Sri Lankans at Hobart. Around the same time, Matthew Hayden was being interviewed by a radio station at Brisbane and when asked about what he feels about India lodging a protest with the Match Referee about the Aussies “provoking” them, he said the Indians were probably doing this because they were losing every match to Australia. What a wonderful statement Mr. Hayden! I think he forgot about the thrashing the Aussies received from the Indians at Perth, where they lost in 4 days and even in one of the ODI matches where we destroyed their batting line up. He even went on to call Harbhajan an “obnoxious weed” and also said that he would like to have young Ishant Sharma join him in a ring! The Indians asked Cricket Australia to take action against Hayden and he was reprimanded by Cricket Australia but no fine was imposed on him. Why shouldn’t he be asked to pay a fine? Why were Harbhajan and Ishant punished when there was no proof of anything offensive having been said by then on the pitch? In this case Hayden came on radio and everyone knows what he said and still he is still let off? This isn’t fair at all. I would also like to mention one of the questions the radio jockey asked Hayden, “Why don’t the Indians shut up and play cricket?” Though I am not qualified to give this answer, I would like to tell the RJ to mind her own business. She isn’t qualified to ask this question so she should shut up too.

Now, during the Sydney ODI, there were banners held by the Indian spectators. These banners had messages like “Hyderabad welcomes Symonds” (Symonds will play for Hyderabad in the IPL), which clearly showed that the Indian fans have left the controversies behind and are eager to watch the Aussies play in India. But, I don’t think the Aussie public has forgotten much. When Harbhajan came to bat in the same match, he was booed by the Aussie crowd. The same thing has happened in all the India-Australia matches in this tri-series. I distinctly remember Sunil Gavaskar asking Harsha Bhogle about which team’s fans being more mature during their commentary for the match. Isn’t it obvious that the Indian fans are more mature?

I have never really liked Hayden, while many of my friends love the way he plays. I won’t be surprised if they start hating him now. I feel that he is an old fool and should quit the sport as soon as possible. And yes, Brad Hogg retired from International Cricket this morning and he probably did the right thing as we didn’t want to see someone stick his tongue out every other moment play the game. I want to write about something called “The Hogg Theory” which I formulated along with a friend, but I won’t write it as it is a little vulgar in nature. I would also like to end this post by saying that the Aussies are nothing but an ‘obnoxious’ bunch of hooligans who behave like clowns while playing the game. There are exceptions, but it is the majority I am talking about. They should be booed and insulted when they come to India for the IPL as only that can be a fitting reply to these rogues.

February 24, 2008

An Endearing Indian Loss

The last ever Commonwealth Bank tri-series has been a little boring for me to watch as I haven’t yet seen a good combined batting effort from any team. Although, there have been brilliant partnerships of 150+ between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir in the washed out game against Sri Lanka at Brisbane and between Kumara Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene for the losing cause against India at Adelaide, I personally feel that the batting in the series has otherwise been dull other than Adam Gilchrist’s fabulous century at Perth against the Lankans. I wouldn’t like to take the sheen away from these partnerships as the batting sides were in a precarious situation when these partnerships blossomed. In the first case, India was 86/4 when Dhoni joined centurion Gambhir to rescue India and lead them to a respectable 267/4, which, till today was also the tournament’s highest batting total. In the second case, Sri Lanka was on 6/2 when Sangakarra and Jayawardene came together to stop India from making further inroads. Sangakarra, in fact scored a brilliant 128 which is the highest individual score of the series.

In today’s game at Sydney, Australia won the toss and elected to bat first and the Aussie batsmen were in devastating mood. At the end of 10 overs, their score was 92/1! That is a whopping 9.2 runs an over! You can’t blame the bowlers as for the first time in the series we had a pitch suited to batting. Australia would have had an even higher run rate if Gilchrist had been around. Gilchrist fell in the third over to a brilliant catch by Dhoni off Sreesanth. This was probably the best catch of the series till now. However the catch was a little controversial as the gloves Dhoni used didn’t meet ICC specifications (like we are even bothered!) as it had a webbing which enabled him to hold on to the catch (seriously, why did he have to dive then?). Gilchrist scored 16 runs of just 7 balls. Ricky Ponting joined Matthew Hayden and then they continued the attack against the Indian bowlers. Hayden whacked a superb pull off Ishant Sharma for six and Ponting hit Irfan Pathan’s very first ball into the crowd! After the tenth over, they slowed down a bit, but by then the damage had already been done. Hayden departed for a well made 54 after he was brilliantly run out by Rohit Sharma who reacted well in time to throw the ball to Virender Sehwag who whipped the bails off at the non-strikers end. His second wicket partnership with Ponting was worth 110. Then there was 63 run partnership between Ponting and Michael Clarke who fell for 31 to Sehwag.

Andrew Symonds came in after Clarke and as Ravi Shastri said during commentary, “played with the freedom of a millionaire!” Ponting scored a wonderful 124 before falling to Sreesanth towards the end of the innings. Symonds fell to a tricky Ishant delivery after scoring a 49 ball 59. There was a tiff between the two, but I wouldn’t like to write about such petty issues. At the end of the stipulated 50 overs, Australia’s scoreboard read 317/7 which was a huge total considering the fact that the second highest score in the series and the only other 240+ total till then was India’s 267 against Sri Lanka at Brisbane.

India’s response began on a horrid note as we lost Sachin Tendulkar in the first over itself, Brett Lee getting the major breakthrough. Sehwag and Gambhir hung in for a while but Sehwag’s departure in the ninth over was disastrous as India lost 2 more quick wickets in the from of Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh in a space of 3 overs. By the eleventh over, india was in a miserable situation having scored just 51 runs for the loss of 4 wickets. Dhoni joined Gambhir and together they stabilized the innings. Lee’s re-introduction worked immediately as he got Dhoni for 36 and the 98 run partnership between Dhoni and Gambhir came to an end.

With the run rate mounting to 10 an over Gambhir found the perfect ally in Robin Uthappa to accelerate the tempo of the innings. Brett Lee began feeling the heat as he bowled 3 consecutive front foot no-balls which meant 3 free hits for India. The first free hit was pounded for a massive straight six by Uthappa. This shot in my opinion, was the best shot of the match. Gambhir, on the other hand played strokes all over the wicket and scored a classy century, the fourth of his career and the second of this series. His best shot was easily, the paddle sweep off Brad Hogg which went for six. When Gambhir fell for 113, the score was 216/6 and Pathan continued the recue act along with Uthappa who was playing brilliantly.

By the time Pathan got out, the score was 257/7 in 45 overs. Harbhajan Singh, who was booed by the immature Aussie crowd as he walked into the field, combined well with Uthappa and scored 20 runs in just 11 balls before he fell to Lee who got Uthappa for 51, in the very next ball after the Harbhajan dismissal. Uthappa had played a fabulous innings off just 46 deliveries and had won many hearts for his gritty knock. India was bowled out for 299 in the first ball of the fiftieth over as Lee finished with a 5 wicket haul. Ricky Ponting was given the Man of the Match for his return to form in ODIs. India may have lost the match, but they did so with dignity with this wonderful performance in what was the closest match of the tournament.

February 20, 2008

IPL- The Best Thing To Happen To Professional Cricket?

It has exactly been a month since I posted my last post and it is rather obvious that I have something quite important to write about. Many cricketing events have taken place in the past month with the last test in the Border- Gavaskar Trophy, the commencement of the Commonwealth Bank tri-series featuring India, Australia and Sri Lanka, the beginning of England’s tour of New Zealand, the South Africa- West Indies ODI series (which was South African all-rounder Shaun Pollock’s last ODI series, one which South Africa won 5-0 with Pollock hitting the winning runs in the final match). Towards the end of January we also had the awarding of the franchises in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the BCCI’s answer to the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL). Unlike the ICL, the IPL will have ICC backing. The IPL is what I am going to write about today as the auctioning of players took place earlier today.

When the ICL was launched by Subhash Chandra of the Zee Group, it sparked a big debate about the corporatization of cricket like how Kerry Packer had done in the late 1980s with the Word Series of Cricket. The BCCI was quick to label the ICL as a rebel league and disallowed its players to take part in the league, those doing so would permanently lose their place in their Ranji (domestic circuit) teams and as a result wouldn’t be considered for selection for the national team. The BCCI also took another step ahead by not allowing the ICL matches to be played on its grounds. This was seen by many cricket enthusiasts and experts as a very immature decision by the BCCI to maintain its monopoly in Indian cricket. The ICL has till date snapped up many prominent international players like Brian Lara, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Lance Klusener, Imran Farhat, Chris Cairns, Daryl Tuffey, Craig McMillan and more recently, Shane Bond. The Zee Group appointed Indian cricket legend Kapil Dev as the head of the ICL’s organizing committee and the BCCI was quick in disowning him.

The ICL was turning out to be a big draw for players with its big money and the lure was simply irresistible. The BCCI had to come out with a masterstroke to halt the ICL in its tracks, and it did just that. It announced the IPL, an event similar in format to the ICL, but much bigger. With the ICC backing the IPL, it was bad news for the ICL as all the cricket boards of various nations aligned with the BCCI and disallowed their players from joining the ICL. The ICL’s first tournament was still a success and it was the Chennai Superstars which won the tournament which was basically a Twenty20 tournament.

Like the ICL, the IPL also follows the Twenty20 format and has 8 city based franchise teams- Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Mohali and Mumbai. The bidding for the teams was done on January 24. The auction to pick the owners fetched the IPL US$723.59 million, almost double the combined base price of US$400 million. Mumbai was the most expensive team, costing over US$111.9 million. The owners are a mix of the biggest names in business and the Indian Film Industry, popularly known as Bollywood.

The franchise owners are as follows with the winning bids are given in brackets-
  • Bangalore- Vijay Mallya’s UB Group (US$ 111.6 million)
  • Chennai- India Cements (US$ 91 million)
  • Delhi- GMR Group (US$ 84 million)
  • Hyderabad- Deccan Chronicle (US$ 107 million)
  • Jaipur- Emerging Media- led consortium (US$ 67 million)
  • Kolkata- Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment (US$ 75.09 million)
  • Mohali- Preity Zinta, Ness Wadia, Karan Paul and Dabur's Mohit Burman (US$ 76 million)
  • Mumbai- Mukesh Ambani's Reliance India Limited (US$ 111.9 million)
The BCCI has already made close to US$ 1.75 billion solely from the sale of TV rights ($908 million), promotion ($108 million) and franchises (approximately $700 million). Players are expected to earn close to US$1 million for a three-year contract. With such big names and big money involved, the IPL is clearly the future of cricket.

Basically, the IPL is the idea of Lalit Modi, the vice-president of the BCCI, and is modeled along the lines of club football in Europe, specifically the English Premier League. He has been appointed the convenor of the IPL. The league will be run by a governing council comprising former Indian captains Ravi Shastri, Sunil Gavaskar, M.A.K. Pataudi, BCCI office-bearers Rajiv Shukla and Chirayu Amin, Inderjit Singh Bindra, the Punjab Cricket Association president, and Arun Jaitley, the president of the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association.

When I put the TV on this afternoon, all the news channels were streaming live reports about the ICL auctions. I have given the rules of the auction below-
  1. An open auction, with each franchise allowed to bid any number of times for a player. Each franchise should spend a minimum of $3.3 million, but not more than $5 million.
  2. The bid starts with the annual "base player fee" that has already been fixed by the IPL. This base player fee assumes that the player is available for the entire tournament. This fee will be adjusted on a pro-rata basis, depending on the players' availability.
  3. The players will be divided into "sets" of approximately 12 each, according to their base player fee, cricketing speciality and expected availability for the opening season. But the bids will start with a set of marquee players like Gilchrist, Dhoni, Ricky Ponting and Chris Gayle. A random draw will decide the order in which players go up on the block.
  4. One designated bidder from each franchise will raise a paddle to indicate a bid, with the bid representing the fee per season to be paid by the franchise to the player.
  5. No bid can be withdrawn.
  6. Bid increments have been fixed at $5000 for bids up to $100,000, $10,000 for bids between $100,000 and $250,000, and $25,000 for bids between $250,000 and $500,000. Increments over the $500,000 mark will be at the auctioneer's discretion.
Other crucial details include-
  1. The minimum "percentage availability" for any player included in the auction will be 25 per cent. Thus, even if a player is expected to be either completely unavailable or only available for less than four of the DLF IPL matches in 2008, 25 per cent of the player fee bid for that player in the auction will count against the $5 million purse. For example, the purchase for $400,000 of a player who is expected to be completely unavailable in 2008 will cause a deduction of $100,000 from the franchise's overall $5 million purse.
  2. If more than one franchise is interested in signing a particular foreign player from outside the current pool, the IPL's organisers will hold another auction. But Indian players who are not in the pool can be signed at any time.
  3. Each franchise can only have up to a maximum of two centrally-contracted Australian players in its squad and/or up to a maximum of two Australian players from each state association.
The auction was conducted by veteran auctioneer Richard Madley, the "open bidding" took place behind closed doors inside the Regal Room at the Hilton Towers in Mumbai. About six representatives from each of the eight teams were seated around separate tables with computer screens to track the action. The drama built by this was obviously intense. The auction lasted for around 12 hours.

The bidding took place from a pool of 79 cricketers from around the world which included top current players like Dhoni, Ponting, Gilchrist, Shoaib Akhtar, Jayawardene, Jayasuriya, Yuvraj, Hayden and many more. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag were not up for auction as they have been given 'iconic' status by the BCCI - which means that they have to represent the city in which they are based which are Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Mohali and Delhi respectively and they will get 15% more than the next best player in their team. 77 of the 79 players were sold at the base price or above. Mohd. Yousuf of Pakistan and South Africa’s Ashwell Prince were the only players who were withdrawn. The English players weren’t available as the IPL would clash with their domestic season. Aussies Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson have backed out as they want to concentrate more on their international careers.

In the first round of bidding, Indian ODI and Twenty20 captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was bought for a whopping US$1.5 million by the Chennai franchise who also snapped up Sri Lankan spin ace Muttiah Muralitharan for US$600,000. Other players picked in round 1 are Adam Gilchrist has gone to Hyderabad for US$700,000, Mahela Jayawardene to Mohali for US$475,000, Shane Warne to Jaipur for US$450,000 and Shoaib Akhtar to Kolkata for US$425,000.

It is absolutely pointless writing about each round in detail as I am sick of typing. So given below are the teams at the end of the bidding process with the price for which the player was bought being given in brackets-
  1. Bangalore: Rahul Dravid (Icon), Anil Kumble (US$500,000), Jacques Kallis (US$900,000), Zaheer Khan (US$450,000), Mark Boucher (US$450,000), Cameron White (US$500,000), Wasim Jaffer (US$150,000), Dale Steyn (US$325,000), Nathan Bracken (US$325,000), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (US$200,000)
  2. Chennai: MS Dhoni (US$1.5 million), Muttiah Muralitharan (US$600,000), Matthew Hayden (US$375,000), Jacob Oram (US$675,000), Stephen Fleming (US$350,000), Parthiv Patel (US$325,000), Joginder Sharma (US$225,000), Albie Morkel (US$675,000), Suresh Raina (US$650,000), Makhaya Ntini (US$200,000), Michael Hussey (US$350,000)
  3. Delhi: Virender Sehwag (Icon), Daniel Vettori (US$625,000), Shoaib Malik (US$500,000), Mohammad Asif (US$650,000), AB de Villiers (US$300,000), Dinesh Karthik (US$525,000), Farveez Maharoof (US$225,000), Tillakaratne Dilshan (US$250,000), Manoj Tiwary (US$675,000), Gautam Gambhir (US$725,000), Glenn McGrath (US$350,000)
  4. Hyderabad: Adam Gilchrist (US$700,000), Andrew Symonds (US$1.35 million), Herschelle Gibbs (US$575,000), Shahid Afridi (US$675,000), Scott Styris (US$175,000), VVS Laxman (US$375,000), Rohit Sharma (US$750,000), Chamara Silva (US$100,000), RP Singh (US$875,000), Chaminda Vaas (US$200,000), Nuwan Zoysa (US$110,000)
  5. Jaipur: Shane Warne (US$450,000), Graeme Smith (US$475,000), Younis Khan (US$225,000), Kamran Akmal (US$150,000), Yusuf Pathan (US$475,000), Mohammad Kaif (US$675,000), Munaf Patel (US$275,000), Justin Langer (US$200,000)
  6. Kolkata: Sourav Ganguly (Icon), Shoaib Akhtar (US$425,000), Ricky Ponting (US$400,000), Brendon McCullum (US$700,000), Chris Gayle (US$800,000), Ajit Agarkar (US$330,000), David Hussey (US$675,000), Ishant Sharma (US$950,000), Murali Kartik (US$425,000), Umar Gul (US$150,000), Tatenda Taibu (US$125,000)
  7. Mohali: Yuvraj Singh (Icon), Mahela Jayawardene (US$475,000), Kumar Sangakkara (US$700,000), Brett Lee (US$900,000), Sreesanth (US$625,000), Irfan Pathan (US$925,000), Ramesh Powar (US$170,000), Piyush Chawla (US$400,000), Simon Katich (US$200,000), Ramnaresh Sarwan (US$225,000)
  8. Mumbai: Sachin Tendulkar (Icon), Sanath Jayasuriya (US$975,000), Harbhajan Singh (US$850,000), Shaun Pollock (US$550,000), Robin Uthappa (US$800,000), Lasith Malinga (US$350,000), Dilhara Fernando (US$150,000), Loots Bosman (US$175,000)
At the end of the day 6 players would be getting US$ 1 million or more, the players being Dhoni and Symonds (by virtue of the bid) and Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Yuvraj (by virtue if being the Icon player for their franchise and thus getting 115% of the next highest earner in their franchise i.e. Sanath Jayasurya, Ishant Sharma, Jacques Kallis and Irfan Pathan respectively) Ponting and Hayden probably sold for less because of Australia’s tour of Pakistan around the same time this year. Their buyers have devised a wonderful strategy with regard to finances. If Ponting and Hayden play in Pakistan, then they will get just 25% of their IPL salary and if they take part in the IPL they anyway have a lesser cost. Symonds probably sold for much higher as his going to Pakistan was in doubt, with him having decided to skip the tour citing security reasons.

Coming to the team composition, I personally feel that Hyderabad and Kolkata have the most balanced sides followed by Chennai, Mohali and Mumbai. The Bangalore and Jaipur teams are quite impressive too. The Delhi team is a little disappointing as I expected more from it.

If you look at the players, Mohali stands out if you look at the Twenty20 aspect with batsmen like Yuvraj, Jayawardene, Sangakarra and Sarwan; and bowlers like Sreesanth, Brett Lee and Irfan Pathan. Pathan can also double up as an all-rounder which is an added advantage, Lee can bat too. Hyderabad too is good side with hitters like Gilchrist, Gibbs, Symonds and Afridi. Laxman can provide the depth in the batting with his immense experience and skill. R.P. Singh and Chaminda Vaas are excellent bowlers and would do a world of good to the Hyderabad franchise.

Another interesting aspect will be the opening batsmen for the teams. I expect Tendulkar and Jayasurya to open for Mumbai, they had once opened for Asia XI in a match against the Rest of the World XI in 2000 and had put on a decent opening partnership. Hyderabad will most probably go in with Gilchrist and Gibbs who are both very hard hitting batsmen. Kolkata may have Ganguly and Gayle opening the batting, Gayle is the only player to have scored a century in an international Twenty20 and Ganguly is one of the most elegant players the world has ever seen. Chennai should open with Hayden and Fleming, Jaipur with Graeme Smith and Kamran Akmal or maybe even Langer or Yusuf Pathan (he had opened the batting for India in the final of the ICC World Twenty20 with Gambhir); and Delhi should use Sehwag and Gambhir or De Villiers. Bangalore should open with Dravid and Jaffer and Mohali with Simon Katich and Ramnaresh Sarwan.

The IPL will begin on April 18, when Bangalore takes on Kolkata at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. The tournament will feature 59 matches in total, the teams playing each other on a home and away basis and will conclude on June 1. Now, all that remains to be seen is how the IPL fairs. Will it change the world of Cricket in a big way? Will the format be accepted world over? These are few of the questions that can only be answered when the tournament gets underway. Till then, one can only hope for the best.