April 18, 2008

First Day First Show of the Indian Premier League- Cricket’s “Cinderella Hour”

It has been more than a month since I last posted. I really wanted to write about the VB Series Finals which India won, Sehwag’s magnificent 319 against the South Africans at Chennai, India’s batting disaster at Ahmedabad and their avenging victory at Kanpur. I also wanted to write about the series saving efforts of Sourav Ganguly but college exams prevented me from doing this. As I am also preparing for a major career oriented exam in May, I obviously won’t have much time here.

At around 6 pm local time at Bangalore, Cricket is going to see a new chapter, something which is going to create history. After all the hype, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is going to commence with a bang. There will be a short yet entertaining opening ceremony with acrobats and a performance by the popular music composer trio- Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa before the opening match which is between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Bangalore Royal Challengers. The 12 cheerleaders of the Washington Redskins, known as the “First Ladies of American Football” will also entertain the crowd. Superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, who are also team co-owners will be present too. There will also be speeches by ICC President- Ray Mali , BCCI President- Sharad Pawar and IPL Chairman- Lalit Modi.

After the short opening ceremony the organizers plan to switch off the floodlights, thus plunging the stadium into darkness. “Then,” as the CEO of the Bangalore team told Cricinfo, "the spotlights will come on, and focus on the two skippers as they walk out for the toss”

Both the skippers- Kolkata’s Sourav Ganguly and Bangalore’s Rahul Dravid, had their test debut in the same match against England at Lords in 1996. They rescued India when the team was in trouble. Dravid got out in the 90s while Ganguly hit a brilliant 131 which happens to be the highest score by an Indian player on test debut. Both have also led the Indian side. While Ganguly has been India’s most successful captain, Dravid will be rather infamously remembered for leading the team when they were knocked out of the 2007 World Cup in the first round itself. The question being asked is whether or not Ganguly can beat Dravid in his own backyard. That is a question whose answer we will get by around 11 pm. The Kolkata Knight Riders are the favourites to win the tournament opener with odds of 1.66 while the Bangalore Royal Challengers have odds of 2.10.

I expect a very close match. Though the Knight Riders are the stronger team on paper, the Royal Challengers can give them a run for their money. A lot has been said about the Bangalore team and most of it has been negative. I, for instance, have heard people say that the Royal Challengers aren’t a team who can play Twenty20 Cricket in the right way because of their team composition. That may be partly true but then one should always remember that anything can happen in Twenty20 Cricket.

If you look at the Royal Challengers, Rahul Dravid will play a major role in today’s game. Though we can’t expect much from him, he will be a player to look out for. Many people were surprised when he hit a half-century in just 23 balls against New Zealand 5 years ago. I am looking forward to see Zaheer Khan open the bowling for Bangalore with Praveen Kumar. I am not to sure about how Wasim Jaffer will adapt to the T20 format. Another player to look out for will be India’s Under-19 skipper Virat Kohli. I am not too sure about the other local players as I hardly know them. It will be interesting to see their team composition as only 4 overseas players can play in a match. I expect Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Cameron White and Ashley Noffke to make the cut. Boucher is the obvious choice for wicket-keeper and is a very handy batsman too. Kallis will be another major player. I don’t know much about Noffke, who has replaced the injured Nathan Bracken. Bangalore’s trump card has to be Cameron White. White is a specialist in this format of the game and has a record 55-ball Twenty20 century on the English county circuit and with a batting average of 43.90 in this format he's clearly one to watch. He has hit 62 fours and 49 sixes in 546 balls faced in Twenty20 cricket - that's a four or a six every 4.92 balls!

Coming to the star studded team of the Kolkata Knight Riders, I surely expect Sourav Ganguly to lead from front. I am very eager to see him open the batting with Chris Gayle. The last time Chris Gayle played in the first match of a Twenty20 tournament, he blasted a 57-ball 117 against South Africa in the ICC World Twenty20 last year; the 10 sixes he struck is the highest in a Twenty20 innings. Ricky Ponting at No. 3 followed by the explosive Brendon McCullum will be major batsmen too. Ishant Sharma, who has undoubtedly been India’s find of the season will be the bowler that the Royal Challengers need to be wary of. Murali Kartik too will be interesting to watch as he has a T20 career economy rate of 5.90 which is very good in this format.

As of now, I can only wonder what is to happen this evening as 8 pm or as Cricinfo called it- “Cinderella Hour” approaches. Its quite obvious now that Cricket is never going to be the same.

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