One of the prominent memories from my school days is the cricket rivalry between ‘A’ and ‘B’, two different sections of our school. With all due respect to my teammates in ‘B’, I must say that section ‘A’ enjoyed an upper hand, almost every time the two took on each other on the cricket field. We never accepted it of course, but somewhere deep down we all acknowledged it. The rivalry, which lasted almost five years, was a tale of one team having a psychological edge even before the first ball was bowled and the other knowing that it was always up against it. Yes, we had our moments and share of victories as well, but we never went into a match as ‘equals’. ‘A’ was richer in terms of resources, talent, confidence and they had an aura about them. They, as I now understand, had the ability to make the opponents feel that they possessed the trump card even on occasions when they didn’t have one! And as I was watching the final of what in many ways was the most challenging edition of the Indian Premier League so far, I couldn’t help going back down memory lane. Of course, there is no prize for guessing who ‘A’ and ‘B’ were at the Dubai Cricket Stadium last night!
While Mumbai Indians were clinical, ruthless and fearsome, Delhi Capitals behaved like the typical final-debutants. The DC boys just didn’t seem to have the intent and hunger in their body language. A unit which has been very strong on paper over the years was expected to show the resolve to put an end to the agonising and frustrating wait, but it behaved more like the candidate happy to win a few votes in an election and not entertaining any serious hopes of winning. The thoughts of the ‘Iyer’ from Mumbai bringing ‘Shreyas’ to Delhi would have got a serious boost when he won the toss and chose to bat first. The Mumbai Indians’ only loss in the final of an IPL had come while chasing, after all. There were also question marks regarding the fitness of Trent Boult, a vital swing cog in the Mumbai Indians wheel. It took only one delivery for the Kiwi to put those doubts to rest and that put the Delhi Capitals on the back foot, almost eternally in the match. The fans who expected an even and a close contest, were necessarily disappointed and the clinical professionalism and dominance of the Mumbai Indians were almost boring.
To me, the very first ball of the final underlined the importance of two vital aspects of the game. The snorter from Boult told us loud and clear that swing, like yorker, will never go out of fashion, irrespective of the format of the game. It was the swing offered by Boult, along with the yorkers from Jasprit Bumrah at the other end, which was crucial to the Mumbai Indians’ campaign. The game in which both were rested, when Mumbai lost to SRH by 10 wickets, is a testimony to it. The second aspect is technique - a topic of perennial debate and discussions. The way Marcus Stoinis dealt with the delivery first up exposed his inadequate technique to face the moving new ball from a quality bowler. The manner in which the Aussie was squared up and was seen looking behind on the leg side when the wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock had pouched it comfortably with a slight movement on the off side, looked ugly. Yes, technique can be a limiting factor in the shortest format for those players who are too obsessed with it, but batsmen who are consistently successful in this format are the ones who have an aggressive style of batting built around a sound technique. K.L. Rahul, who won the Orange Cap, being miles ahead of the rest despite his team not qualifying for the play-offs, is a classic example.
Mumbai Indians, having ‘been there and done that’, have elevated themselves to a different league after their fifth title win. They now seem to have shades of some of the greatest teams of all time - New York Yankees, US men’s basketball team, the Brazilian national football team, Ferrari Formula One team, the West Indies team of the 80’s and early 90’s and the Australian cricket team of the late 90’s and the early part of this century. That the Mumbai Indians have had seven different players bagging the man of the match award in as many matches leading up to the play-offs, and four of its batsmen hitting more than 20 sixes each in the tournament, give one a fair indication of the team’s resourcefulness. Ishan Kishan batted beautifully in crucial situations and the captain, with 68 in 51 balls in the final, saved his best for the last.
The most ‘difficult’ edition of the IPL was also an edition of quite a few ‘firsts’. While Delhi Capitals made their first final appearance, the Chennai Super Kings were reduced to ‘also ran’, failing to qualify for the play-offs for the first time in the history of the tournament. The teams battled it out without spectators in the stadium, for the first time. The tournament also saw the cricket world losing one of its most vibrant characters in Dean Jones, and his demise will remain an eternal pain.
The Indian Premier League, in many ways, is India’s longest running festival of the year offering every household something to look forward to every evening. After more than 50 days of hectic action and gruelling battles, the IPL has left us with two things. First is the realisation that a sporting event of this magnitude can take place without any untoward incidents amid the pandemic if the planning is foolproof and it can also bring a smile to people’s faces during these tough and gloomy days. The success of the IPL will encourage the world sporting fraternity to embrace the ‘new normal’. Then the emergence of Mumbai Indians as the ‘indomitables’ - something exhilarating to see although it does bring back memories of section ‘A’!