Cricket: IPL over, but entertainment galore

2014 champions Kolkata (photo: BCCI)
2014 champions Kolkata (photo: BCCI)

Let’s start off with a figure, and that figure is 714.  That’s the number of sixes hit across edition seven of the Indian Premier League, and 60 matches.

This tournament provided one of the greatest spectacles in the history of Twenty20 cricket.  From game one between the Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders, the stage was set.

One item to highlight is the first two weeks of the competition was played in the United Arab Emirates, and the crowds were out in force.  It shows, most importantly, that a) Twenty20 cricket is still drawing a large interest and b) the standard has been raised far above the “hit and giggle” some people have deemed the format.

Standouts have come from all of the eight teams involved, but none of them took the game to such destructive levels early as Aussie Glenn Maxwell did.  With almost 300 runs in the first three games, Maxwell showed just why he earned the competition MVP at the end.  Sixes were flying almost 100 metres into the third tier of some grounds.

However, despite all the fireworks, there was a darker side to Maxwell’s game, and that was being rested.

“The problem I had, I think, was being rested for one game frustrated me a bit.

“Especially since it was in a game against the (Rajasthan) Royals, against whom I had played so well previously. It destroyed my momentum. I got a 0, 6,13,0 after that.” (Glenn Maxwell)

It came out of nowhere from Maxwell, and donning the Kings XI Punjab t-shirt, was part of the winning streak of five games in a row.

What cannot be missed is that many batsmen decided to punish even the fastest and tallest of bowlers – especially so once the competition returned to India after the UAE stint.  Morne Morkel (Kolkata), over 14 matches, conceded 7.64 runs per over.  However, in the final, he was hit for 40 runs, and he did not take a wicket.

The big totals amassed in front of big crowds also suggest that the top echelons of organisation finally found a way to keep the off-field troubles away from the game for two months.

Match-fixing allegations have erupted over the past few weeks, with New Zealand cricket at the epi-centre.  The IPL managed to stay well away from that, and may just be the best edition yet.

Back to eight teams this year, there was less dilution, and more engagement with the fans.  Of course, there were a couple of things to “highlight” at the bottom end of the scale – in particular the Delhi Daredevils.

With Kevin Pietersen in the side – who had shrugged off almost all memory of the post-Ashes debacle – it seemed the Daredevils had compiled a side worthy of making it to the top (the squad also included the likes of Quinton de Kock and Aussie Nathan Coulter-Nile) but could barely scratch the surface upon returning to India.

Two incredible moments also came right near the back end of the tournament; centuries from veteran Virender Sehwag (Kings XI) and Wriddhiman Saha in the final (also Kings XI).

At the very least, the power and elegance both these batsmen played their innings is something to remember.  It became even more unforgettable when Saha smashed his 115 from just 55 balls, with eight sixes, given his stature at the crease.

So much money poured in at the auction in February, and while not all the players who excel in Twenty20 were picked up, the talent on show was obvious.

Finding the balance

Despite the tournament duration (60 matches and almost two months), the unwavering support from the fans kept the atmosphere of the game alive.

Mohit Sharma took 23 wickets for the Chennai Super Kings, while Kolkata’s wily off-spinner Sunil Narine took 21 at 6.35 runs per over.  Whether a spin or pace bowler, such figures are excellent in Twenty20.

Regardless, it felt like the middle part of the tournament was the letdown.  Disappointment was felt in Australia, where access to the coverage was through YouTube.

The entertainment factor was somewhat missed without all the talk of the IPL in the Australian media.  On the field, it was in plain sight.  Making such a lucrative tournament shorter sounds logical, but it messes with the fixture.

Instead, using IPL 7 as a “benchmark” of sorts for the future would work extremely well.  Having one final look at the teams, it seems that it’s the Daredevils with the most work to do.  There is very little to be done to “plug that gap” – all the big names disappeared in the auction first – but it seems Delhi almost put too much on the shoulders of Pietersen.

Kings XI, Kolkata and Chennai quite easily take the 1-2-3 type vote into next year.  Getting an Australian TV deal resolved would put another couple of million viewers onto the charts.

Bring on IPL 8.

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