It has taken just one-quarter of the 67 matches in the eighth instalment of the Indian Premier League to show cricket fans just why it was so highly touted in the lead-up.
Rajasthan Royals have blown everyone off the park, including the vaunted Chennai Super Kings, who have looked something of a shadow on their last season. Mumbai Indians have finally registered a win, and the Delhi Daredevils have been up and down like a yo-yo on a child’s finger.
Cricket has been the main winner in India – and it has been nothing short of marvellous. With Twenty20 cricket quickly being swallowed up by the batsmen, bowlers are fighting back with gusto. The spinners are leading the charge, with Imran Tahir (nine wickets) and Harbhajan Singh (eight) both boasting an average of less than 17.
Some amazing fielding has increased the fan enjoyment to maximum levels, with David Warner’s stunning catch earlier in the tournament, and a blistering save from Ajinkya Rahane on the boundary just a couple of days ago have highlighted that the standard of cricket sits above everything else – the cheerleaders, the promotions, and for the spectators, the money. They want good cricket, and they’ve got it.
No competition comes without the little chinks in the armour and sour grapes, and for all the glorious sixes, and incredible aerial acrobatics, the IPL is not without flaws. Mumbai Indians are perhaps the most apt example of a team stacked with talent, but without the numbers. Their first win, against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, was the first game where things looked to go right.
The Delhi Daredevils looked to have put a few things together, but their loss to the Kolkata Knight Riders in game 17 of the tournament still suggests there is a long way to go. Nagraj Gollapudi, a writer for major cricket website ESPN Cricinfo, highlighted the pertinent need for stability at the Daredevils – but that it isn’t there with such a chop-and-change squad. Leadership is a vital quality at a team of this level, and it’s lacking. However, it’s just a little dent in a magnificent tournament.
By all accounts, Rajasthan are the most ideally placed to sweep everyone else aside for the rest of the tournament. They are well clear at the top of the table, and are well-balanced from number one to number 11. It is abundantly clear that with Ajinkya Rahane, Steven Smith, Karun Nair, Deepak Hooda and the recently returned Shane Watson, that consistency is not a problem. Captain Watson hammered 73 off 47 balls in his first game for the tournament, and let the willow do the talking.
Having been inflicted with just the one loss – against the Kings XI Punjab – in an epic super-over thriller, the Royals continued to show why they are so highly touted to take out this year’s trophy. If anything, the match exemplified the quality of IPL 8, being cricket first.
Fans have made noise, and rightly so. The Indian Premier League revolutionised and blasted the Twenty20 format to new levels, and now IPL 8 is capitalising. Navneet Ganesh, founder of one of Australia’s leading open Twenty20 events, Infinity Cricket, says the lucrative competition has found its place in the cricket sphere.
“The IPL continues to deliver what I refer to as “Cricatainment” – the combination of cricket and entertainment. Although purists may disagree, I think the IPL has done well in attracting new audiences, including families, and have found a way to entertain the masses.”
Ganesh likens the event’s duration to like watching a long film in the cinema, “just like people go to the movies and watch a two and a half hour movie, they now watch a three hour IPL match. From a cricket perspective, we are continually seeing innovation, and players are doing things on the field that few would have thought possible a few years ago.”
Big name players, including Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Rohit Sharma are just part of the reason why spectators are waking up to the realisation that the competitive nature has spread back to “pyjama” cricket’s shortest form. Part of that might be due to the evenness of the performances so far.
Granted, there’s a reasonable gap between top and bottom on the ladder, but on the whole the standard has been more than satisfactory. Ganesh says that the big names are drawn to the competition simply because of the reputation.
“I think the quality of cricket needs to be first. This is where the IPL has a huge advantage over any of the other T20 leagues in the world.”
Cricket first, entertainment second has been the mantra of the tournament, and backs up the thoughts of Ganesh, heading into the tournament’s third week.
“IPL 8 has seen some tight contests, a single centurion and a few bowlers with four wicket hauls. The fact you can watch the IPL through the internet for free adds to its universal appeal, and that’s why the entertainment and fan experience is absolutely vital in ensuring the concept remains attractive and continues to lure people.”
So far, the tournament has delivered on all fronts. The streaming service that has become available around the world has not so much revived, but rather kept the flame burning for those passionate fans without access to the tournament on TV. Fireworks this time around are coming from the field of play, and it is keeping the IPL in great shape.