The IPL: from an Aficionado

May 7, 2011

Once the opening ceremony of IPL IV was done, there was one thought that eased me down a little. Yes! It has been a hectic past few months, but India had just won the World Cup and after a lukewarm opening ceremony – things could only get better. And things soon did, the Chennai Super Kings and the Kolkata Knight Riders (as usual) played out a thriller and things were underway.

For a change, it was refreshing to just keep your emotions in check and appreciate good cricket, no matter who was playing. For a change, it was nice to be a neutral. After a grueling World Cup, where I had let the fan in me take over, it was good to let the observer take his place again. Just Watch.Analyse.Write.

If the World Cup was a treat for the Indian fan, the IPL has been the same for an aficionado. No, the fan and an aficionado are not the same. For a fan, India’s victory against an opponent should come at any cost. It’s like expecting good’s triumph over evil – it just has to happen. There is no way India can let evil triumph. For a fan; the conditions, the surface, players’ form or a brilliant show by an opponent accounts for, if not nothing at all, very little. A follower though takes things in his stride- He gives credit where it’s due. ‘India lost to a better side on the day’, ‘Yuvraj Singh’s form was the lone bright spot’, ‘Ricky Ponting took the game away from us’, ‘The surface did not suit India’ etc. are some of the things a follower might agree with, but a fan? No! Make no mistake; I am not criticizing the fan. Being the fan is where the real fun lies, your mind experiences a plethora of emotions, most of which you will never get otherwise.

Seeing myself make no inclination towards a particular side has helped me realize how important the IPL is. Over the past, it has given us some classy players; Ravichandran Ashwin, Murali Vijay, Saurabh Tiwary and Ravindra Jadeja (ahem!) among many others. And this time it seems the players are more motivated to make an impact, maybe the WC win helped with that. A host of little heard players have taken the IPL by storm and none more so than the diminutive prowler (remember, you read the tag here first), Paul Valthaty.

Being a neutral you somehow see yourself always backing the underdog – one could see how a boisterous crowd sided towards minnows, Ireland and Kevin O’Brien during their stunning win against England. The same has happened over this IPL, though not with a particular team but with players who one would generally think will fail against world class players. Think Paul Valthaty against Tim Southee and Albie Morkel, think Ambati Rayudu against Zaheer Khan and Daniel Vettori, think Siddharth Trivedi and Amit Singh against Kumar Sangakkara and JP Duminy, and you usually do not give much chance to Valthaty, Rayudu, Trivedi and Singh. But it is when they defy the odds and send the more esteemed players running for cover that you see yourself backing them. That is exactly why the IPL is so fascinating; it gives the previously unheard of player an opportunity to burst onto the scene. For some it maybe just their 15 minutes of fame, but for most it is a stepping stone to achieving childhood ambitions.

The general aura emanating from this IPL has been that the Indians have been playing too much cricket. Yes! A gap of 6 days after the World Cup would be harsh on even the fittest athletes. But that is for 15 players, there are scores of other Indian cricketers who will benefit greatly from playing with top international players. Basing a selection on performance in the IPL, where players are up against the best in the world, rather than the domestic circuit doesn’t seem all that out of place to me. That’s where the IPL has done a commendable job, give India players we never thought we will see. It is not only the Indian players who have made the most of the cricketing extravaganza; Shane Watson made the most of the IPL and is now a permanent fixture for the Aussies. Murali Vijay changed the general perception that people had that he was just a Test player through a few superb knocks in the IPL. Ravindra Jadeja had everyone’s hopes up about India having found a genuine all rounder. Yusuf Pathan’s exploits with the Royals have been instrumental in him becoming one of the most feared batsmen today.

Not all may go onto become successful at the international stage, but imagine the IPL unearths a player of Shane Watson’s capability. Jadeja, Watson, Dirk Nannes, Vijay, Tiwary and many others have used the IPL to go onto bigger, more important things and this year we already have seen many players wanting to go their way – Valthaty, Rahul Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Iqbal Abdullah, etc. I’m sure it won’t be long before some youngster goes on to become a real success at the international level.

Valthaty, someone who failed to make an impact at Rajasthan Royals, is now widely regarded as a player who could make the India team for the West Indies tour. Valthaty (who has played for Mumbai only once) himself, even with belief in his ability, would have never in his wildest dreams thought his name would be popping up in selection debates in the Indian board on the basis of just a few games in the IPL. But the IPL has given him the stage, the audience and the cast to show off his talent.

The fans fail to see beyond the razzmatazz surrounding the IPL- the big shots, the cheerleaders, the music and Ravi Shastri bellowing like he’s swallowed a mike; the follower sees what it is truly doing to Indian cricket – giving them budding youngsters, giving them promising careers and giving us all an unmatchable experience.

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