When players' greed trumped glorious game

When players' greed trumped glorious game

The sixth edition of the Indian Premier League is a story of exhilarating highs and disappointing lows.

While the Chris Gayles, Kieron Pollards and David Millers repeatedly tried to convince us that this format is made for batsmen with batsmanship never seen before, the likes of Dale Steyn, Amit Mishra and Vinay Kumar showed that bowlers weren’t entirely out of place in the slam-bang version.

Much as the T20 detractors would want us believe otherwise, the quality of cricket was of high class. However, the spot-fixing scandal involving three Rajasthan Royals’ players -- S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan -- took the sheen out of what was easily the tightest league phase in the short history of the cash-rich T20 tournament.

While the authorities are still grappling to understand the magnitude of the dangerous nexus between players and bookies, there is no doubt that the credibility of the controversy-ridden event took a further beating in the eyes of the public and its global critics.

Putting aside this unsavoury incident, let’s take a look at 46 days of non-stop cricket that saw many edge-of-the-seat thrillers, stunning individual performances, the ecstacy of winners and the agony of losers.

No team in the nine-team pool would be feeling as hard done by as do the Royal Challengers Bangalore who for the second year running missed a play-off berth by a whisker. It’s a mere coincidence that it was the team from Hyderabad that spoiled the Bangalore party on both occasions.

In 2012, RCB needed a simple win over the erstwhile Deccan Chargers to make the last four ahead of Chennai Super Kings. But they contrived to lose a low-scoring match to crash out.

This year, however, they needed Kolkata Knight Riders to beat Sunrisers Hyderabad, who too were on 18 points but with an inferior net run-rate, to qualify for the play-offs. After an artificial excitement, Sunrisers won the match to seal the fourth slot behind Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals.

The Virat Kohli-led side, though, has to blame itself for their campaign ending in another heart-break. Half-way through their set of matches, they were sitting on top with 12 points and were strong favourites to make the play-offs. But their poor run away from home -- six losses in eight -- coupled with a defeat against Kings XI Punjab at Chinnaswamy stadium put paid to their aspirations.

On the positive note, Kohli, named the full-time captain, led the side with admirable maturity notwithstanding his run-ins with Gautam Gambhir and the booing Mumbai crowd. Gayle once again showed he is the ultimate superstar when it comes to the shortest format. His 68-ball 175 against Warriors will take some effort to be surpassed.

Their neighbours Super Kings once again showed why they are the most successful side in this tournament. The two-time champions, despite losing two home games at the start, managed to top the league with some dominant performances. Skipper MS Dhoni’s influence has been obvious but the prolific Michael Hussey and the young paceman Mohit Sharma were testimony to Chennai’s meticulous planning while investing in players.

Indeed, their eye for talent, both Indian and foreign, has been unmatched.

Another star-studded franchise, Mumbai Indians, deservedly finished second. The only team to have beaten Chennai at home and away, they were powered by some incredible individual shows.

From skipper Rohit Sharma, who replaced Ricky Ponting at the helm, to Kieron Pollard and from Harbhajan Singh to Mitchell Johnson, they found players rising to the challenge. The only sour note for them was Ponting’s inability to reinvent his past prowess and to a lesser extent Sachin Tendulkar’s waning firepower.

KKR and Sunrisers presented perfect contrasts in fortunes. The defending champions didn’t even qualify, finishing with 12 points while Sunrisers, the newest franchise, turned most calculations upside down with inspiring cricket. With no real depth in batting and lacking on star quotient, Sunrisers thrived as a unit.

They turned Hyderabad into a fortress, winning seven of their eight home matches. On a slow and low pitch, their bowlers either restricted the opponents to low totals or defended small targets with incisive bowling.

The high of Sunrisers can only be matched by the depths that the Delhi Daredevils plunged to. For a team that finished on top of the league the previous year, a last-place finish was astonishing. The absence of Kevin Pietersen and Jesse Ryder did rob Delhi of two hard-hitting batsmen but their problems stemmed from inconsistency.

Whether it was Virender Sehwag or Mahela Jayawardene in batting or Morne Morkel in bowling, they were all pale shadows of their  past.

The fortunes of Pune Warriors, who avoided successive wooden spoon, didn’t change much though. Strange selection policies to cold form of their key players ensured that Warriors always fell short of that winning effort.

The effort from Kings XI Punjab came a bit too late. Having endured a string of losses at the start, they were always playing the catch-up game. Punjab, though, came up with some stirring performances.

Miller’s blazing century against RCB and Adam Glichrist’s perfect IPL swansong, with a win over Mumbai in front of home crowd, were some of the abiding memories of this edition which unfortunately will be remembered for the wrong reasons.

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