Millennium Post
Game On

The heat is on

While the disappointing performance of MI and CSK in IPL 2022 won't discredit the popularity of the two teams, the rocking show by the debutant franchises will certainly open big opportunities for players, especially as ICC T20 WC selection is around the corner

The heat is on
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If it's summer, can the Indian Premier League (IPL) be far behind? The heat wave in India is raging, from north to south and east to west. One would expect, the IPL, too, would generate the same kind of energy on the field.

It has, for sure. Just that the way results have panned out in the last few weeks have come as a big surprise for two of the biggest teams in the history of the IPL — Chennai Super Kings and hyped-up Mumbai Indians.

The 2022 IPL has 10 teams, and for two teams who have been champions in the past quite regularly, the results this time have been disappointing. One thing can be said with certainty, loyalties in the IPL are very strong, despite the fabric of the team composition changing. Moreover, this season, the two new franchise teams from Lucknow and Gujarat have shown that being new in the competition does not mean they are minnows in terms of performance.

To be sure, the IPL is cricket plus commerce. For the millions of fans at home and abroad, the cricket on view is spectacular. There are huge sixes being hit and lusty fours being smashed. Bowlers have learned to innovate and the fielding/catching standards have risen phenomenally.

After two years of IPL in the United Arab Emirates, for the matches to be held at venues in Mumbai and Pune has been captivating. If reports are true, the ticket price for IPL today exceeds that of the FIFA World Cup which will be held in Doha later this year. Sounds bizarre, doesn't it?

In terms of viewership inside the arena, attracting sponsors, grabbing eyeballs and the amount of IPL which is consumed on digital platforms, the world's biggest T20 club tournament is a super hit. Again. What it has shown is the IPL has been growing from strength to strength from a business point of view, too.

At a time when business and profits of companies globally have taken a hit in the last two years, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the BCCI has shown to the world the IPL remains inert. It's not like the statutory message — "subject to market risk" — you will read at the time of making investments. The IPL is good business, unmindful of how teams fare and produce results.

To be sure, the IPL fans are a passionate lot. Teams like Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders, Royal Challengers Bangalore, among others, have fan following which borders on cricket fans almost becoming blind. It is almost as if following their favourite team is like a religion.

However, there are murmurs with the way results have panned out for CSK and Mumbai. The first shocker from CSK came when MS Dhoni, the enigmatic captain handed over captaincy to Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni is "Thala" for the CSK fans and he is idolised just like Rajnikanth in yesteryears. None in Tamil Nadu will hear a word against Dhoni.

His handing over captaincy and still calling the shots on the field may seem odd. But that's the way Dhoni has been, first as a player for India and then winning captain of Team India in the 2007 T20 World Cup and then the 2011 ICC World Cup (ODI).

Even when he gave up India captaincy and took Virat Kohli under his wings, Dhoni was a tutor and master. So, as long as Dhoni is there with CSK, he will play the lead role. There can be no doubting that he has kept himself super fit, keeps wickets well and is the true icon for his team. It's a fact, Dhoni and CSK are inseparable. How long this romance continues is hard to predict, though results in this edition have not been great for CSK after the first five matches.

Given the long-winding format of the IPL, with 10 teams in fray, theoretically, there are chances for teams to bounce back. CSK could make a comeback of sorts and then all talk of Ravindra Jadeja not being the right captain may quieten. However, if there are fans who want to heap innuendos at CSK, it would be foolish. Their past results and brand value is solid. One bad IPL cannot change that.

That brings us to Mumbai Indians, which makes news for all wrong reasons this season. The runs have dried up from skipper Rohit Sharma's blade. His captaincy is being questioned, nay castigated, for the slow bowling over rate. And the fines which have been levied on Rohit and the team are proof of struggle with bowling. If you think all this will affect Rohit, forget it. He is the Team India captain in all formats. And he is supposed to be the best striker in white ball cricket who can deliver results for Team India in the ICC World T20 this year in Australia and the ICC World Cup in India next year.

Many explanations have been offered for Rohit performing poorly in this IPl, with coach Mahela Jayawardene also coming to his defence. However, the composition of this Mumbai team is faulty, where the bowling looks club class. One wonders what made Mumbai Indians bid crazily for fast bowler Jofra Archer when it was known he would not be fit for this season. Archer is in England and one could well see him being sold next year by Mumbai Indians. That's what the IPL is all about, business which involves making money!

One does feel sorry that a bowler of the class of Jasprit Bumrah has to give apologetic interviews. As a Mumbai Indian superstar, he would be hurt that he has no support in bowling. It looks very hard for Mumbai Indians at this stage.

We have seen in the formative years of the IPL how teams like Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals) and Deccan Chargers (now Sunrisers Hyderabad) would come in for copious criticism for flop shows. This time around, the newer franchises are showing more intent, with the Punjab team under skipper Mayank Agarwal also performing sharply and KL Rahul's Lucknow side too in the mix.

The IPL assumes extra significance this year as performances will be taken into account when the team for the ICC World T20 is picked later. Given the taxing schedule of the IPL and how the caravan will move towards the business end to Kolkata and eventually Ahmedabad, only the fittest players and teams will survive. There is still a lot of cricket to be played.

There have been star performers in terms of strike rate. It includes Gujarat team captain Hardik Pandya, Suryakumar Yadav, rock star Rishabh Pant — the Delhi captain — and Dinesh Karthik. Karthik and Robin Uthappa have shown there is no pressure on them. Karthik, who does commentary for Sky Sports, has shown great form.

This is the beauty of the IPL. Someone like Virat Kohli, now playing purely as a player, may be struggling to get going. But there are so many other players, past prime, who use the IPL as a platform to fire big. After all, Shikhar Dhawan, nicknamed Gabbar, continues to smash bowlers with gay abandon, while playing under Mayank.

Dew has been a big factor in this IPL and bowling second in Mumbai has not been easy. Dew played an important role under flood lights in the last ICC World T20 in the UAE. Maybe, when the final stage of the tournament is played in Ahmedabad, conditions will be different. By then, in May, one will have a fair idea as to which teams could last in this edition of the IPL. Fitness plus form plus flair will be tested to the hilt.

From the spectator's point of view, IPL at prime time continues to be a hit. It stirs debates on the dinner table as well as in offices. So, will the teams doing badly lose out? Hardly. Unlike the football leagues in Europe where there is relegation if teams do not perform, the IPL ensures teams make profits even if results are below par.

Howzatt?

Views expressed are personal

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