There are only two days, and two matches, left till the second edition of the IPL crowns its champion team. The Deccan Chargers rather easily, and surprisingly, brushed aside the form team this season, the table topping Delhi Daredevils, on a cool evening in Pretoria yesterday, and today last year’s losing finalists, and the team that finished second in the round robin stage, the Chennai Superkings, take on the resurgent Bangalore Royal Challengers.
Whatever happens in this evenings game, and in the final itself tomorrow, and without diminishing the success of the competition, much has already been made at the impressive task South Africa have undertaken in hosting and pulling off a great IPL at such short notice, I can’t help but feel that the many of the teams themselves have failed to fully take advantage of the assets at their disposal.
The tournament was shifted to South Africa, from India, and this meant that the teams would encounter differing conditions, in terms of the pitch and the weather. This has been born true with scores not reaching the heady heights of last year’s editions, although there have been more close finishes, which has added to the excitement and success of the compitition. A pleasant surprise too many Indian fans and players has been the success of spin in South African conditions, which have generally tended to favour pace bowlers. But it must be remembered that the pitches being used have been put through an entire domestic and international season and would therefore offer more to the spinners. Added to this has been South Africa’s reliance on spin in the recent ODI and T20 series against Australia, where at least two spinners where picked for each game. Times are changing in South Africa as they gear up for the next World Cup in spin friendly Sub Continental pitches.
The trick that has been missed by many teams this year is their lack of using those best suited for the conditions – their South African players. The IPL was shifted to South Africa yet instead of making use of their home advantage many teams chose to ignore their players who play on these pitches week in and week out in favour of lesser known Australians. This year’s IPL turned out to be the Indian and fringe Australian Players League.
The best example of this was the disappointing bottom placed Kolkota Knightriders. At their disposal they had Charl Langeveld, the best T20 bowler in South African domestic cricket every season since the inception of the Pro20 series. Yet he wasn’t picked until their last game, where he picked up a wicked with his first ball and ended with figures of 3/15 in 4 overs. Not bad for someone who spent 5 weeks sitting around watching his team lose. His greatest value in Pro20 has been his death bowling, where he has rescued and won many games for the Cape Cobra’s, a skill that is essential in T20 and even more so in closely fought games. Another South African in the Kolkota squad was wicket keeper batsman Morne van Wyk. The Eagles opening batsman has been a star and leading run getter in all the Pro20 seasons. He came into the Kolkota squad when it became evident that they were to finish bottom, put in a string of fine performances, including a great 70 odd, failed once, and was never seen again.
The Mumbai Indians have had Ryan McLaren sitting on their bench for the entire series. The all rounder has starred in both the domestic Pro20 series as well as for Kent in England. Yet games where given to the likes of Luke Ronchi, who did little to impress last year and continued that this year. McLaren would have given the Indians a better bowling attack, especially when Zaheer Khan was ruled out through injury, and a more solid lower order, whose fragility was exposed time and time again. The South African national team would love to have McLaren in their set up, where he would be an ideal replacement for the retired legend Shaun Pollock, but Kent has not allowed that. His contract with Kent ends this season and there will be little doubt that he will be drafted into the South African set up as soon as possible. How a coaching set up that included Pollock, Jonty Rhodes and Doug Watson did not get McLaren into the team is mystifying, unless they weren’t given 100% selection authority.
Last year’s champions had Morne Morkel itching to get involved this time round. They gave him the odd run out, where he performed well, especially considering he was playing cold. They lost bowler after bowler through suspect action and injury and were deeply lacking in experience, yet allowed this asset, who will be South Africa’s leading bowler in the future, to sit and watch it all.
The Kings 11 Punjab pulled off a master stroke by signing Yusuf Abdulla. Abdulla would not have been known outside South Africa and someone in the Punjab set up had obviously done their homework and indentified him as an option. Abdulla has been one of the top performers in the Pro20 Series in South Africa and against Australia this year played his first international T20 game, bowling well and picking up the wicket of Ricky Ponting. After a nervous start in his first two games he came to life and led the wicket table with 14 scalps after 7 games. He then had a couple of bad overs and was dispatched with as soon as Sreesanth and Brett Lee were fit. And Sreesanth was a huge let down.
A team that showed the way things should have been done were the Bangalore Royal Challengers. After falling behind in the table and with their most expensive player, and captain, Kevin Pieterson failing miserably, they have shot up the table and finished third. There rise up the table came about with KP leaving for the England/West Indies series and handing the captaincy over to Anil Kumble, and the use of South African players in South African conditions. Kallis, Boucher and Roelof van der Merwe have all been important clogs in the Challengers winning set up, but they have also used Dale Steyn and Dillon Dupreez in games. Don’t bet against the Challengers causing a surprise and ousting the Super Kings tonight and the Chargers tomorrow.
When you play in the Sup Continent you’d be best served using Sub Continental players who can best exploit the familiar conditions. In Australia use Australians. So why haven’t the teams this year made better use of the local talent? The success of the likes of JP Duminy, AB de Villiers and Yusuf Abdulla, as well as the contributions of Kallis, Boucher and van der Merwe bear testament to that. Lessens should be learned and better homework and organisation by the teams should be highlighted in such a lucrative and massive stage. All this while the likes of Hashim Amla, Justin Ontong, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson and Johan Louw sit and watch from their TV’s at home.
(pic from cricinfo.com)