Tendulkar vs Warne is like watching Muhammad Ali in the ring against Joe Frazier © Getty Images & AFP

 

By Akash Kaware

 

The IPL always evokes mixed reactions from most people, and I am no exception. The purists and traditionalists loathe it, the businessmen and the casual fans love it, and some like me see both the good and bad in it – and sometimes the ugly as well.

 

The one undoubtedly good thing about the IPL is that it allows us to turn the clock back sometimes. It is the only place left where we can still see legends like Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan ply their trade.

 

Gilchrist brought an unbridled joy and fearlessness to his batting in all forms of the game for a decade and his retirement was a moment tinged with sadness for many cricket fans. But thanks to the IPL, we still get to see him pummeling the bowlers around the park for six weeks a year. After doing really well in the first two editions, he struggled a bit in the third, but seems to have found his range in the recent game against the Deccan Chargers – incidentally, his erstwhile team in earlier three seasons.

 

The same goes for Shane Warne fans. For six weeks every year, he takes a break from gracing poker tables and front pages of tabloids around the world, and takes to bamboozling young Indian batsmen and trying to get the best out of a bunch of cricketing nobodies. Though he hasn’t managed to win the silverware since the first season, his mind and his bowling remains as sharp as ever. As is the right of a 41-year old, he must be pulling up sore after bowling only four over per match, but he has lost none of that rare ability that only a few are blessed with, the ability to make the watchers feel that something special can happen every time he ambles in to bowl.

 

And of course, the IPL is the last battle ground where you can see those two old enemies cross swords, Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar. Watching these two compete in a T20 game is like watching a one-round fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, but then you can’t always have everything in life! I for one, have April 29th and May 20th marked on my calendar as nostalgia nights, for those are the days the Mumbai Indians will take on Rajasthan Royals.

 

At the other end of the spectrum are the youngsters for whom the IPL is a platform to showcase their talent against some of the best players in the world. Not all players make the most of the opportunity of course. In some cases, it seem to have distracted talented youngsters like Rohit Sharma, who can part seas when he’s playing the IPL and yet can’t seem to turn his immense promise into performance on the international stage. But if every year the IPL fast tracks at least one youngster to the Indian side, it would’ve done its national duty. The first edition brought Yusuf Pathan into the limelight and resurrected Suresh Raina’s career. Ravichandran Ashwin made his mark in the third edition, and though its early days in the fourth, Paul Valthaty might just be the man this time around.

 

And of course there are the journeymen, too. The IPL is also a moment in the sun for those who are talented, but not quite enough to make it to the Indian team. It is unlikely that domestic toilers like Mithun Manhas, Rajat Bhatia, Shadab Jakati, Siddharth Trivedi and many more will ever get close to wearing the India colours. But they turn up at every IPL, and without quite setting the stage on fire, keep making vital contributions here and there.

 

That being said, the IPL can annoy in equal measure too. When the T20 game was conceived, few thought the spinners would have much of a role to play in it. But since the second edition in South Africa, the spinners have not only restricted the batsmen but have also taken bucket-loads of wickets too. In a game where batsmen can use any pace the bowlers offer to their own advantage, denying them that pace to work with certainly makes sense. However, since the last couple of editions, the spinners seem to have forgotten one important aspect of spin bowling – spinning the ball!

 

Not spinning the ball seems to have become quite fashionable, if the IPL is anything to go by. Again, Shane Warne being the notable example, the other spinners seem to be either incapable or reluctant of turning the ball even as much as the bat’s width. It has reached such proportions that I sometimes cringe when they are even called spinners. They’re not, they are simply slow bowlers. The likes of Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha haven’t turned a ball in years, and the epidemic seems to be spreading. The bowlers can’t give up their own strengths and then complain that it is a batsman’s game.

 

And the downright ugliest aspect of this year’s IPL, and of the past editions as well, has been the fielding, and the catching in particular. Watching the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Lasith Malinga go about their business gives you an illusion that you are watching some high-quality cricket, but the fielding brings you down to earth with an unpleasant bump and makes you realize that what you’re watching is a domestic tournament after all. Has anyone else noticed that the number of catches dropped in each game of the IPL is alarmingly large? Dropped catches are not reflected on scorecards or statistics of course, but having seen at least the highlights of each game, it seems almost two catches are dropped every innings, and at least one of them is a sitter! For a T20 game that is an uncomfortable high number. And there are no Pakistanis around either!

 

Well, like it or loathe it, there’s no denying the fact that the IPL is here to stay. And like everything in cricket and life, it will continue to enthrall and infuriate in equal measure.

 

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful  international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything at little more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)