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It’s That Time of Year – IPL 2012 Match 1 – The Fall of Champions

With a pot of tea, a slice of cake, sit back in a deep arm chair around 14.30 GMT and set the co-ordinates (in theUK) to Channel 120.  It’s that time of year again – all blue and gold and silver, yellow and red.

It’s IPL 2012 from Chennai and look, there’s our old friends, Malinga, Sachin, Bhaji, Raina, Vijay and the rest of the troupe. The circus is in town.

And the experience is instantly as comfortable and as reassuring as a favourite pair of shoes:  a Strategic Time Out, a DLF Maximum, back-lifts as high as the Himalayas and Mumbai fielders fresh from their boot camp serving notice to the rest, “This time!”

Their opponents, Chennai, on the other hand were jet-lagged from partying in SA for the benefit of Jacque Kallis, sluggish and as slow as an England Football side in the opening match of a World Cup tournament.

Their ground staff had ‘helpfully’ prepared something special for the opening match.

The resulting wicket looked like a green Bengal striped shirt with variable pace and bounce to unsettle and humble the great gladiators who, in their BAE Air Buses, bestride the cricketing world.

Dear Bhaji has found new confidence and purpose as captain of the Indians and he brought obvious relish and leadership to the role, with positive, involving, encouraging body language and support for his bowlers and fielders, who responded with élan and éclat. The Indian’s throwing had the zip of a Wild Bill Hickok knife-throwing act.

Three run outs soiled the shirts of the diving, despairing  Super Kings and knocked the stuffing out of them.  

The debased champions, hobbled from the field for a miserable 112, the spoils of the engagement shared equitably by Pollard 2-15, Malinga 2-16 and Ojha 2-17.

Thus they made way for Tendulka and Levi and annihilation.

Richard Levi, who makes Dave Warner look like the skinny kid on the beach, plants his left foot across to the off stump line and from this vantage point pulls every ball to leg like a meteor. 

Chennai could have set a 9 – 0 field had they not realised they might need one somewhere on the off to take a catch if the Protean ever assayed one of these pulls from too wide of the off-stump.

But when this did come to pass, Levi had already made 50 off 35 balls having crashed 6 fours and 3 sixes.  He also enjoyed a Master Class from TLM (The Little Master) 20 yards away at the other end. Sachin interspersed tips and advice for Levi with SUBLIME shots off front and back feet. 

Who knows, with the monkey of the 100th hundred off his back, fans may about to witness a golden sunset or even an ‘Indian Summer’ from this extraordinary batsman.

That said, when a ball flew off one of the green Bengal stripes on the wicket, crashed into and brought blood gushing from TLM’s bottom hand forcing him to leave the field, we were reminded that, however exceptional and heroic, Tendulka like Hercules, is made from clay.

Meanwhile in Columbo, Kevin Pietersen appears to have caught the IPL bug.  It is that time of year!

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Playing Against Yourself: The CLT20 Final in Chennai: Royal Challengers Bangalore v Mumbai Indian.

It was just a game of cricket. You know the kind of thing: a few mates getting together and a couple of sides get picked by some settled system.  Maybe everyone standing around while the captains take it in turns to choose.

– I’ll have Chris.

– OK, I’ll have Lasith.

The poorest shepherds with time to spare were doing this five hundred years ago on the breezy uplands of Southern England; kids on the village green do it; workers at lunch time.

Two hundred and fifty years ago England was beginning to undergo an industrial revolution.  The old aristocracy found their land – and they had lots and lots of it – could be used for other things than farming. 

Some of the most worthless wastes had fast running streams that could power the new processes driving industry. Some had coal, black gold, scattered across the fields  And there were plenty of trading opportunities secured by a navy that ‘ruled the waves’.

Riches were gained. Others inherited.  Gambling was rife.  Fortunes won and lost on whether the next man through the door would be wearing a hat or not, or on which raindrop would reach the bottom of the window first.

Cricket proved a perfect vehicle for these gamblers.  A bit of fresh air, a lot of fun, the chance to rap your rival on his ankles with a hard ball or watch neighbours barging into each other when one tried to run and other tried to stop him.

So, the ‘Gentry’ or ‘Quality’ as they were known started to form their own teams and put the whole thing on a higher level of organisation.

– My house in the first week of August.

– A bet to make it interesting?

– Sure. How much?

– One point two million dollars?

– A million a man and one for the boss?

– And the loser pays for the fireworks.

– You’re on!

The Royal Challengers Bangalore came to Chennai having chased down a total of over 200 not just once, but twice in a row.  In Chris Gayle, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Virat Kohli they had the in-form batsmen.

But that was in Bangalore and those were the quarter and semi-finals.

This was Chennai and a wicket as slow and stubborn as an arthritic mule. This was the final of the Champions’ League.  This was cricket.

The Mumbai Indians set a paltry target of 139.  For RCB seven an over – little more than a run a ball – would win it.

Yet, as they say, the runs were ‘on the board’.

Pressure makes time accelerate.  It erodes the quality of thought.  RCB set off in a dash like the hair racing the tortoise in old Aesop’s fable and, after four overs, they were going through the formalities at 38/0.

Then, when Harbhajan with little alternative had deployed his principal weapon for a third consecutive over, Dilshan, gambling, played across the line to Malinga. Now another gamble, as Bhaji pressed into the attack himself.

Gayle in deep concentration played all six balls with caution.  But the second delivery had been a wide and with the extra ball the MI captain came around the wicket to the left hander, bowled one that went on with the arm and struck Gayle in front of the stumps.  Goliath fell to the sling-shot. 

It was at that moment, with the score on 42/2 and 92 runs required from 78 balls (of which Malinga had only 6 left), that RCB needed to change tactics.  But they could and they did not. 

Pressure and fast running consciousness prevented them from knocking the ones and stealing the twos.  They swished and they swiped in vain as if they were still at home in Bangalore. The ball got slower and lower, the target steeper and more distant.

It was any kind of cricket match, it was this special match.

It was the mistake of the least experienced, and made by the most experienced.

It was why cricket continues to entertain, to amuse, to frustrate, to bewilder and to illuminate the human experience.

It was, as it always is, team against team, one against one, you against yourself.

MI 139 all out , beat RCB 108 all out in 19.2 overs in the 2011 Champions’ League T20 final in Chennai, 9th October.

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It’s A Long Way to Shepton Mallet – – – It’s A Long Way to Go

For Somerset the dream is over.  And so is their long, long season.  The Mumbai Indians proved a step too far in the 2nd semi-final of the 2011 Champions League T20.

In the end, individual brilliance purchased with millions of dollars – for the game now deals and measures everything in US Greenbacks – won the day. 

With the slightly above par score of 160 to defend, the mighty Lasith Malinga  in his first spell of two overs for the Indians removed the dangerous pair of Trego for nought and van de Merwe for 10.

Kieswetter and Hildreth sensibly and skilfully reconstructed the innings from these ruins and carefully built a platform from which Somerset could push for victory in the last four overs, but into their deliberate calculations they had always to factor that Malinga would return to bowl two of these.

The Indians’ captain Harhbajan Singh chose to play his ace in the 18th over at the end of which Somerset, despite scoring only 7 from it, needed an obtainable 22 from 12 balls.

At this point Harbhajan of the volcanic ego had to still his mind and make the key tactical decision of the match; who should bowl over 19?  He, as captain, and as Super Ego must have felt under enormous pressure to take the responsibility to himself without further thought.

 

There was also available the hugely experienced Pollard.  But as Baji mentally scanned the bowling figures, he would have seen that Franklin’s figures of 2 overs for 9 runs reached up in supplication like a child’s hand in a class room eager to answer. The decision was taken.

This proved the pivotal point of the match – the moment, as Third Man wrote recently, which only Chaos Theory could fully explain. Franklin’s first ball was full and Buttler smeared it towards cow corner for a two or a four.  By a millimetre and a nanosecond the four was saved by a frantic, sprawling, sliding Pollard.

His second ball was equally inviting and as it travelled towards Buttler, Franklin, Harbhajan, his team, his dugout and thousands of Mumbai Indian supporters will have closed their eyes and seen behind the lids their chances of remaining in the tournament rapidly recede.

Had they looked they would indeed have seen Buttler slap the ball hard back down the track on its way to the straight boundary where it belonged. No fielder could stop it.  But nor could the non-striking Kieswetter get out of its way.  It struck the Somerset opener squarely above the elbow, to make it a dot ball. (One day an Umpire will be killed in a similar incident.  Could a Billy Bowden duck such a return?)

The counterfactual scoreboard stood at 147/3, with 14 to win from 10 balls.  The ‘small difference in initial conditions’ (the minute disparity between a ball missing or hitting Kieswetter) yielded, in the chaotic system which is a cricket match, the widely divergent outcome of  Somerset being required to score 20 from those self same deliveries with their major batsman carrying a deadened top arm. 

There was no way back through the gate of time for Somerset – a butterfly had beaten its wing somewhere in the world and this was the consequence in Chennai.

Buttler was bowled next ball.  The 19th over went for only 7 runs with Compton steadfastly improvising a four from the last ball. But this still left Somerset to make 14 to win (or 13 to gain a super over play off) from a 20th over to be bowled by the immense Malinga.

There would be no further widely divergent outcomes from the six balls that remained.  They brought forth only four more runs and entailed two further wickets to leave Somerset 10 runs short – a chasm – and Malinga, with figures of 4 – 20, all clean bowled, the powerful claim to be the best-value player in T20 cricket … bar Gayle or bar none.

Best value?  Yes, for that is now the key measure in this form of the game. The difference between winning and losing this match was $800,000.  The beaten semi-finalists take home $500,000, the runner up $1.3 million, the winner $2.5 million.

That is a lot of ammunition with which to build a team for next year’s domestic T20 competition and the prospect of another campaign in the Champions League 2012.

The Man Ufication of cricket has begun.  

 Mumbai Indians 160 – 5 beat Somerset 150 for 7 by 10 runs in the 2nd semi-final.

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