We’re only half way through 2016 and the cricketing fraternity has already witnessed a gargantuan amount of T20 cricket. Indian fans in particular, have been at the heart of this overload. International fixtures against Australia and SriLanka were followed by the Asia Cup which was tweaked to play as a launchpad for the T20 World Cup. The party scene fuelled by the success of Darren Sammy’s men was in turn followed by the onset of the biggest cricketing carnival across the globe, the IPL. The next stop for the Indian Cricket Team was Zimbabwe.
Although fielding a second string side, India went into the series with unmistakable superiority. They had whitewashed Zimbabwe in their last two tours and were heavily expected to do the same. The Indian bowlers struck gold on their first try as Zimbabwe were restricted to a meagre 168 (which was to be their highest total of the series). All the bowlers chipped in with Bumrah running away with 4 wickets. 169 was never going to be enough to test the Indian batting. KL Rahul, in his first ODI, romped his way to a classy century and became the first debutant centurion for India in ODIs. Riding on that knock and a sedate 62* from Ambati Raydu, India trashed Zimbabwe by 9 wickets.
Makhaya Ntini’s bold statements before the start of the series meant that Zimbabwe were under more pressure to level the series. Unfortunately, their batsmen’s performance dipped further as they were skittled out for just 126. Sean William’s unfortunate injury compounded their problems as Chahal wreaked havoc. The Indian batting flexed their muscles once again as they romped home by 8 wickets.
The final ODI was a dead rubber. Zimbabwe’s woes worsened as their batting self-destructed once again. It was almost like they wanted to make it progressively easier for the Indians. Bumrah was once again the destroyer in chief as he helped himself to 4 more wickets. Rahul and debutant Faiz Fazal struck half centuries which helped the Men in Blue to a 10 wicket win and a clinical series whitewash.
A lopsided series raised a lot of questions about the very need for such tours. Though it may not play a pivotal role in the bigger scheme of things, it is always a pleasant feeling for any youngster to represent his country. Such tours give them a taste, though miniscule about how much it takes to succeed on the international scene and the biggest gains from this series are definitely KL Rahul and Jasprit Bumrah.
Summers were very different ten years ago in our country. It was a time when kids were excited to go out and play in the sun and vacations hogged the limelight. That one event has changed the entire concept of a summer is hard to fathom but when we dig deeper into that enigma, we’re bound to stumble upon the intensity of a simple idea. When implemented perfectly, that basic thought has the potential to turn into worldwide phenomenon and in many ways that perfectly sums up what the Indian Premier League has been.
The obvious difference going into this year’s extravaganza is the absence of CSK and RR. CSK have been one of the most consistent and feared sides while on the other hand, RR have relied on exciting young talents to regularly punch above their weights. Though we’ll still see their players turning up for the Gujarat Lions and the Rising Pune Supergiants, their 2 year exile is definitely a huge blow for the fans.
On the brighter side, the draft picks and the player auction have produced interesting combinations. All the squads including those of the new teams look strong and relatively balanced on paper. RCB have bolstered their side by signing Watson and Binny. The all-round option provided by these two will come in handy for Kohli who will look to lead his side to a first IPL triumph. Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils will look to put last year’s disappointments out of the way and will want to start afresh under their new captains David Miller and Zaheer Khan. Though a grey cloud looms over a few key players of KKR and MI including the likes of Sunil Naraine and Lasith Malinga, they have enough depth in their squads and are always a force to be reckoned with. SRH have never really set the stage on fire and a lot will depend on how David Warner rallies his troops if they are to make it to the play-offs this year. The newbies will want to get into the groove quickly and considering that almost all of them have had a substantial taste of the IPL, it should happen sooner than later.
One of the best features of the IPL is its ability to find and mold unknown commodities and at the same time be a shot at redemption for some of the overlooked seniors. Ravi Ashwin’s commendable performances for CSK were what catapulted him into the national mix. Uthappa and Nehra have their impressive IPL showings to thank for their return to the international scene. Bumrah, Pandya, Negi, Axar Patel and a number of other youngsters have benefitted immensely from the experience they gained during the IPL. We can expect more of the same trend with the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Vijay Shankar, Deepak Hooda, Barinder Sran and many more ready to express themselves.
Another heartwarming fact has been how the tournament has evolved over the last decade. Initially, this was all about how hard the batsmen can hit. Now, it’s safe to say that such narrow minded thoughts are well behind us. As always, it ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, keep conjuring your best as all it takes is one catch, one throw, one cameo or one over to turn the tide completely. But of course, you must be willing to put yourself out there, be willing to take the hit in order to truly rise. Playing in front of huge, vociferous and passionate crowds, the fact that almost every player exudes this trait is what has set the IPL apart and is what will lay the base for all the moments of brilliance over the next 50 days. Welcome to the carnival!
Cricket as such is a funny game. You can sweat it out for as long as five entire days and still not get a winner while on the other hand a sudden burst of adrenaline/brilliance can change the entire complexion in a matter of minutes. India came into the series having whitewashed the Australians in their own backyard. Yes, the Kangaroos don’t jump as high in T20 Internationals as they do in the other formats but nothing can take the sheen away from what the Indian side achieved.
Coming into a familiar terrain and up against a depleted opponent, another whitewash was certainly expected. Unfortunately, the Indian batting was at the receiving end of a sizeable amount of brilliance from the Lankan bowlers in Pune. The Indian batsmen struggled to keep the scoreboard moving and the spineless display saw them fold for a paltry 101. Inspite of a few hiccups, Sri Lanka managed to get over the line. The win was significant for them as they were missing a lot of their regulars and it was a huge confidence boost. Moving to Ranchi, the Lankans were looking to create another upset and seal the series in Dhoni’s hometown. They had another thing coming though. Dhawan and Rohit mercilessly bludgeoned their bowlers and India were off to a flier. Dhawan in particular was very impressive with the pick-up shot over deep square leg catching everyone’s eye. Cameos from Raina and a promoted Hardik Pandya saw India amass a mammoth 196. A heartwarming reversal from a diabolical batting campaign a couple of days prior to that.
Sri Lanka were never really in the game as they lost wickets at regular intervals. The Indian bowlers executed their plans perfectly which gave them a thumping 69 run win. Vizag was scheduled to host the decider with India staring as firm favorites. Dhoni called it right and put his opponents in to bat. What followed was a bowling masterclass lead by Ravichandran Ashwin. India’s leading spinner finished with 4 wickets as Sri Lanka were bundled out for a paltry 82. Dhawan and Rohit started slowly but with just 83 to get, the run rate was never a problem. Even after Rohit fell, Dhawan combined with Rahane to make sure that India won its first bilateral T20I series at home under Dhoni.
With comprehensive series victories at home and in Australia, the World T20 preparation has started brilliantly for India. Sri Lanka on the other hand will await the return of their senior players and will hope that their young side can have a decent preparation during the Asia Cup. India will look to fine tune and give a few players like Yuvraj more chances to get back to his best. For now, Dhoni and his boys can sit back and enjoy what has been a commendable performance.