On the 10th birthday party of the Indian Premier League (IPL), its parents and guardians, having been separated, sued and gone through a churn in the decade past, would be a nostalgic lot. After all, when it arrived, the million-dollar baby’s screams got everyone’s attention, dividing the world of cricket into ‘before’ it and ‘after’ it. Its growing pangs weren’t ordinary, they saw it all – sex, drugs, jail – the whole hog.
But what did the chosen one’s followers care? They turned up night after night, year after year. Tonight, they will arrive again, and although many would zone out after a while (what kind of party goes on for two months?), most would know that this is the one party before the tweens begin next year, and everything changes.
The biggest talking point ahead of IPL 10 has been the 'Injured XI', which has more big names than those in any other franchise. Nearly every team has been hit by the loss of a star performer, at least for the initial rounds, but that’s not going to subdue any excitement. In fact, the vacant spots will only invite fresh faces to enter the stage, and will further fortify what I think is the League’s USP, making careers of uncapped domestic talents.
Of these, there’s reason to be stoked about Rishabh Pant (Delhi Daredevils), the ’keeper-batsman who’s been knocking on Team India’s doors. After a lukewarm debut in the league last year, he took the Ranji season by storm with his big hitting. Ditto is the case of his colleague Shreyas Iyer, who even reached the Indian dressing room last month and will be itching to get a foot in. Ishan Kishan (Gujarat Lions), former India U-19 captain will seek to wear the big shoes of Ravindra Jadeja and extend his form of the recent Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 trophy. Meanwhile, in times of wham-bam cricket, pacer Shardul Thakur (Rising Pune Supergiant) will do his best to make news despite having illustrious figures such as MS Dhoni and Steve Smith for colleagues.
With the Champions Trophy following soon after, this is a huge season for the men who found themselves rested and then replaced in the national team. Dinesh Karthik, incidentally dubbed ‘The Special One’ by Dhoni last Champions Trophy, is raring to go this IPL after leading Tamil Nadu to a stunning Deodhar Trophy win. He will compete against limited overs veteran Suresh Raina for a place in Team India, but the fact that Karthik can open and keep wickets makes him special indeed. Add to this the venerable Mister Ashish Nehra, Shikhar Dhawan (both Sunrisers Hyderabad) and Rohit Sharma (Mumbai Indians captain), and you shall discover a new race within the race. And may I remind you that Yuvraj Singh (SRH) is already in the current ODI team, having scored a scintillating 150 in January?
The imports this season look more exciting than ever because of the Englishmen. England limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan (Kings XI Punjab) is a super-giant who’s already risen, while Ben Stokes will want to go all-out to justify his logic-defying price in the few matches that he plays for RPS. As for the West Indian imports, it will be only towards world peace that ‘World Boss’ Chris Gayle and his compatriots play, dance, and entertain like only they can.
Worthy to note, I will be mourning the absence of Harsha Bhogle behind-the-commentary mike this season by keeping my TV on mute (thereby escaping the shrill insanity of Danny Morrison), I will make an exception when another England import, Kevin Pietersen takes to commentary in the first, fourth and final week.
The thing with T20 matches, especially when they come at us every day, sometimes twice a day for weeks together, is that its outstanding performances or moments do not last in memory beyond the morning after. Even after investing hundreds of hours and inviting domestic trouble over the remote control, this season too, like the last nine, ‘may’ stick around in the long term like an episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. You know, like ‘The one when Pollard flung his bat’. Or ‘The one when Sreesanth was caught spot-fixing’ or worse, ‘The one about which I have zero recollection about.’
But as long as the party has fireworks, dances and everyone goes home happy, where’s the time to complain?