What’s wrong with MS Dhoni? The greatest finisher in the game of cricket looks listless. The firepower has gone missing in his batting and he has undergone a personality downgrade from ‘cool’ to ‘subdued’. He certainly looks out of place after his shift from Chennai Super Kings. It is not the Dhoni we know.
What’s wrong with the great Chris Gayle? No zing, no zest — the master entertainer appears to have lost his mojo. The man who spread fear among bowlers with his imperious presence at the crease alone, suddenly appears vulnerable. His batting technique was always suspect, but his power-hitting made the shortcoming irrelevant. This Indian Premier League (IPL), bowlers have got the better of him so far.
Is fatigue settling in among the big guns in the IPL? Brendon McCullum is still remembered by the blistering 158 he scored off 70-odd balls in the first edition of the tournament. After that his has been mostly a story of diminishing returns. Rohit Sharma looks lackluster and Kieron Pollard no better. Of course, it’s too early to get into sweeping conclusions. These are people with massive talent and can still win some matches for their sides as the tournament progresses.
But so far, the players with rockstar status haven't rocked it as they used to. We will still have a Sanju Samson or a Robin Uthhappa or some overseas or domestic player scoring a century, but it’s the big knocks from the stars that give the fans something to remember. It’s a special value-for-money experience when the likes of Gayle or Dhoni or McCullum fire. They are bona fide heroes, others are just there.
That brings us to the question: will IPL remain the same after the rockstar cricketers bid goodbye to the IPL? The tournament is after all more entertainment than cricket. Wins and losses matter less for the viewer than the total experience. That’s why low-scoring matches won’t work here nor would predictability of contests; and that is the reason why the atmosphere will remain more important than the actual match on the ground. With loyalties for teams difficult to build given their composition, it’s the individual stars who become the focal point of attraction.
In the early days of the IPL, cricketing legends from India such as Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Shewag, Sourav Ganguly, Dhoni and Rahul Dravid provided the star glitter to the tournament. The overseas players such as Kevin Pietersen, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and McCullum brought their own lustre to the event. Most of the aforementioned Indian stars have left the scene as active players. That’s why the remaining ones like Dhoni and Gayle remain important. With them underperforming or out of the picture, the tournament would not be the same.
The current crop of players, including Virat Kohli, are stars in their own right but their numbers are not enough. It does not help that not many overseas players are yet to build their own reputation and legacy. The truth is T20 cricket may produce exciting players but it is from the longest form of the game that brand names are built. It is the brand name that makes individual players stars in tournaments like IPL, makes them players around whom the ordinary cricket fan builds expectations.
Thus, when Gayle does not look himself or Dhoni appears a different player he feels disappointed. What’s a masala film without the hero behaving like a hero? The same goes with masala cricket. Before we end, here’s a word of caution. Nobody’s writing off the biggies yet. IPL 2017 has just begun. They will come into their own at some point. But if they don’t, then, well, that’s the big worry.