The new decade of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is less than a fortnight away and with the return of two former winners – Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals – from their suspension, and set to feature in 2018.
The mega-auction that preceded the 11th edition of the IPL saw several players shuffle across teams with all sides sporting completely different look. The new-look teams have created much anticipation among fans for the upcoming season.
Firstpost caught up with cricket expert Aakash Chopra, who was interacting with IPL fans as a part of Star Sports' expert for their show Game Plan.
In a freewheeling chat, Chopra discussed myriad of topics on his expectations from the new season, the Decision Review System (DRS), Ravichandran Ashwin's experimentation with leg spin and more.
"I have quite a few expectations from this season as it is going to be bigger, better with teams have been rejigged so obviously there are anticipations with regards to how the teams are going to look like and how are they going to gel well. There will be new players and the focus will also be on a few Under-19 kids, who have come through the ranks as well. There are lesser known overseas players in the mix, so it should be a good one," said the former Indian opener.
One of the additions that will be a part of the IPL is DRS after the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) gave a go-ahead with regards to the usage of the referral system in the tournament.
The Indian board played the hard-ball for years under the pretext of the technology not being fully-convincing, but they seemed to have softened their stance in past few years. Despite few concerns, Chopra welcomed the move saying the DRS has to be embraced and it can be perfected only with time.
"I like the DRS," he said. "I may not agree with the current form and shape, but eventually that will also change. I am sure it will get better as the time progresses. Technology keeps getting better and that's what has happened with our phones, with our cars and it will improve only when we start using it," asserted Chopra.
While there are some additions to the new season, there will be few players who will not be a part of the IPL 2018. Heading the list of players who will miss the upcoming season is Lasith Malinga, who spent 10 years at Mumbai Indians and is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament.
With the competition being immensely fierce, the franchise owners have become professional as well. Besides Malinga, other big names who found no takers in the auction are Hashim Amla, Shaun Marsh, Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma.
"Vanity has gone out of the equation and emotions have become excess baggage as well, so we don’t really see that in the auctions anymore. Therefore you saw Chris Gayle getting sold after three probable auction calls, and Malinga not getting sold at all. So, in that case, franchise owners have matured," said the 40-year-old.
After the auctions, Chopra could not choose between two teams that looked the most balanced on paper.
"I am split between Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad. I think they are the most balanced sides with regard to their entire squad. While quite a few teams have great first eleven, Mumbai Indians, Kings XI Punjab have very good first eleven, but they don’t have backups and same is the case with Rajasthan Royals. If there is an injury or loss of form these teams have nowhere to go to," reckoned Chopra.
Innovative strokeplays are dime a dozen in T20 cricket. From time to time, batsmen find various avenues of scoring runs. Their counterparts, who faced the wrath of aggressive batting in initial years, have also figured ways to defend themselves. Bowlers have been breaking new ground and not only to stem the run flow but also pick wickets. IPL has had a massive role in the transformation of bowlers.
Apart from changing the lines and lengths while bowling, the pacers are seen altering their pace and having different grips for different deliveries. To take the slower ball for example, it is classified as a variation, which now has several sub-variants like the off and the leg-cutters, knuckleball, back of the hand delivery, split fingers and so on and so forth. In spin, the world has seen the emergence of mystery spinners and lately, the wrist spinners have experienced a significant amount of success in the shortest format as well.
"There is segregation of high-quality skills, under pressure that's what IPL or T20 cricket does to batsmen and bowlers, For the bowlers, it is a simple case of survival. If you were to survive, you got to improve. They have come up with various tricks, they have become smarter and more accurate with their execution because if they wouldn’t then they would completely disappear." On leg spinners specifically, he said that they have been successful for a variety of reasons and they will continue to do well if they have those qualities.
The advancement of wrist spin has had its effect on India's current premier Test spinner–Ravichandran Ashwin–who is an off-spinner, but has floated with the idea of bowling leg spin.
In fact, he has announced several times that he will be experimenting his leg breaks in the upcoming edition of the IPL, something the bowler has tried in local leagues games. Even before Ashwin lost his place to wrist spinners in India's limited-overs squad, he fancied the idea of bowling leg spin.
Ashwin is known to be a thinking cricketer, who aims to add more skills to his bowling repertoire. When Chopra was asked whether Ashwin is worried about his place in the limited-overs side, he said, "Firstly, he is going to lead an IPL side, so there is nothing to be worried as far as IPL is concerned. However, for International cricket, yes there is something to think about in the white ball format. Wrist spinners have done well and Ashwin is not a wrist spinner, the numbers haven’t been great leading up to his ouster from the side, so he does have something to worry about."
Chopra does believe in Ashwin's need to reinvent but had his apprehensions over his experiment.
"Ashwin has to reinvent, but that does not mean bowling leg spin. He may want to try it and I think he will, but my only concern is that while trying out leg spin it hopefully does not take away the potency in his off spin. If that goes away, then while chasing an ODI dream there is a risk of losing the Test slot. Something you would want to be careful about while experimenting with one skill and hopefully not compromising the other," said Chopra.
A leg-spinner, who has stood above most in International cricket in recent times is Afghanistan's Rashid Khan. The 19-year old bowler became the fastest bowler to claim 100 wickets in ODI history. The Afghan reached the milestone in 44 matches surpassing Mitchell Starc's previously held record of 52 games.
The former India cricketer termed Rashid's rise in cricket as 'phenomenal' giving various reasons for his upsurge.
"He’s been phenomenal, he has actually taken the world by storm, and what works for him is quick arm action, unlike other wrist spinners, he has got high arm action, and thus his googlies are far more effective than leg spin deliveries.
"The IPL happens in April and May, where the pitches are tired, the ball starts scrapping a lot more and if you are not reading it from the hand then batting against him become very difficult.
"Rashid is also quick in the air, lower trajectory, difficult for batsmen to use their feet on the pitch," he said.
Chopra also added, "What works for Rashid is that he has not been figured out, generally after doing well in one league, bowlers tend to get exposed in the other league, but this guy has been doing well across the globe in different leagues against different players, which basically tells that, one he is a mystery and two he has got a wonderful temperament. Temperament is nothing how the bowler reacts after he is being hit for a six or a four. I think temperament is Rashid's standout feature, the skill is, of course, there, but with regards to a bowler, their temperament will come first, especially when they are under the pump."
In his debut season in the previous IPL, Rashid bagged 17 wickets for Sunrisers Hyderabad and there was little doubt when the franchise availed their 'Right to Match' card to retain the services of the bowler. Kings XI Punjab's nine crores bid was matched by Hyderabad side to ensure Rashid remained a part of their team. The amount made Rashid the seventh most expensive player in the IPL alongside being the most expensive spinner.