Gayle extends his fireworks
Chris Gayle is not someone you often associate with self-doubt. Anyone who labels themselves 'Universe Boss' and jokes they’ve named their daughter after an allegation of sexual harassment must have a certain level of chutzpah. Yet ever our Henry, a man whose commitment to doing things on his own terms makes Arsene Wenger seem easily led, must have felt a twinge of hurt when no one snapped him up in the first two rounds of the IPL auction. Having made a hundred, in a final, during his last innings before the ballot, many were left a bit baffled by his initial omission from the tournament. Thankfully the IPL, albeit in Gayle’s words, was “saved” by King’s XI’s decision to finally add him to their squad.
This week he was truly back lording his realm, imperiously plonking his right boot down the pitch, that familiar stamp on an imaginary cockroach the regular prelude to willow debauchery. He hit 104* off 64 balls against Sunrisers and Rashid Khan, an innings dedicated to said daughter (real name Kris-Allyna). This thunderous hundred was made as team owner Preity Zinta sat on a cushion marked with his trademark “333” number, though Gayle was fortunately not asked to comment on this particular situation on camera. He then followed up his ton with another breezy knock against Kolkata Knight Riders, him and KL Rahul doing their best to overhaul both AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli, and Edward and Mrs Simpson, on the list of most explosive royal partnerships.
So what was the secret to the big man's return to form, if indeed he ever actually left it? Gayle himself explained that he had simply been “doing a lot of stretches”, the importance of which will have been lost on younger fans but have had those over forty nodding in empathy. But is there another reason behind his resurgence? Writing in his excellent Players Voice column, Rajasthan’s Aussie bowler Ben Laughlin offered a glimpse of how the tournament has changed behind the scenes. “They used to have really lavish parties in the early days of the IPL, but not anymore,” he revealed. So there it is? Bereft of his beloved apres batting spree soirees, Gayle has stopped reaching for the Hennessy and cigars and is instead spending every evening reaching for his toes. It’s not so hard to believe…
More IPL, less T20?
Another week, another ECB revamp of the T20 game in England. But this time they suggested renovating the format completely by giving sides one hundred balls each with one bowler bowling a ‘decaover’ of ten balls. As is often the case, England is one step and one ball behind India when it comes to T20, but who can blame them for adapting an idea first trialed by one of the most marketable and charismatic players of the modern game, Hardik Pandya, a couple of years ago?
While England were trying to shrink the format, there were ironically suggestions the IPL could become even bigger. Or more bloated. Depending on your point of view. “With aggressive backing from sponsors and the league’s ever-growing valuations, in the next 10-15 years there is a great possibility that IPL will increase its window and become a year-long league like NBA,” wrote Harsh Goenka in The Economic Times. The terrifying prospect of 12 months of solid Danny Morrisisms does thankfully seem unlikely, but with cricket’s landscape changing by the second it seems foolhardy to believe a year-long T20 tournament is an impossibility. The English weather will certainly present a challenge to the ECB if they wish to try and emulate this particular potential development.
Another big name who returned to form this week is Suresh Raina. The CSK stalwart hit 46 off 29 against Rajasthan with the highlight being not the four consecutive boundaries struck against Ben Stokes, but his nifty footwork to a delivery from one of the stand out young stars of the IPL, Shreyas Gopal. Having got in a tangle, Raina cleared the danger by half-volleying the ball through his legs in a manner that would have delighted another yellow shirted world champion, Ronaldinho. He was admittedly out next delivery, but in their following game against Sunrisers, the influence of soccer obsessive MS Dhoni on his side continued to be apparent. Near the start of Sunrisers' fruitless chase, two Super Kings fielders converged on a Kane Williamson cut to deep point. Ambati Rayudu slid in studs up to take out the boundary marker, while Karn Sharma adroitly controlled the ball with his instep and saved a third. The VAR, Nigel Llong, was called upon to adjudicate whether Rayudu’s vicious lunge warranted sanction but found nothing untoward. Perhaps using hands to field is overrated anyway?
Smoothing out his spin game
There’s plenty to love about Rajasthan’s D’Arcy Short, not least the fact that he sounds like an ethically dubious but lovable minor character from The Great Gatsby. Despite his considerable gifts, however, he is finding spin in India unsurprisingly trickier to deal with than spin in the Big Bash. The enlightening and forensic Cricviz gives a wagon wheel exactly how much. It might sound an idea as crazy as hiding sandpaper down your pants then pretending it was sticky tape, but perhaps one man he could turn to is fellow leftie David Warner. Australia’s disgraced former vice-captain has long been, was maybe, a star performer in the IPL. Moreover, he recently revamped his own Test game against spin, making a number of astute technical changes between last year’s poor series against India then superb one against Bangladesh, both away from home. For all his spittle-tinged misdemeanors, Warner is no unthinking biffer with the bat and not lacking in tactical nous, despite the rather dubious manner he chose to execute this particular skill set in South Africa. Short would get some undeniably good advice. Warner would get some welcome good publicity.
It is one of the great ironies of cricket that T20, once seen as tactically barren, is now the format over which analysts pore with the most dedication. IPL captains too it seems, as was shown this week in a tweet from statistician Ric Finlay, who revealed that the tournament is the one which takes the longest of any T20 franchise event for an innings to be completed. At least Kolkata skipper Dinesh Karthik has found one way to reduce taken the time between deliveries – by leaving the strategising until when the bowler has started his run-up. Against Rajasthan, he could be seen signalling from behind the stumps where he wanted Shavim Mavi to bowl. It didn’t quite work out for the harrying young pacer, who served up a wide, but the tactic raised the fascinating possibility of the non-striker having to counter this subterfuge by relaying the keeper’s indication to his on strike partner (think how Kohli warned Pandya about reverse swing in South Africa). Ed Smith, baseball fanatic and new England chief selector, will doubtless be delighted this potentially endless game of bluff and double bluff.
Boult, that's nuts!
People could have been forgiven for thinking Hasan Ali produced the most ridiculous boundary based antics of the week, but Daredevil Trent Boult went one better against RCB. Kohli’s sweetly timed pick-up was sailing towards the fence when the Kiwi shot up his Venus flytrap palm to take an unbelievable catch. Kieron Pollard is the maestro of such manoeuvres, but often to loopier though still epically tricky straight hits. What made Boult’s effort so impressive was how flat and hard Kohli hit the ball but also how he checked his momentum, breaking a fast fall with both hands without jarring the ball from his palm. Then in the split second he was sliding towards the boundary he lifted his feet and arched his torso up in a move reminiscent of Tom Cruise's hang time in Mission Impossible. Miraculous.
A couple of days earlier Kohli had had to stand in disbelief as DRS overturned the dismissal of Pandya, after snicko showed the Mumbai batsman had got a nick more than big enough to make the average shave uncomfortable. Here Kohli was again left dumbstruck but just at the sheer brilliance of what Boult had done. The IPL is often justifiably credited with nudging fielding standards towards the stellar, but this week a rather less glitzy but no less important catalyst for advancement of the art, Colin Bland, sadly passed away. These seemingly impossible grabs, boundary hop retakes and tag team catches come about of course through brilliance but also through relentless hard work on the training ground. That teams put in so many hours perfecting these skills can go down as part of the legacy of the man labelled the “fielder of the century”, whose own genius was honed through dedication.