After yet another edition of the Indian Premier League came to an end with Chennai Super Kings walking away with the title, here’s a look at the things that caught our eye in the week gone by:
King Watto laughs at his doubters
Shane Watson went into the IPL final in fairly poor form. At the start of CSK’s chase a combination of his own scratchiness, an injury niggle and the brilliance of Bhuvi and Sandeep Sharma saw him cut a forlorn figure, those world-weary shoulders at their most hunched. At the end of the second over, when Watson was on 0 off 8 balls and looking comically out of nick, there came a maniacal cackle from the back of the commentary box. It’s not entirely clear who it was laughing in such a manner and for what reason, but there did happen to be one ex-Australian captain in the box, and to boot an ex-Australian captain whose relationship with Watson hasn't always been entirely harmonious. Regardless of who the cackler was or why they were cackling, Michael Clarke for one was later in the day effusive in his praise for his ex-teammate as Watson kept his nerve firm and his body together to amass a match-winning ton against the best attack in the tournament. The Australian opener has had plenty of fun poked at him throughout his career, whether it be ghost scares in Durham castles to infinite self-inflicted DRS calamities. Here once more it was he and CSK who had the final chuckle.
IPL beats England at Lord’s
England and the English still haven’t quite made up their mind about the IPL. Although this year has seen 11 of their players feature, to varying degrees, in the tournament, the event still brings mild harrumphing in some quarters. Many commentators and ex-national captains fall over themselves to praise the tournament, but there remains chuntering about England’s Test batting problems being down to “too much T20”, not least after a crushing defeat like the one suffered against Pakistan on Sunday. It’s not clear what their batting woes were down to in the 1990s, when their collapses also existed but franchise tournaments did not, but this week a key figure at the ECB condemned the influence of the shortest form of the game. Andy Flower has recently taken over as England team director while Andrew Strauss takes time out to care for his seriously ill wife. The former England coach, greatly successful in that role, used his new temporary job to lambast the IPL, claiming the tournament stops players from “growing” in First Class cricket. The issue has always been thorny for Flower, who when England boss was loath to let his players play in any T20 events, a stance which famously led to a frosty stand-off with Kevin Pietersen.
England’s cupboard is not exactly bursting with young Test talent at the moment, particularly on the batting side. So some might find it a bit ironic that Flower, the man in charge of producing the next generation of international stars through his role as technical director at Loughborough Academy, is looking 4,500 miles away to India for an explanation of England’s current failings. In any case, the day after Flower’s comments, the flamboyant — and now specialist — Test batsman Jos Buttler played a superb, and superbly circumspect innings against Pakistan, hot on the heels of his five consecutive white-hot fifties for Rajasthan Royals. Clearly watching all those conservative, sensible IPL innings by his captain, Ajinkya Rahane, has rubbed off on him.
Great areas, Rashid
It’s been quite a routine week for Rashid Khan: Bowl MSD in the first Qualifier; score 34 not out off ten balls, take 3-19, pick up two catches and effect a stunning run out in the second. All fairly standard for the great young Afghani wizard. In the final, he couldn't quite bend the match to his intoxicating will. He didn’t get a knock and CSK were content to carefully see off his overs before brutalising everyone else’s. He did, however, pull off one nonchalantly stunning piece of one-handed out-fielding to save a boundary and leave Watson, at that stage yet to get motoring, shaking his head in frustration.
Khan earlier in the week had showed that he’s learnt a bit from Shane Warne’s presence at the IPL by revealing — or at least claiming — that he’s been working on five different spin variations, which he will unveil during Afghanistan’s debut Test against India next month. Warne’s kidology only used to involve claiming he’d developed one new ball per series so congratulations to Rashid for varying the variation mind games. They say the best batsmen know which ones to leave. If this applies to matches as well as deliveries, then Kohli’s decision not to play in the Afghanistan’s debut Test looks ever more sensible given Khan's irresistible form. Sadly, having picked up an injury in RCB’s penultimate match (although he played their last one), the India captain will also now miss his much-talked-about county spell with Surrey. Hopefully he'll be “India fit” again soon.
Bravo still singing
From the very first match to the final, Dwayne Bravo has continued to be a vital, albeit not quite as potent, part of both the CSK team and IPL marketing experience. During the first Qualifier, he pulled off a caught and bowled that, in the week when poor Loris Karius displayed palms made of air, showed the West Indian all-rounder to have hands of adhesive steel. After the match, Bravo interviewed hero of the hour, Faf du Plessis, and insisted on ending their chat by getting his teammate to join him in singing and dancing to his new single, “Run D world”. Faf relatively enthusiastically got his groove on, but sad to say this latest musical effort from Bravo hasn’t quite taken off to the extent of the CSK man’s previous global smash of “Champion”. It contains DJ’s trademark dancehall sound and modesty (“Bravo runs D world...”), but isn't quite as catchy. Still, at least he’s in good company as second single syndrome is commonplace in the IPL. For many years, the event’s signature song was clearly Gangnam Style, a hit PSY has never managed to successfully follow up. But for Bravo, who needs singing when you can just whistle podu your way to your umpteenth T20 title.
Hug it out
Much was made of the fact no Liverpool player went to comfort Karius after the match, so perhaps Klopp’s next signing should be Carlos Brathwaite, who has spent the week dishing out hugs the way Ngidi dishes out dot balls. During the first qualifier, it was his over when the game changed as Faf du Plessis reminded the world that, even with the international retirement of AB de Villiers, South Africa still have batsmen who can light a fire under any match. At the end of the game as the players shook hands, Brathwaite offered his slightly surprised tormentor a bear hug, a cricketing version of Stockholm Syndrome. In the second qualifier against KKR, he was charged with bowling the final six balls at Eden Gardens with 19 needed, a nice bit of inverse deja vu as this was the exact target he knocked off in the last over against Ben Stokes in the 2016 World T20 at the same venue. After successfully seeing his side through, he clung on to his teammates like a giant koala, eyes closed in relief. After the treatment most of the Sunrisers normally superb attack received in the final, let's hope the big man was on hand to lead the post-match consolations.