For the last three weeks we have been royally entertained. We have been glued to the sofa as umpteen games have gone down to the last ball. We have bitten our nails watching two matches decided by Super Overs – cricket’s equivalent of overtime.
We have marveled as two players have claimed hat-tricks – one of the rarest and most celebrated of bowling achievements. We have gawped as the master batsmen have smashed more than 200 sixes over the ropes and into the massed ranks of spectators.
And we have barely caught our breath as fielders have clung onto a series of stunning catches with their bare hands – sometimes just one. Amid all the hype and heat of the Indian Premier League, the action has often been of the highest quality.
Sooner or later, however, the men have to be sorted from the boys. The midway point of IPL6 is virtually upon us and the jockeying for position will soon become an unseemly sprint for the finishing line. It will be a test of stamina and nerve with just the right amount of luck thrown in for good measure.
Only four of the nine franchises will qualify for the playoffs and for some the writing is already on the wall.
The Delhi Daredevils are a prime example. Last year’s table toppers have come unstuck in a big way. Despite the veteran presence of Mahela Jayawardene, Virender Sehwag and David Warner, they lost their first six games. Not even West Indian legend Sir Vivian Richards – brought on board in an advisory role – will have time to save this ship from floundering.
Pune Warriors seem destined to be also-rans for a third straight year. Since joining the IPL in 2011, the club has looked anything but Warriors. Sri Lankan all-rounder Angelo Mathews, who captains the team, has failed to shine with bat or ball and too often PWI has failed to post a total the bowlers can defend. Australian Aaron Finch has clobbered three half-centuries in five appearances but consistent support has been in short supply.
More surprising is the lackluster form of the defending champions. The Kolkata Knight Riders, who carried off the IPL’s glittering prize last May, will have to demonstrate rapid improvement to even have a chance to compete for the trophy in 2013. Despite the continued flow of runs from Gautam Gambhir and a cluster of wickets for Sunil Narine, Kolkata is simply not the sum of its parts.
The next game for KKR promises to be pivotal. Kolkata will enjoy home advantage on Wednesday against the Mumbai Indians – another team flattering to deceive so far this year. Both teams are in urgent need of consistency and major stars like Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting and even the great Sachin Tendulkar are overdue a major contribution.
For the players the pressure is on. Many of their IPL contracts expire at the end of the 2013 season so for those individuals who are struggling, now would be a perfect moment to hit a rich vein of form. Performance related pay is all well and good as long as the player continues to perform. There will be no shortage of candidates willing to take their chance at the next IPL auction.
The entertainment will continue. The show must go on at all costs. Without you and me, the IPL’s title sponsor might as well pour its money (and its soft drinks) down the drain. As long as it is enjoyable we will overlook the brazen commercialization of a grand old sport.