It hasn’t quite got started yet. But the best vintage vehicles often need a little time to warm up the engine before they are firing on all cylinders and accelerating down the motorway.
And the IPL is THE classic. It might not have fully clicked into ‘top’ yet, but in its initial manoeuvres it has promised much, and will doubtless move seamlessly through the gears until it reaches full throttle.
Maybe this was inevitable after the high drama of the recently concluded ICC World T20? After the giddy heights of that breathless Brathwaite finale, perhaps we needed a little time to get some air back into our lungs, and inhale deeply after scaling those rarefied heights.
The 2016 edition of the Indian Premier League has stuttered a little in its opening encounters – this third game ultimately proving as one-sided as the first two. The thrillometer has barely ticked over yet.
One of two new models fresh out of the garage for this year’s competition are the Gujarat Lions. They didn’t so much as roar out of the starting blocks, as purr – with satisfaction as they made fairly easy meat of the Kings XI Punjab.
The Lions could prove to be genuinely big cats in this cricketing circus. And in DJ Bravo – the ‘New Big Dog’ – they’ve already demonstrated that they have not only one of this format’s biggest entertainers, but one of its biggest match-winners. He provided Monday night’s turning point when he brought the curtain down on ‘the Big Show’.
Kings XI had set off quite nicely; and were yet to lose a wicket when Ravindra Jadeja began his second over. He opened with a wide; which was followed by being thrashed into the stands by Manan Vohra. 78-0 after 8.1 overs. Vohra, however, was out next ball – a bat-pad offering being neatly snapped up by wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik – running around to intercept the ballooning ball at silly point.
Vohra and his opening partner, Murali Vijay had been in easy, pleasing form. Vijay especially, had effortlessly unfurled a delightful range of authentic shots as he scored freely without the need for anything overly creative, or dangerous. But he fell to Jadeja too, in his third over of slow-left arm. It surely wasn’t necessary at this stage (the eleventh over) to make so extravagant a move to the leg-side to target the off-side boundary? He made room dramatically, swished his bat in a fierce, huge arc – and missed a straight one.
Jadeja, with no more than considered, intelligent bowling – rather than any great flight or spin – had pulled the Lions back into the game. In between those two dismissals, Dwayne Bravo had entered the arena. His first over had gone for a handful of singles. His second, effectively won the match.
At the wicket now were Kings XI captain David Miller and Glenn Maxwell. Before Bravo began his next over, the Punjab side’s mentor, Virender Sehwag was asked what his team’s target was for the innings? He replied: “If these two stay there, we’re looking at over 200. Otherwise, 170-180.” Within a few moments, the Trinidadian had removed them both, picking up his three-hundredth T20 wicket in the process – and Sehwag could only dream of reaching 170.
Both were undone by brilliant slower balls. Not ‘ordinary’ slower balls, mind you. Many a good bowler has those in his armoury. No, these were things of beauty that Bravo has patented and perfected – slower-ball yorkers. The ‘Champions’ dance is far from being the only thing that DJ Bravo has given the cricket world.
The first was a good example, helped somewhat by Maxwell’s desire, rather like Vijay, to step away and open up the offside for a full flourish of the bat. But it didn’t make a difference – if he’d stayed in line, such was the precision of the delivery he would surely have been lbw rather than bowled.
The ball that got Miller, though was superb. The South-African advanced a little, essaying his movement quite early – early enough for the bowler to adjust his length a fraction without in any way altering the flight and pace of the ball from his hand. It dipped under Miller’s bat like a mouse under a doorway, and the wicket was thoroughly splayed. It was a wonderful, wonderful sight. And it was easy to see in retrospect that there had been the game’s decisive moment.
Marcus Stoinis and Wriddhiman Saha both batted well to get the innings back on course – and 161 may have proved to be a defendable total. But it didn’t.
Aaron Finch returned to his unstoppable form that made him at one time the world’s top-ranked T20 batsman. His excellent 74 from 47 balls, assisted by bright cameos from captain Suresh Raina and Karthik mean Brendon McCullum’s bizarre second-ball stumping for 0 could be quickly forgiven and forgotten. Apparently, the former New Zealand captain once said that in this form of the game a batsman can reckon on succeeding one innings in seven. Well, at least that’s one of his failures out-of-the-way.
The promise of runs to come from him is only one of several positives the Lions can take away from this good start: the batting of Finch, Raina and Karthik; the all-round skill of Bravo; and a bowling attack that had options and didn’t go ragged – even in the face of the opposition’s excellent start. Praveen Kumar in particular so looks and plays like a ‘wily old-pro’ that it’s hard to believe he’s not yet thirty. It seems his cricket brain is the maturest part of his body.
The only small concern for the Lions was perhaps the bowling of James Faulkner. His first couple of overs were wayward rubbish; but skipper Raina persevered with him; and the Australian’s third and fourth overs were marked improvements. Raina showed faith in Faulkner; and he has faith in his players. On the evidence of this start, it is not misplaced.