Royal Challengers Bangalore's Chris Gayle poses with the highest runscorer trophy after Chennai Super Kings won the IPL final in Chennai on Saturday. Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP
Local heroes unearthed … but standards fell
Given that it is the Indian Premier League, it was perhaps fitting that the key performers in the final were two local boys who have benefited immeasurably from rubbing shoulders with the world's best. Chennai's Murali Vijay smashed six sixes in a 52-ball 95 and shared a 159-run opening partnership with Michael Hussey that put one hand on the trophy. With the ball R Ashwin, lucky to escape serious injury after stopping a straight biff with his head in the previous game, had Chris Gayle caught behind fourth ball on his way to stunning figures of three for 16.
Vijay and Ashwin have both represented India, but there were other unheralded names that caught the eye. Paul Valthaty, who has not even played a first-class game for Mumbai, finished with 463 runs, including the innings of the season – a 63-ball 120 that was a mix of aggression, timing and audacity. The Pune Warriors' Rahul Sharma, a tall leggie whose methods are not too dissimilar to what Anil Kumble's used to be, took 16 wickets. His economy rate of 5.46 was by far the best of the leading wicket-takers.
That was the good. But the expansion to 10 teams also saw a dilution in standards. More than a few games were decided by one or two poor overs bowled by those out of their depth. The insistence on seven Indian players in every XI means that there have to be 70 players of requisite class. There are not. Increasing the foreign quota to five or six will mean an increase in quality and an end to the eyesore that is world-class talent stuck in the dugout.
Less is more
Given that it started just days after India's World Cup win, the IPL was always in danger of falling victim to the morning-after feeling. Even players like Virat Kohli spoke of how weird it was to play against India team-mates in the opening week of the competition. Crowds struggled not only with feelings of satiation, but also with identity.
Most of the teams were unrecognisable from the squads of the first three seasons, and a combination of oppressive heat, ridiculously expensive tickets and an itinerary that never seemed to end [74 games, instead of the previous 60] meant that few stadiums were full on match days.
According to a study done by Cricinfo, TV ratings were down by as much as 25% in the major cities and the nadir was reached when the Mumbai Indians played Kolkata Knight Riders at the Wankhede Stadium in what was effectively a quarter-final. Not even the presence of Sachin Tendulkar could fill the seats. Two of the stands were nearly empty. The price of a ticket in the upper tier of the Garware pavilion? More than £100.
Life after Modi has its benefits
The cheerleaders are still there, as are the fan-boys and -girls masquerading as presenters and commentators. Lalit Modi may no longer have been around – his tweets, both self-promotional and anguished, were good value – but the hype machine rumbled on, piloted by the likes of Danny Morrison and Robin Jackman, as well as a retinue of the IPL's version of homegrown politburo members reciting faithfully from the Little Red Book.
In other ways, though, things improved, with the post-Modi dispensation keener to focus on the cricket. There was no closing ceremony featuring a geriatric pop star, and no officially sanctioned after-parties. Best of all, we didn't have to endure team owners in the dugouts, acting out deluded Sir Alex Ferguson fantasies or jumping around like five-year-olds who'd been allowed a glass of Red Bull.
Gayle is still a force to be reckoned with
There was no interest in Gayle at the January auction, with most franchises assuming that he'd be busy with West Indies playing Pakistan in the Caribbean after the World Cup. But with Ottis Gibson and the selectors deciding otherwise, it needed an injury to the Royal Challengers' Dirk Nannes to ensure that Gayle would get some playing time. Called up as the Victorian's replacement a fortnight in, he arrived to play his first game at Eden Gardens, his old stomping ground with the Knight Riders.
It took him just 55 balls, during which he pounded 102, to prove that jet-lag is for uncool people who don't wear 333 [his highest Test score] on their backs. There was also a 46-ball century against Punjab and a withering 47-ball 89 that dumped the Mumbai Indians out of the competition. Even in the final Chennai, with 205 on the board, did not breathe easy till he started that languid walk back to the pavilion.
He finished with 608 runs at 67.55 and only Virender Sehwag came anywhere close to matching his strike-rate (183.13). Cricket's coolest dude also clubbed 44 sixes. MS Dhoni, in second place, had 23.
Club v country tensions are rising
Spare a thought for Sri Lankan fans. With the bowling attack in Cardiff having more gums than teeth, there must have been a fair few who winced on seeing Lasith Malinga's IPL figures – 28 wickets in just 63 overs for the Mumbai Indians. The performance dipped towards the end – only two wickets in the last five games – but he and Gayle were at the forefront of the club-versus-country debates that raged throughout the IPL.
Until now, the perception seemed to be that it was an issue affecting those countries that could not give their players lucrative central contracts. But injuries to Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir – both will miss the Caribbean tour and are far from certain to play the Tests in England – have started a bout of navel-gazing back home in India as well. The board usually doesn't allow its players to take up county contracts or assignments elsewhere, the rationale being that they need time to recuperate before a home season.
Yet, despite some stalwarts being knackered, not one was asked to rest during the IPL. As long as the board continues to run a domestic T20 competition and aspire to No1 status in international cricket, it will be hard to find a solution that makes everyone – players, fans, sponsors and TV companies – happy.
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