On a warm night in Nagpur, the IPL was seen in all its glory.
Forget talk about obscene amounts of money, disregard for a moment the scantily clad cheerleaders, overlook the fawning celebrities and concentrate on the game; a tension-filled, competitive cricket match.
Here was Shane Warne bowling at his wily best; he spun the ball and a web around nervous batsmen. This eventually led to a wicket and amidst the celebration, Warne implored his teammates to believe, to imagine that a glorious, much-needed win was at hand.
And when he wasn't dispensing devious deliveries, Warne was wracking his brain and waving his arms. He moved fieldsmen from outposts into threatening positions; he ignored the physical danger to his teammates in order to further intimidate nervous opponents. He employed fielding positions that sent a message to both sides that we, the Royals, can win this game.
It was vintage Warne; his bowling was threatening and his captaincy was imaginative with a touch of genius. If a genius does oscillate between brilliance and madness, Warne was one minute Picasso, the next Van Gogh. But mostly he was a leader with the support of his players and the attention of his opponents.
In the end, Warne's aggressive plotting prevailed while the brave Rohit Sharma’s efforts fell just short. RR beat the Deccan Chargers by a whisker. But the result was only a minor detail, if not for the protagonists, then at least for the game.
Here for all to see — the baying crowd at the stadium and the vast television audience — was T20 cricket in its best light. A cricket contest of infinite skill and strategy, rather than being relegated by flashy dancers and flouncing celebrities to sideshow status. For the hype about being a billion-dollar industry, attracting stars and rampant egos, the IPL does a lot of good for cricket; both the game and the individuals who play it.
At a time when some international skippers are content to allow batsmen to score easy runs without risking their wickets, so allowing the middle overs of an ODI to become more pedestrian than a jaywalker, Warne offered a viable option to these timid tactics. Here was Sharma, a young Indian batsman of abundant skill displaying the complimentary nerve needed to succeed at the highest level. The question is not if he has the skill to make it as batsman but rather, will the selectors ignore him for so long that his best years will be past when he's finally chosen?
Having prospered against Warne's devastating spell and taunting tactics will do wonders for Sharma's confidence. Hopefully it will also convince selectors that here's a batsman for all seasons. This was a classic example of how the IPL's multi-cultural format, putting Indian and international cricketers in the same arena, can benefit the game. Here, it was a former Australian player helping, albeit inadvertently, the cause of a talented young Indian cricketer.