IPL: It’s been a League of extraordinary gentlemen

Despite the pandemic, strange conditions and empty stands, the IPL has delivered on its promise of exceptional cricket.
T Natarajan of Sunrisers Hyderabad.(BCCI)
T Natarajan of Sunrisers Hyderabad.(BCCI)
Updated on Nov 14, 2020 08:11 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByHT Correspondent

Last week, the Indian Premier League (IPL) carnival came to an end. Despite the formidable challenge of organising a tournament during a pandemic — living in a bio-bubble, virtually no practice, absolutely no crowds — it was an exciting, tense and utterly engrossing two months of cricket. These were the highlights for me.

This IPL belonged to Thangarasu Natarajan and Varun Chakravarthy, late bloomers who simply did what they loved with commitment and grit for years without any significant returns and now find themselves, at 29, bathed in the IPL spotlight and on the cusp of making their debuts for India. It’s the kind of tale that would feel clichéd in a movie but is joyously inspirational in real life.

Natarajan’s mother used to run a roadside chicken shop and his father worked in a powerloom factory in Tamil Nadu. Natarajan was the local tennis ball hero we’ve all known growing up. He only held his first real cricket ball at 20, at the lowest rung of division cricket in his state. Within three years, he was making his Ranji debut without ever having played age-group cricket. In 2015, the year after his debut, he was reported for suspect action, the kind of thing that usually destroys a career. But he was back a year later with a reformed action, playing in the hyperlocal Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL). In 2017 he was signed by Kings XI Punjab. Next year, an elbow surgery laid him low. In 2020, he played every IPL game for his new team Sunrisers Hyderabad and became a sensation for his ability to bowl yorkers six out of six balls in an over. He even got one to crash into AB de Villiers’ stumps. He has been picked for India’s T20 team for Australia.

Chakravarthy, just five years ago, had almost given up on a career in cricket. The former tennis ball speedster was working as an architect in Chennai after his dreams were derailed by an injury. Then he began to transform himself into a spinner. He began making inroads with the TNPL in 2017. In 2018, he was making his Ranji debut and being picked up by an IPL franchise. In 2019 he was having a poor debut IPL season and being let go of by his team. In 2020 he was picked up by Kolkata Knight Riders, made his first five-wicket haul, against Delhi in Sharjah, and was picked for the India team headed to Australia (he has since pulled because of an injury and replaced by Natarajan). Let me off this ride, I have vertigo!

There are some other performances in the IPL that give me cause to make grandiose predictions. I believe Devdutt Padikkal will be a huge star across all formats for India, as will Ruturaj Gaikwad.

I think there is no bowler right now like Jasprit Bumrah.​ Ok, Jofra Archer too, but Boom is more, bigger, better. That pace, that accuracy, that action that makes it so hard for batsmen to find their sightlines​; add to that twenty-below-zero composure at the most difficult stages of a match and a cricketing brain that’s as sharp as the back-of-length ball he sends fizzing past batsmen’s ears.

I also think Ricky Ponting is as brilliant a coach as he was a player and captain​. A time will come when he will make the ​Aussies an invincible force again.

And I think that while we may mourn the end of the MS Dhoni era, where there is a big gap there are also big possibilities. Between Wriddhiman Saha, Ishan Kishan, Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson, there is a lot of joy in store for India as we search for our next keeper-batsman for all seasons. ​​

Finally, and this prediction is not grandiose since it should already have happened and it’s a shame that it hasn’t: I believe that when the BCCI deems it fit to actually organise a proper women’s IPL instead of some totemic “Women’s T20 Challenge”​​, it will be the next big thing in the world of cricket.

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Sunday, November 28, 2021