Amidst the chaos, top-flight competition learns to thrive

Amidst the chaos, top-flight competition learns to thrive

When international cricket returned, amidst the global pandemic caused by the Covid-19 Coronavirus, it was through baby steps as England hosted the West Indies for a Test series. At that time it was unclear if playing international cricket was even feasible with the way the new normal functioned.

Once the England-West Indies series was successfully staged, even with unique conditions and stringent protocols in place, there was room for even more. Pakistan was committed to travelling to England and they did so for Tests and white-ball cricket, again with no incidents.

The Caribbean Premier League was the first franchise-based tournament to get going. With only two teams involved in each of the series played in England, the degree of difficulty in terms of logistics, personnel and exposure was limited, but, with multiple teams and players from multiple countries, this increased dramatically in the CPL.

The CPL overcame the hurdle by holding a limited tournament, drastically cutting down on the number of venues, and this provided a template for the IPL to be held in the United Arab Emirates.

High-scoring matches showcase strength and depth

When the first Twenty20 International between England and Pakistan was washed out in Manchester, there was a serious risk of their being too little to separate the two teams in the remaining matches. There was the chance that England would run away with their home advantage, and this too was a worry.

As it happened, there was no need for concern. In the second match, Pakistan, who were put in to bat on a good surface, came together especially well.

Babar Azam, who has become a bit of a darling of English fans for his grace and elegance at the crease, made 56 at the top of the order, setting the tone. But, it was Mohammad Hafeez, the ageing warhorse who some had written off as being past his best, who stole the show, cracking a 36-ball 69 in the middle order, powering his team to 195 for 4.

When the chase began, it certainly looked like the visitors had more than enough on board. England’s policy in white-ball cricket in the recent past, however, has been attacking, attack and more attack. And while this is fraught with risk when there is something in the conditions for the bowlers, it looks spectacular when it comes off.

On the day, Jonny Bairstow got things going, using only 24 balls to make 44, opening the batting. But when he, and fellow opener Tom Banton, were both back in the dressing-room, with only 66 on the board, it was Pakistan all the way.

Then came an Eoin Morgan special. The captain steered his ship home with the kind of precise decision-making and adroit stroke play that left bowlers scratching their heads. Morgan clattered 66 off 33 balls, ensuring that a strenuous climb was reduced to a canter, England getting home with five balls to spare.

With a massive target chased down in the second game, Pakistan had every reason to be apprehensive when the final match of the mini-series began. Once more they did not have the rub of the green at the toss, and again they were asked to bat first.

This time, they did not even do as well as in the previous game, putting 190 on the board. But, what was clear was that it needed more application from batsmen to make it count on this surface at Old Trafford in Manchester. Hafeez was the rock, and this time his influence was even greater, his 86 from 52 balls anchoring the innings. While he did strike it cleanly enough to score four fours and six sixes, it was his staying at the crease as long as he did that ensured that new batsmen did not have to get accustomed to the conditions.

Once the runs were on the board, the onus was on England to do all the hard work. And, despite Tom Banton extending his usefulness at the top of the order, making 46, and Moeen Ali threatening to be the gamechanger with 61 from only 33 balls, it was Pakistan who held their nerve and had the last word, keeping England down to 185 for 8 to register a five-run win.

The series was crying out for two more matches, but both teams would agree that 1-1 was a fair result in these trying times.

CPL – Trinbago KnightRiders flying high on Bravo milestone

The TrinBago KnightRiders put themselves on the top of the points table of the CPL, and while there was plenty left to play for in the tournament, the limelight was on them as Dwayne Bravo, the West Indian all-rounder, had capped off 500 wickets in T20 cricket. To put this in perspective, the next best in the same class is Lasith Malinga, the Sri Lankan, who has 390 wickets.

Add to this the fact that Bravo is not a bowler per se, but began as a batsman who also bowled seam up and then developed into an all-rounder in the shorter formats and you have a scarcely believable success story.

Bravo’s speciality has been his ability to bowl slower balls at will, bringing variations into this variation delivery, getting dip, swing and cut. Incredibly, he has been the top wicket-taker in franchise leagues on seven different occasions. This includes the Champions League, the IPL (twice, in 2013 and 2015 for the Chennai Super Kings), the CPL (2015 for Trinidad and Tobago and 2016 for TrinBago KnightRiders), the Bangladesh Premier League (2016-17 season for Dhaka Dynamites) and the Big Bash League in Australia in 2017-18 for the Melbourne Renegades.

Bravo’s development into the most successful bowler in T20 cricket was certainly not an expected one but is worthy of celebration in any way possible.

IPL hit by Raina, Malinga pull-outs

The staging of the IPL in the UAE had its first hiccup when more than a dozen from the Chennai Super Kings contingent, comprising players, support staff, operations executives and others, tested positive for the Coronavirus and had to placed in isolation within the bio-secure bubble.

But the tournament suffered a serious blow when Suresh Raina — not one to test positive — withdrew from the competition, choosing to return home not long after the team had assembled in the UAE.

Raina cited personal reasons for his decision, and since then speculation has been rife over why he chose to turn his back on a major payday and head home. It has emerged that multiple factors played a role.

The first was a brutal attack on his relatives in Pathankot in Punjab that left his uncle dead and several other family members critically injured, at least one of whom has succumbed since. The second was the claustrophobia of the bio-secure bubble that players are not accustomed to. The third was Raina having a young family back home that he had to leave behind to travel for a three-month tournament.

Raina has since broken his silence on the reasons for his departure, and they are worth hearing from the horse’s mouth. “It was a personal decision, and I had to come back to my family. There was something that needed to be addressed immediately on the home front,” Raina told Cricbuzz in his first interaction. “Nobody will just turn their back on Rs 12.5 crore and walk away without a solid reason. I might have retired from international cricket, but I’m still young, and I am looking forward to playing for them in the IPL for the next 4-5 years.”

Raina elaborated on what had caused the change of heart. “I have a young family back home, and I was concerned about the fact that if something happened to me, what’ll happen to them. My family is most important to me, and I am really concerned for them during these times,” he said. The former India ODI captain and CSK legend added that what happened in Pathankot was still a factor. “The Pathankot incident was horrible and has really been very disturbing for everyone in our family. And it was my responsibility to come back and take care of them. But since I’ve returned, I’ve been in quarantine here. So, I still have to go meet my parents and my relatives there who are all in great distress.”

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