Predictions defied as IPL gets off to roaring start
The opening match of the thirteenth edition of the Indian Premier League signalled the start of a league set to be a roaring success amidst the global pandemic that brought the sport to a grinding halt.
When the tournament was shifted to the United Arab Emirates, it was difficult to predict just how audiences would take to the matches. One school of thought believed that the lack of international sport meant that cricket fans would embrace the tournament in greater numbers than ever before. There were also the skeptics who felt that this was not the right time for the sport to be played and that audiences would be reduced as a result.
After the opening match, in which the Chennai Super Kings got the better of the Mumbai Indians, Jay Shah, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, announced that the game had attracted a viewership of 20 million.
Shah attributed the figure to the Broadcast Audience Research Council, and if these numbers are verified, it could signal the most popular edition of the IPL ever. In 2019, the tournament drew 462 million viewers on television. Overall, including all streaming platforms, the figure stood at 613 million.
If the first match figure of 20 million sets the tone, the broadcasters are expecting the 2020 tournament figures to exceed all previous marks.
The last few years have been especially tumultuous for a player whose entire career has been filled with ups and downs. Ambati Rayudu failed a fitness test, got left out of the Indian team, returned to prove his fitness, and was then left out of India’s World Cup plans. In sheer frustration, Rayudu called it quits, retiring from the game, only to change his mind when tempers calmed down and returned to the fray.
The opening match of the IPL was yet another high note for Rayudu in a career spent proving his critics wrong.
Set a target of 163 at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the Chennai Super Kings had their work cut out for them. Players from both teams had been a touch rusty, coming into the match after a long layoff.
When both CSK openers fell cheaply, it was Mumbai Indians all the way, and here Rayudu swung into action, consolidating at first and then counter-attacking in style. Rayudu made 71 for just 48 balls, hitting six fours and three sixes.
Rayudu’s third-wicket stand of 115 with Faf du Plessis set up the Chennai chase, allowing them to win by five wickets with four balls to spare.
“He has always been motivated with us,” Stephen Fleming, the CSK coach, said of Rayudu after the win. “Last year was a difficult year for many players to earn that spot in the world cup squad. That occupied a lot of minds and the performances of a number of our players. This year, without that, there has been a total commitment to CSK. Rayudu has been an emotional player over the years, but for us, he has been nothing short of fantastic. He turned the game around with his experience, and his skill set was a major part of that.”
The tie, the blunder, the excitement
When the IPL governing council announced that unlimited Super Overs would be available for each of the league matches in the event of a tie, there were some eyebrows raised. Was this really necessary? Could teams not just split points in the case of a tie, given that each team played each twice in the league phase, and the result of any single match was unlikely to change how things stood.
But, in just the second match of the tournament, the validity of this decision came to the fore. Batting first, the Delhi Capitals overcame a slow start to post 157, powered by Australia’s Marcus Stoinis, who hustled 53 from just 21 balls to give the innings the impetus it needed in the second half.
In pursuit, Kings XI Punjab were in all manner of trouble at 35 for 4 and then 55 for 5. It looked like the chase was dead in the water. But, Mayank Agarwal had other ideas and kept pushing, making 89 off 60 balls to allow the lower order to stay in touch with the target.
When the final over was bowled, and the game was tied, the super overcame into play. Here it was, Delhi all the way. With Agarwal unable to return to the crease thanks to extreme cramping in the hot and humid desert conditions, KL Rahul and Nicolas Pooram took the crease. When Rahul fell early, and Rabada snuffed out Pooran, Kings XI had failed to play out their super over and scored just three runs.
Naturally, Delhi made short work of this target.
KL Rahul, the Kings XI captain, summarised the game perfectly. “It is bittersweet. If at the end of 10 overs, if you had said this match is going to a Super over, I would have taken it. Mayank was unbelievable, and to get a game that close was magical. At 55 for five, we were calm and still positive.”
Samson and Archer reset perceptions
After the initial matches of the 2020 IPL, it seemed like this would be a tournament where the tall scores would be hard to come by and that batsmen would have to work hard for their runs. It appeared as though the combination of slow bowling, big grounds, and turgid surfaces would make shotmaking so difficult that it would be the accumulators who would rule the roost.
But all that changed when the Rajasthan Royals played their first match of the tournament, against the Chennai Super Kings.
This game, at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, was one that blew all initial perceptions out of the water. Sanju Samson, the diminutive wicketkeeper-batsman, showed that it was not all muscle and power that would get you to bang for the buck in the UAE, but the clever shot selection and smart timing.
Samson hit an incredible 9 sixes and just one four in his 32-ball 74. It was the kind of innings you expect at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, but not in the UAE. But Samson overcame, and when Joffra Archer clattered four sixes off consecutive deliveries to make 27 from just 8 balls, Rajasthan posted a giant 216 from their 20 overs.
While Chennai were always unlikely to get to this target, they ensured that they did not collapse in a heap in trying to do so, which would have severely impacted their Net Run Rate. Instead, they played through to the end, scoring 200, on the back of Faf du Plessis making 72 from 37 balls.
“My game plan is to stand and deliver. If it’s in the arc, I go for it, and it’s very important to keep the intent to hit the ball if it’s there to be hit,” said Samson, who was named the Man of the Match for his innings. “I’ve been working hard on my fitness, diet, and training, and on my strength, because my game relies a lot on power hitting. I think range-hitting is what the game demands in this generation. I had time to work out in these 5 months, and I think I’ve increased that ability. Everyone likes to keep wickets (about Buttler and Uthappa as alternate options), and no one likes running around, but it’s up to the coach. We are happy to bring smiles on the fans’ faces, and we hope to continue doing so.”
Umpiring errors mar exciting start
In the third ball of the 19th over of the match between Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Capitals, Chris Jordan attempted to take two runs. Nitin Menon, the umpire standing at square leg, believed that the batsman had not grounded his bat properly at the striker’s end and declared it one short, and the score was adjusted accordingly.
Replays showed that Jordan had touched down properly, which meant that the umpire — India’s only representative in the International Cricket Council’s Elite Panel — had got the decision wrong. This also meant that the match, which ended in a tie, should never have gone to the super over in the first place.
Kings XI were naturally upset at the decision, and said so publicly and even lodged a complaint to note their dissent, but the rules stipulate that the third umpire could not intervene unless his opinion was brought into play either by an umpire review from on-field or a player using the Decision Review System.
In short, the wrong decision was reached, but this was one of those aberrations, and even technology could not be used to correct it.