The greatest thing about IPL-9 is we are going to have a new champion. This is good for cricket as well as the league. Among the three teams still in contention, two are relatively new, even if their players were part of other teams that were taken out of the league for one reason or the other. The favourite at this point of time, Royal Challengers Bangalore, have been there since Day 1 and also figured in the final twice in 2009 and 2011 since when its fortunes have dipped like those of its former owner.
Two principal characters have been instrumental in bringing back the good times for the Kingfisher-sponsored team — Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, as unlikely a duo as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in cricketing terms. If Virat is the silken batsmen showing an equally stunning felicity in all formats of the game, ABD is the master of innovation whose instinctive stroke production is as unpredictable as the weather has been in Bengaluru this summer. Between them, they have mastered the art of T20 batting to such an extent that we don’t need to see anyone else bat to know how the game has evolved.
RCB may owe everything to ABD for taking it to the final in one shot rather than in a nervy play-off semi-final. That was the night when the Challengers seemed to have been felled by the Lions who themselves had risen from the floor to rebuild their challenge. The encounter was perhaps the ultimate T20 show with fortunes yo-yoing to an impossible extent within the confines of a match of 40-over duration. Both teams were five-down for next to nothing and then recovered, the Lions to fight and the Challengers to go one better and win.
The excitement of the swinging pendulum of fortunes is what makes sport the great spectacle. The drama of the draining circumstances under which ABD revived the challenge in the company of the tongue-tied Abdulla — who then blossomed to ease the team into the final with a flurry of well place boundaries — was what lent the match a unique flavour. This was like Test match excitement reduced into an extremely tight highlights package. So enthusiastic were the Challengers at the end of it all that their running greeting to ABD seemed to threaten physical damage to the hero as his helmet peeled off and he himself was jerked back seriously enough to risk a whiplash kind of injury from what seemed more like a rugby tackle by a whole bunch of athletes.
The quarter-final, if one may call it that as against the fancy names the IPL has for its process of eliminating two out of three teams, was a tamer affair. KKR seemed in it for long enough as a bowling team, but then did not manage the end game well and were left a chancy target to make against the pressure of falling wickets. Not having a batsman like ABD to steady the ship and look after the acceleration as well, KKR dissolved into inaction, particularly after Yusuf Pathan’s flick carried straight to a deep fielder as if it were a guided missile. KKR have had their successes in the past and seem to have gracefully left the space for a new champion.
The Gujarat Lions have been the flashy debutants of the league and they have a task on hand to get past the improving Sunrisers Hyderabad who have got their act truly together this season. The oldest IPL formula had been to get a couple of extremely committed Aussies into the top order and let them get on with defining how most contests would go. SRH have at least one in their skipper David Warner, whose career actually took off with IPL success. Whoever gets into the final will have a huge task on hand in getting past Kohli, who is unlikely to let his golden run of form end with a low score and ABD who is the supreme striker of the newfangled game. If Kohli has the markings of becoming the Pele of cricket, then ABD is Maradona. To down them, a team would need a big striker to have a field day, maybe a McCullum or a Warner.