IPL 4 – Status Update

IPL 4 is set to be played 6 days after the conclusion of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. The tournament is now about 4 months away, however due to the various controversies neither the no. of teams, the players, no. of matches, format anything is known to the public and not even to the players and team owners. It was supposed to be a 10 Team event when 2 new teams Pune and Kochi were added last year in much publicized team auction.

Later due to the ownership issues and various non-cricketing reasons Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab were suspended from the IPL and the Kochi team was always on the brink of suspension due to its various ownership issues. At one stage it looked there would be just 7 teams and an eighth team would be added after a fresh round of auction. However as things stand today Kochi is back in the fold and so is Rajasthan Royals based on the court order. Punjab team is likely to be there as well as their case is similar to the Royals. Thus it would be a 10 team affair.

Player auction which was supposed to be held in November had been postponed to January and now it seems may further gets postponed to March, i.e. during the ICC World Cup. As the BCCI is yet to clear off the court cases.

No one is sure about the format, the no. of matches either and would a round robin home-away format will be followed or a changed format of 2 groups would be followed is yet to be decided. The teams are not sure about the exact playing dates as well. The Player retention rules are even more controversial with teams having a choice of up to 4 players to retain from their existing team, but then they lose half their auction limit of 9 Million $. It seems not all teams are in favor of retention however Mumbai Indians and Chennai Superkings are quite keen on it.

As of now it seems Mumbai have decided to retain Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh, Lasith Malinga  and either of Keiron Pollard and J P Duminy. Chennai have decided to retain Dhoni, Raina, Murali Vijay and Albie Morkel while Bangalore are keen only on Virat Kohli and Kolkata are keen only on Chris Gayle and not even their very own Ganguly. Delhi are sure to keep Sehwag with them and possibly Ashish Nehra, Dirk Nannes and maybe Gautam Gambhir too. Rajasthan have opted for Shane Warne, Watson and possibly Yusuf Pathan. Deccan Chargers have decided not to retain anybody while Kings XI Punjab are still awaiting for court ruling to decide anything. There are clearly no takers for veteran players such as Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Kumble and so on. The teams also do not have a fixed strategy and things are quite muddled at the moment.

Unless and until clarity comes from the court regarding status of various teams and BCCI decided upon the format of the game and auction dates and rules nothing can be sure.

Although one thing is sure, BCCI is hell bent on hosting the IPL 4 by hook or crook.

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Cheteshwar Pujara- The New Big Hope

Finally the call came. Cheteshwar Pujara has been drafted in the team for first test against Australia, beginning 1st week of October, at the expense of Yuvraj Singh. Cheteshwar Pujara, son of former cricketer Arvind Pujara has been waiting in the wings since couple of years now and at 23 he is the new big hope for India in Cricket especially Tests.

In the days of IPL and T20 cricket where hitting every ball out of the park is the fashion and scoring a quick fire 40 is important, the art of patient batting, building an innings, playing strokes and rotating strike is waning day by day. The art of batsman-ship as we all know is not easy to be found, especially amongst the new lot of Indian cricketers.

In Pujara we have a young player who is perfectly suited for the longer format of the game. He has got the technique and the temperament to build innings, play patiently, see out a hostile bowler and concentrate on occupying the crease. He is the new age-Dravid we all are looking forward to. He has played domestic cricket for Saurashtra since last few years and have scored massively, won respect for his team and has won respect amongst the opposition players. When selected to play for India A and emerging players tournament he has been consistently performing with the bat against West Indies, England, Australia and has even shown good leadership skills. In past he has played in Under 19 World Cup as well. His domestic record speaks for itself and his not so successful stint in the IPL with Kolkata Knightriders could be the blessing in disguise, which has allowed him to concentrate on the ‘real’ cricket.

We have seen youngsters such as Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay but none of them have so far cemented their positions in the squad. Raina, who has recently replaced Yuvraj Singh is still a suspect against hostile quick bowling. Rohit Sharma has all the potential but has never converted it to results on field. At this juncture when the senior players like Sachin, Dravid and perhaps Laxman have about couple of more years to give to Indian cricket we need few solid batsman who can take up the roles vacated by the seniors in near future. Pujara is that big hope. Pujara’s talent, ability, temperament shows that he is too good a player to fail at the big stage  but then once can never say that about any player. Pujara is too precious a player for the future of Indian Cricket in long run.

Inclusion of Pujara in the team does not guarantee that he would be in the playing XI, however being in the same dressing room as Sachin, Dravid and Laxman would do a great deal to the youngster and I am positive that given a chance he would prove his mettle.

All the best wishes, Cheteshwar.

IPL – Midseason Review

Now that IPL 3.0 is more than half way through and is entering its most important phase, the race for semi final spot hots up. Few teams have leap-frogged over others and some have fallen behind badly.

To begin with Mumbai Indians led by the maestro Sachin Tendulkar is leading from the front and is as good as qualified for one of the semi final spots unless some real bad catastrophical mathematical combination occurs. Delhi Daredevils and Bangalore Royal Challengers look to grab the 2 spots in semi final. The battle for the 4th spot is tough and is a close call between Rajasthan Royals, Chennai Superkings and surprise surprise Kolkata Knightriders.

The other 2 teams Kings XI Punjab and Deccan Chargers though still have a theoretical chance of qualifying , but I assume their IPL battle is over for the year and they have another race to fight, to avoid the bottom place.

So my earlier prediction made before the start of IPL, of semi final spots almost seems to be correct. MI, DD, RCB and CSK or RR would make it and KKR I dont think will.

IPL 3 – First Impressions of Teams

Now that I have seen at least one match of each of the 8 teams, I think now is a good time to mention my first impressions of the teams.

To start with –  Mumbai Indians –  It looked like grandfather Sachin and Sanath playing with their grandkids, atleast when the team was announced. With their combined age 77 it did seem that way. The team looked lacking middle order strength BUT they proved me wrong and the new recruits seems like a good choice. Aditya Tare, Saurabh Tiwary, Sathish and Ambati Rayadu look well in their part and they won the match despite Seniors not doing much, Harbhajan injured and Yusuf Pathan blitzkrieg.  Perhaps Lucky to win that day, but if they continue to play that way a spot in the semis is there for the taking.

A team you love it or hate it but cant ignore it ,  Kolkata Knightriders. Surprise ! Surprise !  The team is playing as a ‘team’ and have left behind their past 2 nightmarish seasons, at least it looks so far. Ganguly is leading them from the front and his fielding and batting maybe a bit rusty but his captaincy is as sharp as it was during his peak. Angelo Matthews has to be the most underrated ( and cheap) all rounder just like most Lankan players are. Brad Hodge is playing well and Laxmi Ratan Shukla seems to have a got a second wind. The team should continue to do well especially in home games with massive Eden Garden support behind them and half of Bollywood cheering for them. With superstar overseas players like Hussey, Bond , Mccullum and Gayle yet to arrive , things can only be better. Perhaps a semifinal spot for them.

Rajasthan Royals was the team of 10 players and Shae Warne in the first edition, now its perhaps 10 players and Yusuf Pathan. The man is in peak of his form and can do no wrong. Breaking several domestic records in last 2 months he continues to pummel the opposition bowlers with his huge sixes and massive drives. Royals were unlucky not to win their first match. However apart from Pathan other team members looked bit out of touch. Warne didnt turn the ball much and none of the other bowlers were impressive. Although its mindless to predict based on just 1 game but I think Royals might just miss out on the Semis spot this year.

Another team that looked rusty was Chennai Superkings. Even with massive crowd support behind them, they couldnt muster up a decent fight to the Chargers. Their bowling looks weak and even Muralidharan seems  struggling. They are also missing Flintoff and Oram and they seem to rely too much on Dhoni and Hayden at the top. Someone like Suresh Raina, Badrinath etc. have to stand and deliver. They have to improve and improve real soon.

Deccan Chargers rolled over the superkings succesfully after suffering unexpected loss against Knightriders. They seem to have the right team combination with Gilchrist and Gibbs at the top, Symonds and Rohit Sharma in the middle. Their bowling also looks decent with R P Singh, Vaas and Prgyan Ojha. Their slightly weaker link is I think VVS Laxman. Laxman is the most elegant player when its comes to batting in a test match, however in this format of the game he looks out of place especially when he is opening the innings along with fluent Gilchrist. Perhaps they need to make him bat at 4 or 5, although I cant see him slogging in the final 5 overs either. Maybe drop Laxman altogether.

Bangalore Royal Challengers looks a great team when you have experience of Kaalis, Dravid, Kumble to combine with young brigade like Manish Pandey , Robin Utthappa and Virat Kohli and with Dale Steyn leading the bowling attack you have one of the best balanced team. However they were simply outclassed in the first match by KKR. Perhaps they would soon get their act together and be a team they were last year.

Kings XI Punjab to me looks the weakest team of the tournament. Somehow the middle order of Mahela, Yuvraj and Sangakkara looks too sedate and their bowling minus Brett Lee lacks serious firepower. Irfant Pathan needs a speedy dose of aggression from his brother Yusuf Pathan. Ramesh Power and Piyush Chawala looked clueless on slow pitch. They need Brett Lee to be back , mercurial Sreesanth to be consistent and maybe someone more aggrasive like Shaun Marsh at top of order should be good. Whats Mohhamad Kaif doing in the team?

Finally, the team to beat, Delhi Daredevils with the strongest batting lineup of this IPL, they would be the team every other team would be afraid of. On their day any of Sehwag, Gambhir, Warner, Dilshan and AB Deviliers can blast any bowling attack out of the ground. They have a wonderful bowling attack as well with Dirk Nannes in top form and Amit Mishra with a new found confidence. A semifinal spot is almost a guaranteed if they continue to play like they do and they can. Who knows maybe even the championship !