Monday, May 25, 2009

Threat of 202wenty cricket on ECB

The British and Irish Lions moved into the five star Johannesburg hotel yesterday morning which 24-hours earlier had been the domain of Indian Premier League rulers, players and hangers on.

Kevin Pietersen

As they packed up their party and headed back to Bombay the organisers of the second IPL were setting their logistical minds on making a success of the Twenty20 Champions League tournament, which they will throw on for the first time this October.

That competition, due to last little more than two weeks, has been quietly slipped into the international calendar and already will be etched into the packed diaries of the three England players whose IPL franchises have qualified for the tournament.

If Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah were hoping for a break between the Champions Trophy and England’s tour to South Africa then they were almost as mistaken as their counties, who will soon discover that IPL teams have first pick in the Champions League.

The Champions League will soon be one of four major Twenty20 tournaments. The England & Wales Cricket Board next year launch their answer to the IPL, the P20, while Australia, New Zealand and South Africa form plans for a Southern Premier League due to begin in 2011.

The demands on time and bodies will take their toll and it appears the English players union are the latest to predict a string of retirements from Test cricket.

“If a player can take $1.5m out of the IPL and then about half again out of the SPL then he can make serious money for just three or four months work and that is a very attractive option for them as well as a massive problem for the game,” Sean Morris, chief executive of the Professional Cricketers Association, told the Daily Telegraph.

“We have a lot of young emerging players, particularly in India, who will be able to play, say, three T20 tournaments a year. They don’t need to get on the international treadmill. They will have three global events a year and they will say 'that will do me'.

“Yes players will retire and players around the world will tell you that. I would not be surprised if an England player went down that road soon.

“That is when it starts to get pretty dangerous for everyone. But it keeps coming back to schedules. We have to work out what the May Test matches are fulfilling. Is it Test cricket scheduled for the sake of it?

"It is common knowledge that the Schofield report said that if you want to improve the quality of the product, which is what we are aiming for, then we have to find a way of limiting the amount of cricket they play. But they are doing the exact opposite. Playing for your country is still the number one priority for players.

"But soon we will have four domestic tournaments squeezed into the schedule over the next three years. At the moment we have real problem just fitting in one tournament (the IPL). Something will have to give.”

Lalit Modi, the commissioner of the IPL, has seemingly given up hope of a window for his tournament. The International Cricket Council know it would set a precedent and could lead to similar demands from other members countries. His vision now is for tournaments to run concurrently and for Test cricket to adapt to survive.

“We get mixed up in the fact,” he said. “Where is the audience? If an England and West Indies series is going, who is watching? People in England and people in the West Indies. Not a global audience. IPL is going on concurrently with the series at the moment and that is fine. We carry on.

“There is a Test schedule and people will want to watch it. In India when there is a Test or one day series going on then we will not run our league but that does not mean that a league cannot be running in Australia and have their players playing in their city based league. That is where the model has not been talked through. When they are talking about the FTP (future tours programme) they are saying everyone should be free at the same time. Why?”

Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's Party Time for Deccan Chargers

Adam Gilchrist wins the day as Indian Premier League sends a signal to the world.Such has been the impact of the Indian Premier League in South Africa that you half expected Nelson Mandela to turn up and hand over the trophy over wearing a Deccan Chargers shirt after their six-run victory over Bangalore Royal Challengers in the final.

Plenty to shout about: Adam Gilchrist (left) starts the Deccan celebrations

Instead Jacob Zuma, the new president, provided the seal of stately approval. His speech was booed to the rafters by the crowd, who probably enjoyed that as much as the cricket.

The IPL heads home with a swell of pride in its achievement of persuading the South African public to support a very Indian event. The IPL continues to grow and its message throughout this tournament, "Can You Feel the Heat?" could be a signal to the rest of the game.

Next up on the Twenty20 stage is its World Cup, hosted by an England and Wales Cricket Board that has to hope the fact its tournament actually does matter will be enough to overcome the truth that they can never compete financially with the IPL billionaires.

On Sunday night one of them, Vijay Mallya, had opened his wallet once more to print thousands of Bangalore Royal Challenger flags, T-shirts and clapperboards. All were given away free. They made their impression, but evidence that the IPL is really about a good time rather than partisan support was provided by the sight of fans cheering loudly for both sides. Nobody really cared who won.

On the field it was a different of course. Adam Gilchrist is a campaigner. A winner. He was bowled for a duck as Anil Kumble's four wickets inspired Bangalore. But Deccan, who finished bottom last year, rallied with a Herschelle Gibbs half-century. A target of 144 was tricky on a slow pitch and Gilchrist's stumping of South African power hitter Roelof van der Merwe was crucial as Bangalore made 137 for nine.

Would the Indian Premier League have worked in England?

    It is a small sign, roughly about the length of a cricket bat, but a sizeable symbolic statement of how the Indian Premier League has taken over South African cricket. Lalit Modi's named parking space at Centurion Park was guarded by two heftily built goons on Friday night.

    No matter how important and powerful Modi may currently be, and become in the future, there is absolutely no chance the MCC would have given him a named parking spot outside the pavilion at Lord's if he had chosen to supplant the IPL in England instead of South Africa.

    The decision to choose South Africa as a venue for the second IPL may well go down as one of the most important for the future of Twenty20 cricket. It has been a roaring success built on bums on seats and there is now an air of invincibility around the IPL team that threatens to run out of control. America, Canada, England, Australia, the Moon, Mars... the list of future conquests is Romanesque in its ambition and scale. "It is just a matter of the bandwidth of the mind," said Modi. "I have to think it through."

    But while they feel flush with triumph under African skies, there is no doubt that the IPL has been a non-event in England. Its home on Setanta has perhaps not helped, and neither has the lack of English playing interest nor the fact our most iconic cricketer was injured playing for a team named the Chennai Super Kings. The Twenty20 Cup begins for the final time in its present incarnation on Monday and ticket sales are slow. The World Twenty20 follows a week later and inevitable comparisons will be drawn with the IPL much to the annoyance of various governing bodies.

    Modi is the public face and driving force of the IPL but it is IMG, the sports marketing gurus, who really run the show. They are mightily relieved they did not have to cram the IPL into an English county season. To compete with the Premier League and deal with an ECB scurrying around organising their own game. Here they have clean grounds to show off their flashy plasma screen boundary advertising boards and carte blanche to shower the place with DLF IPL (note the subtle name change from the Indian Premier League) signage.

    They also do not have a sceptical British public to convince. The South Africans love their sport. They ignore the teeth grinding embarrassment of watching local schools being handed wads of cash by Modi, like the Queen dishing out Maundy money. As for the Bollywood Babes competition, and phrases such as "She's a beaut" from the television commentary boxes, even the South Africans have baulked at that.

    But it is the miracle of watching South Africans queue outside Centurion Park to watch a match involving the Deccan Chargers and the Delhi Daredevils, with barely a South African player in sight, that is the crowning achievement.

    The overwhelming majority of the crowds have been Indian. Many of the post-match parties and functions have been Indian. This is still an Indian tournament. The cost of tickets, the IPL hiked the price for the final from 200 rand to 300 rand when they realised they could fill the ground, has put off many from the poorer black community. The Indian middle classes were the target of the first IPL. They remain its patrons here. Perhaps if Modi had diverted his private jet to London rather than Johannesburg an audience that has never felt wanted by English cricket might now be filling our grounds. An opportunity missed? Time will tell.

    Fan,Fireworks & Cheerleaders - The IPL cricket

    When you are a South African who has coached your own national team, you may think you have seen everything cricket has to offer in your homeland.

    But the fast, furious and very noisy Indian Premier League - relocated to South Africa less than two months ago yet now entering its final weekend - is changing that, as fireworks, flame-throwers, cheerleaders and colossal sixes light up the arenas.

    "I am over the moon that South Africa has responded in such an unbelievably positive way to the IPL," says former South Africa coach Ray Jennings, whose Bangalore Royal Challengers side are in the semi-finals.

    "The enormous crowds, basically during the rugby season, have been amazing - especially all the Indians who have supported this."

    As cricket's biggest razzamatazz rolls in, the bevy of cheerleaders showing off their hips and pom-poms to accompany the on-pitch entertainment, South Africans have lapped up the chance to watch Sachin Tendulkar, Matthew Hayden, Muttiah Muralitharan or Shane Warne live.

    Endless fireworks

    "I used to be an armchair fan," admits a beaming Molefe Moko, 28. "But the IPL's drawing my couch potato behaviour out of me.

    "There's a wonderful atmosphere and it is fun - you basically get non-stop action from the start."

    The organisers have definitely fulfilled their promise to deliver entertainment, which has also included a beauty pageant from the crowd, with the winner landing a Bollywood part.

    To a heady background of deafening Indian music, machines pump flames into the sky whenever there is a four, while wickets and sixes are greeted by endless fireworks.

    Of course there have been hiccups, various IPL demands ruffling the feathers of local businesses, but that is hardly surprising when some claim the organisers are protecting an asset worth $2bn.

    While the relocation has undoubtedly damaged the big-spending and marketing-driven IPL financially, as no atmosphere can match a local Indian one, South Africa has not done badly - with the event seemingly inspiring the next generation of Graeme Smiths, Herschelle Gibbs and Makhaya Ntinis.

    Unrivalled promotion

    "To say I am happy about the IPL being here would be an understatement," says Dr Mtutezeli Nyoka, president of Cricket South Africa.

    "It has put smiles on many South Africans' faces, including those who are involved in the game and, most importantly, those who are not.

    "And it has been unrivalled promotion. Lots of parents are now saying to us: 'Our kids want to play cricket', when just a few weeks ago, we were having to approach them."

    Furthermore, all South Africans can be heartened by the nation's ability to stage the event at such short notice as next year's football World Cup looms.

    Cricket fan wearing huge horns
    Policing the games was easy, as there was no animosity between the fans

    "I cannot speak highly enough of the security that's been around this tournament - it has been first-class," says Deccan Chargers coach Darren Lehmann, who represented Australia between 1996-2005.

    "And the crowds have been fantastic throughout which is unbelievable since we have had so many games in so few days, so we have really enjoyed it."

    The circus has another couple of days to run, before moving out of town.

    The first semi-final on Friday pits the Delhi Daredevils against the Deccan Chargers. The second, between the Chennai Super Kings and Royal Bangalore Challengers, takes place the next day. The finalists will meet in Johannesburg on Sunday.

    As they prepare for a kaleidoscopic sunset to a wonderful cricketing summer, which included an enthralling home series against Australia, South Africans are already plotting to stop the IPL permanently returning to its rightful home.

    "It has been a true Indian experience, with a great vibe and everyone seems to have loved it," says local fan Rory Beeden, 28.

    "I would love to see it come back, perhaps with us hosting it one year and India the next!"

    IPL FINAL 2009

    And so, as a blockbuster second season of the IPL reaches its summit, two of its biggest success stories clash in the finale in Johannesburg. They also happen to be the two most unlikely sides given how they fared in 2008. Deccan Chargers and Royal Challengers Bangalore were the two bottom-placed teams then, now they've busted out of the basement and made the house their own.

    Not many would have given Deccan or Bangalore a chance this year to get to the top four. But having pulled off amazing turnarounds and tasted difficult periods earlier in the tournament, both teams have undoubtedly deserved to get where they are today.

    Deccan started with four wins, imposed themselves, stumbled, but got it together when it mattered. The manner in which they - rather their captain Adam Gilchrist - crushed Delhi Daredevils in the semi-final was stirring. Gilchrist has led the side well and has been their top run-getter for the second season running. Apart from RP Singh, owner of the purple cap, there haven't been true stand-out performers. Herschelle Gibbs has been inconsistent, Pragyan Ojha has lost some bite in the latter stages, and while Rohit Sharma and Andrew Symonds have contributed they haven't been stunning.

    If Deccan have been inconsistent, Bangalore reached the worst level of desperation. The last match they lost in this tournament was the last they could afford to. And they have won their last five games, much like Australia's victorious campaign in the 1999 World Cup.

    The major factor in Bangalore's rise has been Anil Kumble, who took over the captaincy from a beleaguered Kevin Pietersen. In 2008 Bangalore's selections of a few final XIs raised some eyebrows, but most unflattering was their habit of choking when victory was in front of them. Kumble changed all that by setting an example that the seniors followed.

    Bangalore's younger Indian players didn't start off well at all, but the seniors' performances started to rub off. Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar and Virat Kohli have chipped in with vital contributions to keep the team buoyant in the competition. This has been a team that has paid a lot of attention to preparation.

    On form - they've won five in a row, four of them against semi-finalists - Bangalore are a confident side and will be boosted by the knowledge that they beat Deccan last time. However, after forcefully knocking out the top-ranked side in the semi-finals, Deccan will be confident as they face their southern compatriots. Both Gilchrist and Kumble have handled the captaincy with aplomb, and will not want to let the slightest chance go abegging.

    Form guide (completed matches, most recent first)

    Royal Challengers Bangalore: WWWWW
    Manish Pandey's rise has been exceptional. Hardly given a run last season, he delivered with the first IPL century by an Indian and followed up with another Man-of-the-Match effort in the semi-final. Statistically and psychologically Pandey's form will worry Deccan, because that century came against them. Cameos from Taylor and Kohli have come at right times, and Kumble and Roelof van der Merwe have delivered in pressure situations with their varieties of spin.

    Deccan Chargers: WLLWL
    Deccan rode into the final on Gilchrist's broad blade and shoulders; an encore should seal them the trophy. The bowling got itself together after Tillakaratne Dilshan and Virender Sehwag threatened to run riot, but what Deccan really need is for Herschelle Gibbs and Rohit Sharma to click. Gibbs made a duck after hitting a brisk half-century in the final league match, and Rohit has only one half-century in the tournament. If he can replicate either of the two flawless finishes against Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab, Rohit can be a big threat.

    Watch out for

    Adam Gilchrist v Praveen Kumar: Brutal objective v crafty swing bowling. Cosmic experience v smart head on young shoulders. As it stands, it's 2-0 to Praveen. Surprising as it may sound, Praveen took Gilchrist out, early, in both the finals of the CB Series last year. In two matches this season Gilchrist has taken just 18 runs off 12 balls from Praveen. Gilchrist won't count it as a decisive comeback.

    RP Singh v Manish Pandey: The IPL's highest wicket-taker against the latest young star to emerge. RP hasn't been at his best over the last few games, and Pandey has two Man-of-the-Match awards on the trot. During his century Pandey faced nine balls from RP, and took 20 runs, including a big six over long-on. RP has loads of experience to go with success against better batsmen, so how he varies his craft against an enthusiastic and trigger-happy opener is an intriguing battle.

    Adam Gilchrist cuts loose, Delhi Daredevils v Deccan Chargers, IPL, 1st semi-final, Centurion, May 22, 2009
    A typical big-match knock from Adam Gilchrist could make the final one-sided 

    Anil Kumble v Rohit Sharma and Gilchrist: Kumble has led superbly with the ball in Bangalore's winning streak. In Bangalore's last game against Deccan, Kumble dismissed Rohit first ball and allowed Gilchrist only five runs from eight balls. In their earlier match Rohit hit 24 runs off 10 Kumble deliveries and Gilchrist took 13 from 11. Kumble will need to be at his craftiest best against two of Deccan's sweetest hitters.

    Team news

    With B Akhil injured for the semi-final, Bangalore recalled R Vinay Kumar. His first three overs cost 32, but Vinay picked up Matthew Hayden and then Jacob Oram in the final over, which only cost six runs. He should keep his place, meaning Bangalore are likely to field an unchanged side.

    Royal Challengers Bangalore: (probable) 1 Manish Pandey, 2 Jacques Kallis, 3 Roelof van der Merwe, 4 Rahul Dravid, 5 Ross Taylor, 6 Virat Kohli, 7 Robin Uthappa, 8 Mark Boucher (wk), 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 R Vinay Kumar, 11 Anil Kumble (capt.).

    If D Ravi Teja recovers from a hamstring injury he may come back for Azhar Bilakhia. Ryan Harris should hold his place after that two-wicket first over against Delhi.

    Deccan Chargers: 1 Adam Gilchrist (capt./wk), 2 Herschelle Gibbs, 3 T Suman, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Azhar Bilakhia/D Ravi Teja, 7 Venugopal Rao, 8 Harmeet Singh, 9 Pragyan Ojha, 10 Ryan Harris, 11 RP Singh.

    Stats and trivia

    •  Eight batsmen have scored more than 350 in the tournament, but only one of them - Adam Gilchrist - will be on view in the final. Kallis, Bangalore's highest scorer, has an aggregate of 346.

    • Teams chasing have won five out of six times in night games in Johannesburg. In all three games that Bangalore have played here, they've chased and won.

    •  Gilchrist has scored 86 runs off 63 balls in two innings against Bangalore. In contrast Kallis, Bangalore's highest run-scorer, has only scored 20 off 21 balls in two innings against Deccan. Pandey, though, scored 114 in just one game.

    •  Bangalore's five wins in a row equal's Chennai's winning streak earlier in the IPL, and is a record for this tournament.

    Head-to-head record

    The last time these teams met Pandey downed Deccan with a century in Centurion. Prior to that Gilchrist and Rohit's power-hitting ensured Deccan romped to a 24-run win earlier this season, in Cape Town. Bangalore won both their matches last year: the first one a thriller by three runs, and the next comfortably by five wickets.