20 games and 17 days of Twenty20 cricket, was the stuff that the inaugural, tournament of the Indian Cricket League was made of. And the question, most often asked, was it a success? Being involved with the event, intimately, one could say with conviction that yes, it was! Did it get the eye balls desired? The honest answer, perhaps not. But all in all as an event it was something to write home about and here are the highlights of the show.
The Ambassador for the Indian Cricket League, Kapil Dev, emphasized that this tournament should be seen as an opportunity for the BCCI deprived! A chance for all those cricketers in the country who have a sharp talent, but have no platform to display it on. Given that as the back drop, when one saw a bunch of young cricketers, teamed up with international cricketers who have just retired, or have fallen out with their respective cricket boards, it was a rather endearing experience.
Six teams from the same number of states, were all set to challenge each other in the shortest format of the game. Delhi Jets, Chennai Superstars, Chandigarh Lions, Mumbai Champs, Hyderabad Heroes and Kolkata Tigers were the six in competition and from the very first encounter, one thing was guaranteed, and that was one could see a display of cricket that would be played with fervour. At least by most individuals.
There"s no denying that the international flavour to each side was the icing on the tournament cake. One would argue that most of the stars from overseas were either done with their professional cricket careers or were those who would never play for their countries again, but all said and done, they were men who knew how to play the game well.
One of the big draws was Chris Cairns, or Cairnsy Bhai as he was referred to. Though being Cairnsy Paaji would have suited him better, as he was part of the Chandigarh Lions squad. When he walked out onto the green, you could sense his power as he towered over the others. There was a definite aura of purpose as he led his band of men for each encounter!
The other star attraction, but more the Teddy bear like icon that the Hyderabad Heroes had, was in the form of Inzamam ul Haq. Inzy was more just the bear who would summon his cubs and discuss game plans on the field. He was ever ready with his trademark one liners which would make your sides split.
There were the other internationals that went about their jobs in a very professional manner. Whether they played the role of coach, or player everything was done in utmost seriousness. The Coaches, Michael Bevan, Daryl Cullinan and Moin Khan in particular, seemed to martial their forces with a palpable aggression which made it all most worthwhile!
Ah! Yes there was another star, the one that created perhaps the most excitement for cricket lovers and maximum anxiety for the organizers. The man in question - Brian Charles Lara. A legend that one has admired for all the perceivable cricketing reasons. An icon and most tangibly the flawed genius who on his day, would silence all into disbelief! The Indian Cricket League was riding high on his endorsement, but not without controversy. Brian Lara voiced his displeasure on the reputation of the league, and demanded more money, or he would just not arrive. What happened thereafter, one really cannot comment on, but the fact of the matter is that Brian Lara arrived to play for the Indian Cricket League. But the irony of it all, was the fact that he never really arrived with regards to playing the brand of cricket, we are used to see him play. Lara was a reflection of a person who was there in body but certainly not in soul!
On paper the teams from Hyderabad and Mumbai were expected to do well as the biggest cricketing stars were in those teams. But when the 5/6 classification game was played, between the same two sides, it was a foregone conclusion that in T20 cricket, the team with established stars, need not be the strongest sides!
There were a lot of positives that came out of the tournament, and they were not in the form of the dancing girls and glamorous performances. Those were the necessary trappings that come with this version of the game. Adding spice ofcourse, but here one must talk of all that went right for the game of cricket. The one aspect of the game that came out bright and large in neon lights - was the superlative fielding, Given that the outfield was not lush green, the young men and old alike, showed innate passion and commitment as they dived and scraped and grappled with dust , all in an attempt to endorse the facet of fine fielding. Superlative catches and breathtaking stops, all great candy for sore eyes!
The Internationals were expected to do well, and in the batting department, they performed well and bagged the best spots where amassing runs were concerned. Cameo innings from Chris Cairns, Ian Harvey, Marvan Atapattu and Imran Farhat will remain in the mind, when one replays the ICL matches from time to time. But what was most encouraging, was the performance of the bowlers. Arguably, T20 is a game that"s heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen, and in the initial stages of the Twenty20 Indian Championships, the games were bowler dominated. Performances such as a '6 for' in this format of the game, just showed that, perhaps 20 over cricket has space for real drama too! When a not so young Thiru Kumaran claimed 6/21, the sheer unabated joy on the face of commentator Jeff Thomson was one of the moments, that warmed the cockles of my heart. I realized then, that once a fast bowler, always a fast bowler. And what a breed they are! It was indeed fitting that the two best bowlers in the tournament were Indians, Thiru Kumaran and Ali Mortaza.
The Indian Cricket League was an amalgamation of moments, and in this article one has tried to bring alive a few. There was good and bad, but one can safely say more good than bad. Whether one will see this league really flourish, only time will tell. Till then at least, the organizers can put up their collars, for the Indian Cricket League has been born!