The T20 World Cup is just over followed almost immediately by the Indian Premier League. The West Indies took the World Cup in swashbuckling fashion. Now the eight IPL teams are settling in into their long season, 9 April - 29 May. Though it is an Indian league, it attracts the top players from all over the Test cricket countries and more. The daily matches begin here at 8.15 p.m. And the next three hours are lost in the glorious haze of the battle royale between two teams, focused on a pitch 22 yards long and 10 feet wide.
Eyes focus on the two batsmen across 22 yards of the bowling pitch, the opposing bowler who is essentially out to get the scalps of those batsmen, and a green oval field speckled by ten others of the bowling team. The crowd, especially in cricket-crazed India, gets so loud that the umpires' verdicts are often drowned out by their noise.
Batsmen the likes of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, David Warner (impossible to include all the stars) walk jauntily to the wickets crease and try and psych out the bowler with their boundaries (4 runs) or sixers. The big hitters hardly go for 1 or 2 runs: they have only 20 overs and they are confident of their hitting prowess. The bowlers, in turn, are the duelists against the batters. The seamers, fast ballers, try and intimidate the batsmen with their speed, often reaching 140+ km.\hr. Their bouncers justify why the batsmen wear helmets similar to that in American football. The spinners, who usually get more wickets (outs) than the seamers are a tricky lot. They make their balls twirl and change directions like magicians. The West Indians, Narine and Badree, are master slow ballers. For me, no fast baller can compare with the panache of the Sri Lankan Malinga, though there are others like the South African Steyn and some Australians who in recent times may have better records.
I root for the Mumbai Indians and not because they are the defending IPL champions. I have been rooting for MI since the IPL began around seven years ago, because Malinga bowled for them and the great Sachin Tendulkar opened their batting. Sachin has retired and Malinga is missing this IPL season with injury; but I stay loyal to MI. They still have batsmen the caliber of Simmons and Rohit Sharma and bowlers led by the veteran 'Bhaji' Singh who can swing a mean bat too.
Interesting how cricket has become internationalized over the years. It was invented in 17th century England and was limited initially to the royal courts. When the sun never set on the British Empire, the game caught hold in the colonies. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa all took up the game with a vengeance. I think it is certainly the most popular game now in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, if not the others. Having lived and worked in India and Pakistan, I caught the cricket fever because in those days, the 1990s, there wasn't much else to watch on TV by way of sports. Viewed Pakistan, with its Captain now turned politician Imran Khan, win the World Cup against England in India. Viewed Sri Lanka, while based in Pakistan, hoist the World Cup at the next World Cup. Cricket is now opening up and a second tier of countries play to qualify for the World Cup; Afhanistan, Netherlands, Scotland, UAE, USA, Zimbabwe - and Nepal too - participate in tournaments to get a chance to play the Big Boys. Afghanistan and Bangladesh had qualified to play in the recent T20 World Cup; the former beat West Indies in the round-robin and the latter lost to India by a single run.
Test cricket, with all players in white and breaking for tea, though still played has given way to One Day Internationals and T20. A test match can last up to five days; in ODIs each team gets to bat 50 overs (300 balls) and usually lasts around six hours; while T20s have 20 overs (120 balls) for each team and lasts, thankfully, about three hours. I have enough patience only to watch T20 Matches and, only when it's the World Cup, ODIs.
Well, it's almost time. Mumbai is playing Kolkota. Gotta go root for MI!