IPL high five: Best of 2012

Mystery, mastery, faith and fire combine to make a memorable season

Mumbai 29 May 2012
Cartwheeling stumps and team-owners; rocket-fired sixes and ambition; red-hot bowling spells and aggression; awe-inspiring fielding and fireworks. IPL 2012 has scaled many peaks – and this time, more than ever before, it’s been more than just about cricketers facing off on a field. Whether in the nets or dug out, commentary box or spectator stands, popping crease or boundary rope, street corners or living rooms, the power, energy and joy have been all encompassing. The melody that rang across the cricketing world on April 4 reached its crescendo on May 27 as Kolkata Knight Riders won their first-ever title. And now, every cricket fan has joined in the chorus. Here are our top five picks of a season speckled with talent, perseverance and a good dose of stardust. What’s your pick?

Method to the madness

Rahane’s elegance (RCB v RR, 15 April 2012, Match 18) and Gayle’s new approach

One generally associates Twenty20 cricket with power and daredevilry. Batsmen walk out with heavy bats that they throw at almost everything; runs are scored at breakneck speed with shots that are rarely found in coaching manuals.

Ajinkya Rahane’s century against the Royal Challengers Bangalore belied that stereotype of T20 batting. This knock was one for the purists boasting precise footwork, steely temperament (he even played out a maiden over), impeccable timing and perfect placement. His unbeaten 103 was arguably the most technically sound innings in Twenty20 cricket; 70% of his runs were scored in front of the wicket and 44 of his 103 runs were scored in the ‘V’ between long on and long off.

Chris Gayle had established a reputation as a batsman custom-made for Twenty20 cricket. One of the fiercest strikers of the cricket ball, he came into IPL 2012 with a reputation; he had crushed several bowling attacks in the previous edition of the competition and was expected to do more of the same this time around.

He did deliver the goods for RCB, as his tournament aggregate of 733 runs, strike-rate of 161 and 59 sixes will indicate. However, there was a drastic change in his approach to his game compared to the previous season. He didn’t take too many singles and neither did he convert those ones into twos. The Jamaican took the Test-cricket approach to building innings; he would get his eye in, size up the opposition and then open up his broad shoulders. Of the 13 times he opened the innings for RCB this season, the Jamaican ended up batting for more than 15 overs in seven innings. Older, wiser, stronger; how many more sides to Gayle will IPL reveal?

Mystery bowler’s mastery

Little-known Narine spins his way into hearts

When KKR signed up Sunil Narine for USD 700,000 at the IPL Player Auction 2012, many wondered why the franchise had splurged on an unknown commodity. Going by his performance in IPL 2012, a more fitting question would be – was he a steal at that price?

Let the numbers tell the story; he picked up 24 wickets in 15 matches, finished with an economy rate of 5.47, and had a strike-rate of a wicket every 15 deliveries. While those stats are staggering by themselves, what they don’t reveal is the mastery he had over the batsmen. In the batsman-friendly T20 format, here was an unconventional bowler from the West Indies, the breeding ground of legendary quicks, playing in foreign territory, yet holding his own against some of the best in the business.

An unusual bowling action and a wide variety of deliveries in his repertoire meant batsmen struggled to pick him right through the tournament. One got to see deliveries coming into the batsmen, holding their line and going straight on, and some that squeaked away from the batsmen too – what made picking these deliveries difficult was that the changes in Narine’s bowling action were almost imperceptible.

The Trinidadian came into the tournament as a mystery bowler and despite bowling close to 60 overs in the competition, he heads back home with the mystery element intact. It was a pity he couldn’t finish the tournament on a high; he turned 24 on the eve of the final, and a wicket in the final would have given him the Purple Cap. But that was not to be; he had his poorest day in the competition – going wicketless and conceding 37 runs in his four-over spell – and had to be content with being the second-most successful bowler in the season. However, there was the winners’ medal that made up for not getting the Purple Cap – and that’s a medal that’s sure to find pride of place in this collection of laurels.

World’s best delivers IPL’s best

Steyn’s fiery spell (MI v DC, 29 April 2012, Match 40)

On a Wankhede Stadium track that had some juice in it, Mumbai Indians skittled the Deccan Chargers out for 100 in 18.4 overs.

In normal circumstances, you’d expect the team chasing to comfortably overhaul the total. There was one small difference, though. MI had to contend with the world’s best bowler – Dale Steyn.

The South African lived up to his top billing with perhaps the best spell of IPL 2012. Bowling quick, full and getting the ball to move away ever so slightly, Steyn was in full force; he breached past the defence of compatriot Richard Levi with the first ball of the run chase and beat the bat of Rohit Sharma thrice in the rest of the over.

His second over saw Sachin Tendulkar get off strike with a streaky outside edge while Sharma’s struggles continued for the rest of the over.

Steyn continued to be just as potent in his remaining two overs; he had Dinesh Karthik caught behind, found the outside edge of Sharma’s bat time and again, and even had James Franklin in trouble. This spell was reminiscent of Allan Donald’s hostile spell to Michael Atherton in a Trent Bridge Test several years ago. Steyn’s figures at the end of that mesmerising spell read 4-0-10-2 (with three of the 10 runs coming by means of wides). He would have had the wicket of Franklin too, if only Amit Mishra hadn’t grassed a catch on the boundary.

Stunning double act

Botha-Rahane produce incredible catch (RR v PWI, 13 May 2012, Match 60)

On most days, the off-drive played by Rahul Sharma off Shane Watson would land over the ropes and earn the batsman six runs. Not on this occasion, though.

Johan Botha, fielding at wide long off, ran a few yards to his right, got to the ball and took the catch a yard from the boundary rope. That was not the end of it; unable to stall the forward momentum of his run, the South African was poised to cross the boundary, ball in hand, conceding six runs.

That’s when his presence of mind kicked in. Alert to the situation, he flicked the ball back into the field of play just before he crossed the rope. Ajinkya Rahane, who was running in from long on too, was aware that the ball had been flicked back by his teammate, and ran towards the ball, completing the staggering catch.

The piece de resistance of a season studded with incredible fielding feats.

‘Where Talent meets Opportunity’

Bisla’s title-winning knock (CSK v KKR, 27 May 2012, Grand Final)

Manvinder Bisla had done his reputation no harm with his performance in the few games he played for the Kolkata Knight Riders early in the season. It was, however, understandable when he was benched for the next few games given he was making way for a player with a far better reputation – Brendon McCullum.

His inclusion in the XI for the final predictably raised several eyebrows given the significance of the occasion. In the biggest game of the season, the KKR management had decided to leave out one of the experienced pros to include a player who hadn’t even landed a spot in a Ranji side.

Bisla’s inclusion in the big game – and his subsequent match-winning knock – was a true reflection of the IPL motto: Where Talent meets Opportunity. Bisla had the talent and the backing of the team management – and he made the most of the opportunity.

Few expected KKR to go out and chase 191 runs in a tense final to clinch their first IPL Trophy. Things just got more difficult when KKR lost their skipper Gautam Gambhir in the very first over of the chase.

With the solid Jacques Kallis holding fort at the other end, and with several powerful strikers waiting in the wings, Bisla – with nothing to lose – produced a special performance. The 27-year-old came out on a mission, and as Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming would later concede, caught the opposition by surprise. After seeing off Ben Hilfenhaus, the only CSK bowler who posed a threat, the Haryana-lad opened up and tore into the CSK bowlers. He had special treatment reserved for R Ashwin and Dwayne Bravo; he scored 44 runs off the 17 balls he faced from the two bowlers.

His 48-ball 89 was his first half-century of the season and would go on to be his highest score in Twenty20 cricket. It was only fitting that he won the Man-of-the-Match award, for it was this fearless knock that set up the match for his team.

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