June Issue 2008

By | Sports | Published 11 years ago

“Match dekha aapne? Sweet redemption for Younis, Akmal and Tanvir after losing the [Twenty20] World Cup final,” wrote Avinash, a journalist friend of mine from New Delhi, via Google chat, precisely at the time when Rajasthan Royals skipper Shane Warne was proudly lifting the diamond-studded gold trophy that his team bagged for winning the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Avinash was reminding me of last September’s World Twenty20 Championship final in South Africa, which Pakistan lost to arch-rivals India. The Pakistani trio of Younis Khan, Kamran Akmal and Sohail Tanvir was part of the Pakistan squad that lost the memorable final to MS Dhoni’s men.

This time, in the multi-million-dollar IPL title showdown, Dhoni ended on the losing side.

Redemption or not, the Rajasthan triumph must have been cheered by millions of cricket fans on this side of the border for the simple reason that they had several Pakistani players while Chennai had none. Additionally, Rajasthan was inspired in a way by Sohail Tanvir, the young left-arm pacer from a modest suburb of Rawalpindi. Tanvir, who entered the international stage with a solid showing in the World Twenty20 Championship, turned out to be the best bowler of the inaugural IPL season, picking up 22 wickets in the process.

It was fitting that he also hit the winning run with a calm swat off the final delivery in the title showdown against Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings.

But as far as Pakistan are concerned, Sohail’s was one of the only success stories of the IPL. Most of his other 10 teammates, who featured for various other franchises, proved to be among the biggest flops of the contest that attracted the cream of international cricket.

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Shahid Afridi. Photograph: AFP

Many hoped that Shahid Afridi, the ‘million-dollar man’ of the Deccan Chargers, would set the IPL on fire with his pinch-hitting. Afridi himself had declared that he would break the IPL record of 158 set by New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum in the inaugural IPL match while playing for Kolkata Knight Riders against Bangalore Royal Challengers. But Afridi could only accumulate around half of those runs, and that too in 10 matches! His final tally was 81, though to be fair to him, the all-rounder did well in his role as a leg-spinner.

Pakistan’s biggest ‘star’ Shoaib Akhtar promised a lot but his injury-prone body made it certain that he would, once again, leave the arena without finishing the job. Shoaib made a belated yet grand entry in the IPL when he roared like a lion in front of over 100,000 fans at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.

In what was his debut game, the Rawalpindi Express went like a bullet train and lead Shah Rukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders to an impressive victory over the Delhi Daredevils with a blistering spell of pace bowling that got him a four-wicket haul.

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Saurav Ganguly, Shahrukh Khan and Shoaib Akhtar. Photograph: AFP

But that workout was too much for Shoaib, who had literally begged in front of a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) appeals tribunal for an opportunity to play in the IPL. The tribunal granted him a reprieve by suspending a five-year ban imposed on him for a series of disciplinary violations for a few weeks.

Shoaib broke down after his grand show at the Eden Gardens and later was only spotted at the Knight Riders’ dugout. His team later failed to make the last four.

Mohammad Asif’s Daredevils made it to the semis, but the lanky medium pacer from Sheikhupura was hardly the driving force behind the team’s ascent to the pre-finals. Just days before the start of the IPL on April 18, Asif had suddenly become match-fit after being forced out of international action for more than six months because of an elbow injury. The PCB top bosses decided to allow him to play in the IPL, in spite of the fact that Asif was yet to prove his match fitness. The pacer got injured again during the IPL and missed several of his team’s matches.

Another disappointing story was that of Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik. Many of his critics, who believe Malik is a poor choice to be Pakistan captain, must have derived some pleasure from the fact that he rarely made Delhi’s first Xl during the IPL. Malik flopped both as a batter and a spinner in the IPL.

Misbah-ul-Haq, Malik’s deputy, gave glimpses of his brilliance with a couple of brief cameos for Bangalore Royal Challengers but he was unable to really make his presence felt in the League.

Pacer Umar Gul impressed in some of the games, picking up 12 wickets from six outings for the Knight Riders.

Gul’s Kolkata team-mate, Salman Butt, got off to a below-par start in the IPL but later played a couple of delightful knocks to finish the contest with a personal tally of 193 runs in seven games.

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Umar Gul. Photograph: AFP

Younis Khan, one of Pakistan’s most prolific and reliable batsmen, was signed up by Rajasthan Royals. But it was apparent that skipper Shane Warne didn’t think very highly of him. Younis was fielded in just one game — an insignificant game against Kings XI Punjab just before the semifinals. He was overlooked for both the semifinal and final.

But for Sohail Tanvir, it was a different story. Warne referred to him as his most valuable player and the youngster, who is regarded by many as the next Wasim Akram, didn’t disappoint.

Sohail Tanvir enjoyed an impressive debut in the World Twenty20 Championship in South Africa last fall. But not many expected him to become the best bowler of the IPL, which had attracted the likes of Glenn McGrath, Makhaya Ntini, Shane Warne, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif. But the tall Sohail turned out to be one of the biggest success stories of the League.

He moved the cricket ball with a lot of control and, at times, was almost unplayable. And at a mere US$100,000, Sohail turned out to be quite a steal for the Royals in a League where players received up to US$1.5 million.

The secret to his success was simple yet effective. “In Twenty20 cricket one does not get any margin for error. You have to be correct with every ball and I used to keep changing my game plan depending on the batsmen,” says the 23-year-old player.

“I am an international cricketer and have played against some of the best cricketers. I have read what their strengths and weaknesses are and I bowl accordingly,” he adds.

Sohail also attributes his success in the IPL to the ‘good captaincy” of Australian legend Shane Warne. “He [Warne] has been an inspiration to all and I give all credit to Shane Warne for our team’s success. The way he has captained us has been unbelievable.”

All in all, the inaugural IPL season turned out to be a big success.

Eight city-based franchises took part in the Twenty20 series, with the world’s top players joining Indian stars and novice home-grown players. A total of £368m was spent on the teams by the likes of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani (Mumbai Indians) and Bollywood icons SRK (Kolkata Knight Riders) and Preity Zinta (Kings XI Punjab)

The writer is ranked among the battle-hardened journalists covering sports. As sports editor for The News, he covers sporting action extensively in Pakistan and abroad.