Picking an IPL 2012 Eleven
As the curtains come down over this fifth edition of the Indian Premier League, it is time to fantasize about an eleven that could have beaten the best this tournament has to offer. Ordinarily, this is an easy exercise. Take into consideration the top run-getters and wicket-takers, and you get your eleven. But picking an IPL eleven is fun simply because the many considerations you have to make - only four foreign players, a sprinkling of India internationals and a slew of domestic players.
Any T20 batting line-up has to begin with the one and only Chris Gayle. The big-hitter from West Indies hit an astonishing 59 sixes in this edition of the IPL, with 46 fours to boot, summing up a strike-rate of 160.74. His optimum partner would be Gautam Gambhir, the man who alone has propped up Kolkata Knight Riders this season. There is a heady feeling to this mix, when Gayle's nonchalant hitting will be accompanied by Gambhir's aggression, controlled at times and uncontrolled at others. They would play a perfect foil to each other in any situation and that is why Virender Sehwag misses out.
He compares with Gayle on any day, but this season the latter has shown a tendency to stay at the wicket before playing his shots. He has shown a willingness to wait and watch, to play a long innings and that has resulted in him getting the Orange Cap. Sehwag doesn't do this; he comes out to bat and plays his strokes. If he connects, well enough, and if he doesn't, never mind. It is also the reason he cannot figure lower down the order because if it comes down to finishing a chase or building an innings, he would be a walking wicket. Instead Ajinkya Rahane makes a strong case for number three.
The Mumbai lad has grown by leaps and bounds over the last season, and has added a facet to his game previously unseen. That he has the technique to excel at the highest order was quite apparent from his outing in England, but he needed to grab some attention. His showing this IPL has done just that. Until Shane Watson came along, he was the lone reason why Rajasthan Royals were punching above their weight and it is no wonder that their ouster coincided with a little downturn in his run-scoring towards the end of the league stage.
The second foreigner in the line-up would be Kevin Pietersen. Delhi Daredevils got him as well as Mahela Jayawardene and Ross Taylor this off-season. In terms of impact and building momentum the latter two did not match up to the Englishman in any way, despite playing more matches. The thing about Pietersen is his approach to batting which is nearly the same in every format. He can play accumulator when it suits him and he can be the aggressor if the mood takes him over. His hundred at Kotla was a prime example of clean hitting and a perfect T20 innings played by a middle-order batsman.
Suresh Raina brings up the rear of this middle order, a fine batsman to give the innings a nudge in the death overs or even to finish a chase. A domestic player needs to come in now and at this juncture there is a toss-up between Rajat Bhatia and his team-mate Laxmi Ratan Shukla. Both of them are your standard military-medium bowlers, particularly useful on sub-continental wickets with their ability to take pace off the ball. There are minor differences in their performances in the sense that Bhatia is more of a bowler and his batting prowess hasn't really come to the fore a lot. Shukla meanwhile hasn't bowled prominently but can hit big.
Irfan Pathan misses out despite his improved batting. He is getting swing again with the new ball but is way too expensive for this format. His brother Yusuf misses out as well, because he has done little of note for Kolkata Knight Riders in two seasons to justify his hefty price tag.
Number seven is your wicketkeeper's slot and instead of MS Dhoni, one would want to opt for Naman Ojha. Let it be said that Dhoni is still India's first choice keeper-batsman and is beyond compare, at least in limited-overs. But there are a couple of reasons for this debatable selection. Firstly, we cannot have two captains in the same eleven and Gambhir's leadership in 2012 IPL has been exemplary. Leading the Knight Riders to a maiden title triumph means he deserves to be the captain of this team. And the second reason is more to do with keeping and batting. With his performances Ojha has done enough to merit the number two slot in the wicketkeepers' list - at least for limited-overs - ahead of both Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel, both of whom have been afforded many chances.
The spin department is easy, perhaps the easiest of choices to make. There cannot be any argument against Sunil Narine, for even Sachin Tendulkar failed to read him. Sehwag had claimed that he would have smacked Narine to all parts of the ground, but that didn't happen, so we won't know. Also, this season has seen left-arm spinners come back into fashion and in world cricket at the moment there is only one man who fits this bill most perfectly. And that is Shakib Al Hasan. The two make for a handsome spin pairing, while Shakib can swing the bat at times as well.
The four spots for foreigners have all been taken and so Lasith Malinga will have to miss out. It is again a mighty debatable choice, yes. But ask yourself, how many IPL trophies have Mumbai Indians won? The point is that bowlers, with just four overs to strut their stuff, cannot have an everlasting impact on the whole tournament. Any one match certainly, but not on the outcome of a six-week long affair! In that light, even if Malinga bowls four maiden overs, yet the opposition might still end up scoring 160-plus in the remainder sixteen overs. And as we have seen, that is usually a par-score.
Malinga's absence allows for two young bowlers to take up the final two spots. One goes to Umesh Yadav, the new big hope of Indian cricket and the one bowler who has grown in leaps and bounds in the last one year. That tour to Australia has been a fine learning for him and he continues to mature with every outing, whatever the format. The eleventh player, then, is Pavinder Awana, another who has caught the eye. He may be a bit too raw, but has shown decent control over line and length while working up good pace. One remembers this moment from Mumbai's match against Kings XI Punjab at Mohali, when the great Tendulkar, after facing three dot balls from the youngster, made a slight adjustment to his footwork while making room outside the off-stump. He did smack a four off that particular delivery but it just goes to show what Awana can do.