The Chris Gayle dependency
When West Indies won the 2012 Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, it was quite a popular win. The brand of cricket that is played in the Caribbean truly reflected in the manner the champions played in that tournament. One major reason for that win was eight of their starting eleven being T20 specialists, contracted to teams competing in different leagues across the globe.
And the other big reason was that they did not depend on any one player to cross the finish line. Throughout the league stage and in the knock-outs, different players stood up, among them Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy. It wasn't really a case of Gayle failing and them falling apart, the final against hosts Sri Lanka the biggest example of this.
When this dependency on one player does not exist, it allows the team to behave as a unit. Moreover this belief comes across on the field of play, when the going gets tough. Sammy's team knew full well that each of them is a match-winner in their own right and it filtered through, particularly when the chips were down. Complete with stars and specialists, not depending on any one player, their victory is the perfect model on which any T20 squad can be built. More so in the Indian Premier League!
Let one be honest here. The IPL is a cricket tournament yes, but first it is a business venture. You have to look at it from the point of view of the franchise owners. Almost all of them are passionate about cricket and some of them indulge in other sports as well. It is clear why they invested in this opportunity. Yet, when you put in millions of dollars in competitive sport, results are needed. And it doesn't need to be said out loud and clear, every damn sport in this world is result-oriented.
So, how do you achieve return on your investment? The business model in a franchise-based tournament like the IPL isn't just about building a team and a market for it in select parts of the country. People will come to watch, and cheer, only if you are winning. That is the thumb rule when starting from scratch, and this is the basic difference from European football from where this model is copied, as the legacy/loyalty isn't in place here.
So, again, how do you guarantee results? Do you buy one player who will thrash the opposition bowlers on his way to glory? Or do you let go off the chance to have that player in your team, gambling on a new strategy of re-building your side from scratch?
The latter question pertains to Kolkata Knight Riders. Why? Because there are a variety of jokes going around on social media, how their team owners and management were foolish enough to let go off Gayle when they could have retained him in 2010-11. It can be understood why Kolkata made that decision. For one, they weren't retaining even Sourav Ganguly, the city's marquee player, enforcing unto themselves the wrath of millions of his fans. And two, Gayle hadn't exactly set the field on fire in his three years with the franchise.
This is where the benefit of hindsight helps. They re-built a team which, in only its second year, duly won the tournament. In a way their gamble paid off. The same cannot be said of Royal Challengers Bangalore.
In 2011, the Challengers made it to the knock-outs. They lost the first qualifying round to Chennai Super Kings, wherein Gayle made 8 runs. They got another chance and duly pipped Mumbai Indians to reach the finals and set up a re-match with the Super Kings. Gayle made 89 runs from 47 balls. In the final, he was out for a duck as Bangalore chased 206 for victory. Needless to say, Chennai won, again. It was a similar story in the Champions League T20 that year, when Bangalore lost to Mumbai Indians. Chasing 140 to win, they were bowled out for 108. Gayle made 5 runs.
The point isn't to undermine Gayle. No one in his/her right mind would do that. The guy just hit a hundred off 30 balls, 175 runs in total off 66 balls, inclusive of 17 sixes. That is insane hitting. It is also an outline of the very simple flaw in RCB thinking. If Gayle fires, all is well and good. If he doesn't, maybe Virat Kohli or AB de Villiers will. That is the extent of their batting, their plan A. Their bowling doesn't measure up as plan B.
And so, the fastest century of all time is all very good for the record books, but it doesn't matter worth a penny if Royal Challengers Bangalore don't end up winning the 2013 IPL.
More about Chetan NarulaStudying engineering and business administration couldn't satiate his mind and in 2007, Chetan Narula found his calling as a sportswriter/journalist. Since then he was written on cricket, F1 and football at various avenues not only in India but also in USA and UK. He also worked as cricket commentator (voice) at ESPN for their mobile and web platforms, doing over a hundred matches. High points of his career include witnessing history at Wankhede Stadium (Mumbai) when India lifted the ODI World Cup and his first book, Skipper: A Definitive Account of India's Greatest Captains, which hits bookstores in July 2011. His Twitter feed is here.
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