Of course Sanju Samson scored his maiden IPL century earlier in the week. His innings of 119 off 63 balls was nothing short of sublime. Shikhar Dhawan’s 85 and Nitish Rana’s 80 were equally spectacular. Prithvi Shaw showed his sparkle with a masterly 72. Deepak Hooda (64), David Miller (62), Manish Pandey (61*), Glen Maxwell (59) and Suryakumar Yadav (56) all did their bit with the bat for their respective franchises.
The bowlers too put in some brilliant performances. Harshal Patel, once a U-19 star, had kind of got lost in the past decade. This IPL, he has already picked 7 wickets, ahead of Andre Russell’s 6, Avesh Khan’s 5, Rashid Khan’s 4, Chris Woakes’ 4 and Rahul Chahar’s 4 too. Jayadev Unadkat may have got just 3 wickets so far, but he was really in command of the cherry.
But, to be honest, the overall cricket has been good, maybe above average, not really exceptional. Just one match so far saw scores of 200+. In atleast two of the matches even scores of 150 became almost indefensible.
It is the action off-the-pitch that has actually been more riveting. Rahul Dravid, this gone week was more visible (and controversial) than any current IPL player courtesy the Cred ad that transformed him from the dependable, affable and likeable Jammy to the self-proclaimed Indrangar ka Gunda. The ad created enough waves for Amul to run its own topical piece on the road-rage celebration. No one really had time therefore for the ads that really were selling products … my favourites being PhonePe and Voltas air-conditioner. The PhonePe ads are subtle. But they communicate the product benefit cleverly and humorously. Amongst the crowd at the samosa counter at the theatre, there is only one winner: the man who doesn’t need change as he pays with his PhonePe app. Similarly, the two women at the sweets counter of Das Sweets eyeing the lonely sandesh left on the rack. The winner again is the ‘quick-gun’ PhonePe user who doesn’t have to reach into her purse and unzip the wallet. Both the ads are just 10/10. Intelligent, smart and persuasive. I loved the Voltas ad for their new air conditioner that becomes a 1-tonne or 1.5 tonne or more depending on the number of people in the room. The product proposition is smart, the message is matter-of-factly simple, and direct.
Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai captain may have still to pick up momentum with his bat in the current IPL, but he was surely making waves all week on social media, courtesy his shoes. In the inaugural match he walked out with shoes that supported his ‘Rohit4Rhinos’ campaign for The Great One Horned Indian Rhinoceros. In his second outing his shoes took forward the message of plastic-free oceans. For Rohit, the shoe activism has surely embellished his personal brand as a sportsman who gives for good. Wish other celebrities too would emulate his noble example.
On the other hand, RCB captain Virat Kohli continued his signature enfant terrible act. He was reprimanded for breaching the IPL's Code of Conduct after he was seen kicking a chair in frustration following his dismissal in the game against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Kohli was not at his fluent best in the game and ended up with 33 off 29 balls. Kohli top edged a short ball off Jason Holder to be caught in the deep by Vijay Shankar. Following his dismissal, TV replays picked up footage of Kohli kicking a chair in the dugout in frustration. Kohli subsequently admitted to the Level 1 offence 2.2 of the IPL's Code of Conduct. Being irascible is becoming almost an intrinsic part of Brand Kohli.
News on another stalwart too was not too good. Chennai Super Kings captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was fined Rs 12 lakh for maintaining a slow over-rate during his side’s Indian Premier League opener against Delhi Capitals at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai on last Saturday. Three-time champions CSK made a poor start to their IPL 14 campaign, losing by seven wickets to the Rishabh Pant-led Delhi Capitals. Dhoni, who was returning to competitive cricket after a gap of nearly five months, was dismissed for a duck by Delhi pacer Avesh Khan. All in all, Captain Cool seems to be wilting, if not melting!
There was news on another front meanwhile. The Board of Control for Cricket in India on Thursday announced the Annual Player Contracts for Team India for the period from October 2020 to September 2021. A total of 28 cricketers were awarded central contracts in four categories. India captain Virat Kohli, vice-captain Rohit Sharma, and fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah were retained in the A+ category list. This meant guaranteed pay cheques of Rs. 7 crore a year. R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya were all placed under Grade A contract. That is Rs. 5 crore for the year each. Wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, pacers Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshar Kumar, and Shardul Thakur and opening batsman Mayank Agarwal got Grade B contracts for Rs. 3 crore. Kuldeep Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Shubman Gill, Hanuma Vihari, Axar Patel, Shreyas Iyer, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal and Mohammed Siraj in Group C were contracted for Rs. 1 crore for the year. all-rounder Kedar Jadhav was not awarded a central contract this time. Methinks it is any day better to play cricket than waste your time trying to crack the IIT/IIM entrance exams … the odds for both are about the same. The name and fame in cricket are way beyond better, for sure.
The top highlight of the week was that the Bible of Cricket, Wisden Almanack, named India captain Virat Kohli as its ODI player of the 2010s decade. The 32-year-old Kohli, who made his ODI debut in August 2008 against Sri Lanka, is among the finest batsmen of all time, and has amassed a staggering 12,169 runs from 254 ODIs. In the decade for which he was awarded, Kohli, who was part of the 2011 World Cup winning Indian team, made more than 11,000 runs in the 10-year stretch, averaging over 60 and scoring 42 centuries. Wow!
As IPL 14 heads into its second week, one hopes the on-field displays will be more explosive and the games will have more spunk. When star players command upwards Rs. 10-15 crore for the 45-days League, each innings has to be nothing short of a blockbuster.
Dr. Sandeep Goyal is a full-time advertising practitioner who writes part-time on cricket.