CLOSE-IN: IPL 2023 was a Perfect 10

A last-ball finish in the IPL'23 was, as one can term it, a perfect 10. The tournament was without a doubt an unimaginable success. The cricket was scintillating and the hordes of spectators at every venue were quite remarkable.

The final between Gujarat Titans (GT) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at the enormous Ahmedabad stadium got delayed by a day due to rain and to have a full house the next day showed the dedicated love of the IPL followers. The digital world of live streaming of the matches had millions of eyeballs as well. This truly augmented the fact that T20 cricket is here to stay and one that will rule cricket in the future.

The IPL'23 has brought about a completely different dimension to the game. The Impact Player substitution has made a huge IMPACT. The possibility of getting an additional bowler or batsman, if needed, was a boon for many a side. It led to a dynamic change in the way the playing eleven of the teams were structured and the IPL benefitted enormously. Totals that looked out of reach became possible through the inclusion of an extra batter as well as defending via an extra bowler.

The umpteen number of close finishes with many of them off the last few deliveries, made viewing nail-biting and extremely interesting. Seeing cricketers perform and successfully implement their capabilities in such an intensive high-pressure situation was astounding. How can one describe the mental calmness of the two shots played by Ravindra Jadeja, a six and a four, to clinch the victory for his side, CSK, off the last two balls of an IPL final? One needs nerves of steel to do so, similar to a Rinku Singh performance of hitting 5 sixes off the last 5 deliveries to clinch victory for his side, Kolkata Knight Riders. These are remarkable feats, along with many others that made the IPL'23 so enjoyable to watch. Readmore!

One did feel sorry for Gujarat Titans led by Hardik Pandya, to lose the final match which seemed to be in their favour for most of the game. A total of 215 runs that they notched up was a huge task for CSK to chase. The rain gods and luck came to CSK's advantage and with the reduction in overs and runs due to the match being affected by rain and the breaks that they got, gave them time to regroup and reignite mentally.

Hardik Pandya, the man in-line most likely to lead India in the T20 format, tried to look calm and unflustered during CSK's chase and gave an impression that he had things under control. However, due to the reduction in overs, assessing which of his bowlers would be the most effective to exploit the situation the best, is where he unfortunately faltered. However, when it finally came down for CSK to get 10 runs off the last 2 deliveries, it looked like GT were on the road to victory.

Mohit Sharma, the astute Gujarat Titan bowler, brought a ray of hope when he delivered four outstanding balls. This is when Hardik faltered unknowingly. Mohit Sharma had his tail-up having bowled four superb yorkers showcasing that his rhythm and muscle memory were well in tune.

Hardik, in trying to calm Sharma down, stopped play to boost his bowler and have a light-hearted chat over a cold drink with him. This action by the GT captain resulted in two huge mistakes. One where he gave the cool and experienced Ravindra Jadeja time to get his thought process in place, especially as both he and Shivam Dube had struggled to hit a boundary on four earlier occasions. The second and most important failure was that Hardik in his attempt to play cool, lost the bowling rhythm and flow that Mohit Sharma had captured in his deliveries previously. Thereafter, he did the unthinkable of following the same ritual on the last and final ball of the match.

This incident takes one back to the earlier days when coaches were against either a bowler or a batter taking refreshments in between the stipulated time of a drinks interval. Their profound theory was that it broke one's concentration and momentum. Players in the past went even further when they refused to change a pad or a wet glove or even an item of torn clothing as it may deter their mindset and mental concentration. A good example of this was when Sunil Gavaskar, during his magnificent century at Manchester against England in 1974, in cold dreary and bowling-friendly conditions, refused to change his torn trouser, lest he lose his concentration. He rates that innings as his finest.

This brings one to the men who control the game at the centre, the umpires. One felt that on many occasions in the IPL, they were very lax in their approach. Long chats between overs, extra time for captains to adjust their field, drinks coming in at every stoppage, and at times when the batter had barely played a few deliveries, were some things that needed to be monitored far more strictly.

There was a famous incident of Mahendra Singh Dhoni taking those four extra precious minutes by interacting with the umpires to ensure that one of his bowlers would be able to bowl because he was off the field earlier. This may have been a very good ploy by Dhoni, but one in which the umpires came through as being very lenient. The DRS somehow seems to have softened them, especially in controlling tricky situations out in the middle.

Dhoni is at present the biggest icon in Indian cricket. He has captured the heart of every Indian and has a fan following that he truly deserves. For his side to win the IPL'1yu23 under his able captaincy was the icing on the cake.

A perfect 10!

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)

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