On Sunday the Deccan Chargers defended their modest total of 143, holding the Royal Challengers Bangalore to 137 and taking the IPL trophy for 2009. Despite not really caring who won, it was an inspiring game to watch, filled with players who genuinely wanted to win, and not just for the $1 million USD prize money.
For those who don't know, the Indian Premier League (that's right kids, the IPL) is a big cricket tournament that started last year and involves some of the biggest international cricketeters playing alongside each other. Say you were to take an NBA All-Star game, then divide up all the players and assign them randomly to teams in a foreign country that worships basketball and everything it stands for. That's pretty much what the IPL does using international cricketers, Indian cricket clubs, and throngs of rabid Indian cricket fans.
There were a few snags on the build up to the tournament. There was this little hiccup in Mumbai got people thinking maybe it wasn't the best time to host a worldwide spectacle in India. Surprisingly it wasn't until gunmen actually attacked Sri Lankan players in Pakistan less than two months before the start of the tournament that they changed the venue to South Africa. And even though the fans weren't quite as fanatical, and it was cold as hell in Bloemfontein, 59 games in 5 weeks is enough cricket to satisfy anyone's appetite.
The first couple weeks felt a little pale compared to last year. South Africans on the whole are a a somewhat reserved bunch, and it took some time before they really got into the spirit of things. Without the atmosphere, the games weren't all that exciting, even close ones. But, after a while you start getting behind players and teams, or at least rooting for some people to lose. One thing I did notice, I have no love for Graham Smith (only one 6 in 12 games, are you kidding me?) when he's not playing for the Proteas, and even a few years after retirement from Australia, Shane Warne is still an ass.
Once the fans got into it, and the teams started jockeying for spots in the top four to get into the semis, it was actually a lot of fun to watch. Fun that the over 35 crowd did amazingly well (Hayden, Gilchrist, Kumble), and fun when the underdogs finally managed to win a game. The final was the ultimate crescendo. Defending a low total makes every run that much more exciting, and in the end it was losing too many wickets that let down the RCB. That's two years running where the winning team also happened to boast the highest wicket taker. Fancy that.
I think what I like best about the IPL is that it packs so much into so little time. You're bound to get some really great matches when they're playing 59 of them in rapid succession, and this year's best was by far the final. DC were incredible in the field, taking some great catches and keeping the pressure on RCB for the full 20 overs. Plus, getting the chance to root for the few Australian players I actually like feels natural when they're not wearing their national colors.
Adios, IPL. See you again next year. Until then, I'll just have to move on to the T20 World Cup. My prediction? India wins for sure.