Every year, the Indian Premier League (IPL) brings about its share of sub-plots. It could be about Chennai Super Kings showing the league what they were missing when they regained the title after coming back from a two-year ban last year while in the ongoing edition, it could be a fascinating tale of redemption.
Just reflect on the scenario a little over three months back in January — the duo of Hardik Pandya and Lokesh Rahul were the biggest fall guys of Indian cricket after their misogynist remarks in the TV talk show ‘Koffee with Karan.’ Just about everyone seems to have been baying for their blood as an embarrassed Indian team management flew them back home from Australia — while chances of them missing out on the IPL as well as the World Cup looked a possibility.
Down Under, a former Australian captain and vice-captain — Steve Smith and David Warner — were still waiting for the agonising one-year ban to get over after the ‘Sandpapergate’ scandal. Even after the ban ended in end-March, Cricket Australia chose not to expose the tainted duo in the One Day International series against Pakistan in the UAE — preferring to test their readiness in the heat and dust of IPL instead.
Well, the quartet has redeemed themselves in the space of last seven weeks — and how. Warner, who had captained Sunrisers Hyderabad to a title triumph in 2016, batted in a way as he had never left mainstream cricket — piling up the runs with phenomenal consistency to reach 692 runs from the 14 league matches and leading the chase for the Purple Cap. The orange shirts will remain all too grateful to the attacking instincts of the Australian for the superior run-rate he had provided them before leaving for the national duty — a factor which helped them pip Kolkata Knight Riders for the play-offs.
Smith, while he did not quite set the stage on fire with his batting, had a tentative start with the bat before looking like his former self in the captain’s role for Rajasthan Royals to resurrect his franchise’s faltering campaign.
The arrogance and immaturity of Pandya and Rahul, for which they paid with enough humiliation, seemed to have done them a world of good. While both made the cut for the World Cup, Pandya lies in second position in the race for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) to Andre Russell with a tally of 369 points. With Russell’s Kolkata Knight Riders already out of the reckoning, the spunky customer is in with a chance to end the tournament in pole position for the MVP honour and be in a great frame of mind to play the senior all-rounder’s role in England.
Rahul, who was woefully short on confidence during the tour of Down Under, plundered runs for Kings XI Punjab in his aesthetic style though his franchise eventually failed to make the last four. The stylish Karnataka batsman left his mark with an impressive 593 runs to show from his 14 innings — but more importantly garnered the self confidence required for the cricket’s big stage!