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Fresh wind from the Caribbean
The West Indians were among the top performers in this IPL. Even if you ignore the numbers, the real contribution that this small band of brothers made was in the unbridled joy with which they played the game.
This year's IPL will almost certainly be remembered more for what happened off the field than anything that the cricketers did on the field, but if there do remain some positive memories, we owe a lot to a small bunch of West Indians.
There were just 12 of them among the nearly 200 who took the field, but their impact on the tournament was way out of proportion to their small numerical presence. This, despite the fact that four of the 12 - Samuel Badree, Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels and Jason Holder - between them played only 12 games.
You could prove the point statistically, of course. Of the 15 batsmen who crossed 400 run in this year's tournament, three were West Indians - Chris Gayle, Keiron Pollard and Dwayne Smith. The trio were also among the top 10 six-hitters in the tournament, aggregating 99 sixes between themselves.
Of the top 10 wicket-takers, again three were West Indians - Dwayne Bravo (who set an IPL record by taking 32 wickets in one season), Sunil Narine and Kevon Cooper. The most economical bowler in the tournament was Narine, going at less than a run-a-ball, remarkable in this format.
On the field, four of the top 10 catchers were again West Indians, Bravo at the very top, Pollard in second spot and Smith and Cooper in joint-ninth spot. Little wonder then that the players from the Caribbean between themselves picked up 11 man of the match awards. In other words, every seventh MoM award in the tournament went to a West Indian.
Look at the batting and bowling averages and strike rates and the point is again driven home forcefully. The West Indians averaged almost 31 with a strike rate of close to 138 while batting. No other national group matched those figures. All the others put together averaged just over 23 at a strike rate of a tad below 120. In short, the West Indians were getting more runs per innings and getting them significantly faster than the rest.
If you think that might be because the Caribbean contingent was loaded with batsmen, think again. In the bowling averages too, the West Indians as a group conceded less than 22 runs for every wicket they picked up and got a wicket roughly every 17 balls. In contrast, all the others put together conceded over 27 runs per wicket and got a wicket only about once in 22 balls. True, the economy rate for the West Indians at 7. 67 runs per over was just a wee bit higher than the 7. 50 achieved by the rest, but that only proves that the men from the Caribbean were the more attacking and hence the more exciting bunch as bowlers, just like the batsmen.
If you are not the sort impressed by numbers and firmly believe that statistics can be massaged to tell any story you want, just do a mental rewind of the tournament and see whether these episodes come to mind - Chris Gayle's murderous assault on the Pune bowlers that yielded the highest T20 score ever and the fastest century in any format;Keiron Pollard's Superman-like one-handed catch at long-on to get rid of Shaun Marsh in the match against Kings XI Punjab;the same fielder's stunner at mid-wicket to cut short an innings by Dhoni, who till that point was scripting one of the most remarkable comebacks;Sammy's similar effort in the eliminator against Rajasthan Royals to cut short Shane Watson's innings, giving his team a really good chance of winning.
We could cite dozens of such instances of the brilliance that the men from the Caribbean displayed on the field during this year's IPL, several of those proving to be match-winning moments. But ultimately, there is more to cricket (as to any other sport) than just winning and losing, more even than just a showcasing of great skill and athleticism.
The real contribution that this small band of brothers makes is in the unalloyed joy with which they play the game. Watch Chris Gayle celebrating Gangnam-style when he takes a catch or a wicket, watch Darren Sammy in his rock-the-baby routine or Bravo in plane-about-to-take-off mode and there is no missing the pleasure they derive from what they do. In an era in which many others seem to find anger the best mode of expression and where cricket seems forever like a grim battle, there is something in the Caribbean style that evokes the spirit of amateurism, a spirit that is truly refreshing when all we hear is how much money people make.
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