IPL: Tough lessons in a test for the ages

The best batsmen – Chris Gayle (33) and Mike Hussey (37) – are the tournament's ballies; the best bowlers, the goofy Tasmanian James Faulkner (23) and the rapper-cool Sunil Narine (24), are the young pups, the piepiejollers, who also happen to be millionaires.

It's not entirely surprising. Legend has it that batsmen mature late, coming to terms with their games in their late 20s or early 30s. Bowlers are different. Perhaps because bowling is a more purely visceral and athletic art, you can bowl well and smartly in your early 20s.

Batting, though, is only partly about knowing your own game; it is more an example of articulating what you know about yourself. Gayle seems happy to acknowledge his own jolly brutality.

His secret is not to look around the edges of what he has. He's powerful and instinctive and it works for him, as it did during his whirlwind 175 (in 66 balls nogal) against the Pune Warriors last week.

Hussey's mastery of self – what he can and cannot do, where he can and cannot score – is one of the remarkable sideshows of the tournament. And such is his strength of will that he intimidates bowlers into indiscretions. He has made bowlers bowl badly in the tournament time and time again.

On the weekend he made Narine bowl him half-trackers and full tosses. Three days before that Narine had bowled the delivery of the tournament, bamboozling Sachin Tendulkar with a ball of such audacity and guile you might have pictured Oom Schalk Lourens (apparently an ardent DStv subscriber) chuckling heartily before getting off his riempie better to have a longer, more satisfying laugh from deep in his belly.

It happened like this. Tendulkar's Mumbai Indians were batting against the Kolkata Knight Riders. Narine ambled through four tight, flat deliveries to Tendulkar, who was slightly cramped, unable to get them away. Sensing the rising drama, Narine floated a perfect off-spinner up to Tendulkar in delivery five. The master flashed at the bait, over-reached himself and was bowled, the ball hitting the top of middle and leg.

Memorable lines
On reflection, the delivery seemed to stand for more than itself – a representative moment or metaphor for the tournament as a whole.

Twenty-four hours earlier and Bayern Munich had finally unpicked the key to Barcelona's storeroom of trophies, inflicting not so much a defeat but a 4-0 lesson worthy of emulation. Losses, after all, are what might happen if your team plays badly or things go wrong. Everyone loses and most lose regularly. Lessons, on the contrary, seldom happen. By their nature they are longer-lasting and more coruscating than defeats.

There was something of the lesson in Narine's delivery to Tendulkar. It was as though he had forgotten something, needed to be reminded and so suffered the indignity of being educated by a man 15 or so years his junior. But maybe the lesson is not quite as profound as one senses. As one of the memorable lines in the Star Wars Trilogy has it: "There's always a bigger fish." Sport, after all, is about the occasional humiliation.

While Tendulkar let the older side down, Hussey and Gayle are not ready to sacrifice ground to youngsters just yet. Expect their respective franchises, Gayle's Royal Challengers Bangalore, and Hussey's Chennai Super Kings, to be there or there-abouts as the tournament enters May and the gallop to the line.

While the ballies show who's boss, Faulkner, with the most wickets in the tournament at time of writing, is doing his best to take his Rajasthan Royals to the final too. There are two other Aussies – Brad Hodge and Shane Watson – at the Royals, and the trinity will be crucial to their continued progress.

John Inverarity, the Aussie selection convenor who named Faulkner in the Ashes touring team to England last week, said of Faulkner that he was a player "who makes things happen".

Unassuming, crafty and quicker than he looks, Faulkner could yet be the kind of player the Australians have been waiting for some time to step forward.

 

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