I count myself as among those who fear that the IPL could be the beginning of the end of cricket as we know it – for what is to stop the Indian Premier League becoming the Australian Premier League, the English Premier League, the South Africa Premier League, God forbid even an American Premier League (no doubt sponsored by the world’s largest collection of billionaires; perhaps Tom Hicks will even get involved) in a never-ending global circus of the kind of cricket that most people, regrettably, seem to want to see. Yet, having watched a couple of the early games, I have been struck by two potentially encouraging elements that may augur well for the development of the sport.
First, after the shennanigans of the winter, in which Australia and India came close to all-out war and produced even in me, a connoisseur of bad behaviour in sport, feelings that things had gone a bit far, it is rewarding to see players from both countries lining up alongside each other in several of the “franchises”. A quick glance at the squads reveals Adam Gilchrist and VVS Laxman battling in the cause of the Deccan Chargers, Irfan Pathan and Brett Lee lending their varying bowling styles to the Kings of Punjab – actually I’m having difficulty in getting my head around all the team titles – and Ricky Ponting giving up captaincy rights to Sourav Ganguly, allegedly one of the hardest cricketers to get on with, for the Kolkata Knight Riders. Surely, spending an extended period in the company of people who only months earlier you may have been sledging to within an inch of their lives can only be a positive thing: new relationships can be forged by the day in a common cause. Though you can’t help feeling that those bidding for players perhaps missed the chance for some intriguing telly when Andrew Symonds was picked up by the Chargers, instead of being teamed at Mumbai Indians with Harbhajan Singh.
Second, the IPL has given us an opportunity to see how some of the all-conquering Australians get on when they play against each other: to make Steve Harmison and James Anderson feel a lot better, Mike Hussey can thread Brett Lee’s bowling through the off side just as effectively.
Just one question though: who the hell is Luke Ronchi?
I chose Reverse Sweep as the title for this blog not purely because most of the other decent cricketing terms – Line and Length, The Googly, even Are You a Left-Arm Chinaman? – had gone. (Although, that said, is there such a thing as a Right Arm Chinaman, or is that the point?) but also because it seemed appropriate that, in this age of cricket innovation, the stroke that first defined the rebellious departure from the MCC Coaching Manual should be marked in some way. Now, I had always thought that the stroke was invented by Mike Gatting – at least he played the most memorably inappropriate one in the 1987 World Cup – although others suggest that Ian Botham may be the man behind it. However, during my researches I discovered one blog proclaiming that Hanif Mohammad, the first star of Pakistan cricket, one of only two men to reach 499 and the only man to be run out on that score, was the first player to employ it. Barely had I absorbed this gem than further researches – a quick click on to Cricinfo’s player page for the Little Master – seemed to prove the point. Its profile states he was “probably the inventor of the reverse sweep” – and to be honest, if he really was so versatile as to be able to “captain, keep wicket, and bowl right and left handed in Test cricket”, I have no reason to disbelieve them. But, can anyone confirm this with dates, games and times? Is there a book, an autobiography in which the claim is made. Surely, out there in the wide world of cricket, someone has the answer?