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The Kolkata Knight Riders will have a spring in their step as they begin their title defence against Mumbai Indians in the IPL opener at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata today (18:30 OSN Sports Cricket HD) with West Indies spin ace Sunil Narine in their squad.
The ‘mystery’ spinner was reported for suspect action in last year’s Champions League T20 and thereafter missed the recently-concluded World Cup. He had to wait until as late as Sunday to know his IPL fate before the BCCI gave him a clean chit.
Narine has a stupendous IPL record, picking up 67 wickets at an economy rate of 5.77. It’s no wonder that captain Gautam Gambhir heaved a huge sigh of relief at the availability of Narine.
“He’s an integral part of KKR, he will always be an integral part. Even if he bowls a straight ball, he will be an asset for us and will always remain an asset. That’s the confidence we have on Sunil (Narine). We never thought that we needed a back-up spinner for him,” said Gambhir.
Gambhir says the team always believed they would have Narine back in the side.
“He was pretty confident as well. I’m happy for him. Hats off to him that he’s changed his action in such a short span of time. I’m very happy for him, having known the success he has achieved for KKR. In such situations, first you need to be tough mentally to absorb whatever has happened and come back strong. He has showed how mentally strong he’s in the past.”
The skipper added that the team was focused on the job at hand and not getting carried away with the hype around their defending champions’ tag.
All set for tomorrow. Thank you very much everyone for your blessings n wishes. Keep praying for me friends pic.twitter.com/5P3GhYzF4K
— Yusuf Pathan (@iamyusufpathan) April 7, 2015
“We don’t want people to talk about us and rather show it for the better of Indian cricket. I think we have done that pretty well over the last few years and we’ll continue to do that. It’s about developing off the field as well,” he added.
For Narine, it will be a big challenge as he will have to prove his effectiveness with a re-modelled action. But he will have plenty of support in the slow bowling department.
Kolkata have a Narine-esque bowler in the form of rookie Karnataka spinner KC Cariappa and a couple of chinaman bowlers to make the most of the slow surface on offer in Kolkata.
However, with evening showers predicted in the city, spinners may find the going a bit tough and the faster bowlers might come into play.
Their batting is equally strong with last year’s top run-getter Robin Uthappa (660) leading the way. Uthappa also had a superb run in the domestic Ranji Trophy with 912 runs from 11 matches and he will look to get support from Gambhir, Manish Pandey and Suryakumar Yadav.
— Mumbai Indians (@mipaltan) April 8, 2015
The visitors, meanwhile, will bank on hard-hitting batsmen Corey Anderson, Kieron Pollard and new recruit Aaron Finch to take on the Kolkata attack.
Mumbai tasted their maiden IPL win at the ground in 2013 when Rohit led the side to a win over Chennai Super Kings, so should feel confident of doing well again.
Kiwi all-rounder Anderson, who holds the record for the second fastest ton in ODIs, will once again play a crucial role with the bat and ball. But the onus will be on captain Rohit to take charge with the bat and shine at the venue where he scored an ODI world record 264 against Sri Lanka.
In the pace department, veterans Lasith Malinga and R Vinay Kumar will have to do the bulk of the job as they don’t have spinners of the calibre of Kolkata.
Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha have enjoyed success at the international level but have not been in great form of late, which will be a worry for Rohit.
Meanwhile, legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar took centre-stage at the Eden Gardens yesterday as the Mumbai Indians icon gave a pep talk to his team before getting into a long chat with Bangalore skipper Virat Kohli, whose team was also at the venue.
Tendulkar, who played his penultimate and career’s 199th Test at the same venue two years ago, helped his team in their preparations and remained at the ground for the entire two-hour long practice and interacted with all 26 Mumbai
Ahead of the star-studded tournament on April 8, defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders threatened to withdraw from the Indian Premier League if the BCCI did not clear mystery spinner Sunil Narine and were willing to take Indian cricket’s governing body to court if the bowler was suspended. Despite ICC’s clearance the BCCI insisted that the West Indian underwent further tests in order to participate in IPL 8.
Since its inception in 2008, the IPL has been rocked by many infamous controversies both on and off the field. Players and officials have been banned for their involvement in match fixing, team owners have been suspended for illegal betting and BCCI board members have been accused of manipulating the competition to their own financial and commercial gain.
All this should result in a tarnished product but the league remains the biggest of its kind in world cricket and still attracts the best players in the world for huge sums of rupees.
Match fixing and betting
The sixth edition in 2013 was by far the most controversial season in IPL history. Delhi Police arrested Sree Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila of the Rajasthan Royals on charges of spot-fixing and 11 bookies, one which, Amit Singh, a former Rajasthan player. The BCCI immediately handed those involved life bans from the sport. Rajasthan Royals owner Raj Kundra was questioned by Delhi police over the allegations, and after a long enquiry confessed to have bet on IPL matches, including those that involved his own team.
Further investigations revealed a number of high profile involvements in the betting scandal as Bollywood actor Vindoo Dara Singh and Chennai Super Kings co-owner and son-in-law of then-BCCI chief N Srinivasan, Gurunath Meiyappan, were both arrested. CSK distanced themselves from the claims, insisting that both were simply ‘cricket enthusiasts’. As a result, Srinivasan was forced to temporarily step aside as BCCI President and his hopes to take over the ICC chairmanship were thrown into doubt.
After the fallout, CSK and India skipper MS Dhoni filed a Rs 100-crore defamation case in the Madras High Court against media houses Zee Media Corporation and News Nation Network for linking him with illegal activities of betting, match-fixing and spot-fixing. Dhoni was never found guilty or charged with any offences.
Lalit Modi suspension
IPL’s first commissioner and chairman was suspended after the BCCI found him guilty of misappropriation of funds related to the second edition of the league held in South Africa. Modi reportedly had stakes in 3 different franchises and continuous acts of misconduct led to his sacking as IPL chief. Modi also announced ownership details of the now-defunct Kochi Kerala Tuskers franchise on Twitter in breach of confidentiality agreements.
With one tweet Lalit Modi has managed to get Tharoor sacked ,the Kochi IPL team board to resign & Sunanda to give up her stake.
— $ir $ri $ri Magal (@jhunjhunwala) April 18, 2010
During the same season, Kings XI Punjab co-owners Ness Wadia and Mohit Burman were allegedly beaten up by police and guards for misbehaving with a lady spectator, who happened to be the daughter of influential South African industrialist Ajay Gupta.
This edition was hit with the highest number of controversies. First, RCB’s Australia batsman Luke Pomersbach was arrested for molesting a woman and threatening her fiancé. The matter was later settled out of court.
Pune players Rahul Sharma and Wayne Parnell were caught red-handed at a Mumbai rave and later tested positive for illegal substances following an investigation.
Mumbai rave party: IPL players Wayne Parnell, Rahul Sharma detained – NewsX http://t.co/bWWFCIYelK
— SATYA (@satya_kolkata) May 16, 2013
That year saw the end of the Deccan Chargers after the franchise failed to pay its franchise fee to the BCCI. Adding salt to the wound of their demise, Deccan pacer TP Sudhindra was given a life ban after agreeing to spot-fix matches in a sting operation organized by a TV channel. Veteran Uttar Pradesh pacer Shalabh Srivastava was handed a five-year ban after also being caught agreeing to fix matches.
In one of the ugliest scenes on an IPL pitch (and there have been a few!), Mumbai Indians’ former skipper Harbhajan Singh slapped Kings XI Punjab’s Sreesanth after losing a tense match during the inaugural season. The speedster was seen sobbing and after a thorough BCCI investigation Harbhajan’s season was brought to a premature end with an 11-game ban. Although the video footage was never released, Shreesanth later claimed that Harbhajan had not slapped but ‘elbowed’ him.
Despite the ugliness of the IPL it has brought massive financial value to Indian cricket and the BCCI through global TV deals, franchise fees and merchandising. With millions of dollars on offer and the backing of former cricketing greats, the league will flourish in a cricket-crazy nation such as India for many years to come. For the BCCI it seems that the only thing that cannot be bought when it comes to the IPL is the integrity of the game itself.