Deccan Wins IPL show
JOHANNESBURG: The transplanted Indian Premier League finished in front of a capacity crowd with a blaze of fireworks and an array of international entertainers headed by Guyanan rock star Eddy Grant.
The Deccan Chargers took the title with a six-run victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final, but throughout the 37 days of the tournament in which 59 matches were played, the cricket shared top billing with the lights, music and cheerleaders that were part of the IPL package.
Arranged at short notice in South Africa following security concerns because of elections in India, the IPL captured the imagination of South African sports followers.
The opening weekend in Cape Town, with two double-headers on successive days, was sold out. So were the semi-finals, in Centurion and Johannesburg, and the final at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.
In between, near-capacity crowds attended many of the games, attracted by low prices, the glitz and glamour of the tournament, and the chance to see most of the world's best players in action.
The unpredictable nature of Twenty20 cricket was shown when Bangalore and Deccan, who filled the last two places on the log in the first IPL in 2008, reached the final.
Even on 2009 form that was a surprise, because they beat the two teams that dominated the round robin stage, the Chennai Super Kings and log-topping Delhi Daredevils respectively.
Conditions were different in South Africa from those in India last year, with bowlers having a bigger say on late-season pitches that offered assistance to both seam and spin bowlers.
Even so, it remained a batsman's game.
Matthew Hayden, the powerful Australian left-hander who retired from international cricket in January, was Chennai's mainstay as he topped the tournament run-scorers list with 572 at an average of 52.00 and an impressive strike rate of 144.81 runs per 100 balls.
Another former Australian player, Deccan captain Adam Gilchrist, played the stand-out innings of the tournament when he slammed 85 off 35 balls in the semi-finals to get his team past Delhi.
Left-arm opening bowler RP Singh of Deccan Chargers was the leading wicket-taker with 23 at an average of 18.13, but many of the most effective bowlers were spinners, led by Bangalore captain Anil Kumble, who finished with 22 wickets, including four for 18 in the final.
Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha was a consistent performer for Deccan and experienced international bowlers like Muttiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh were consistently economical.
While much of the focus was on established international stars, the tournament provided a platform for young Indian players such as Bangalore's Manish Pandey, 19, who became the first Indian to hit a century in two seasons of the IPL.
While Deccan leapt from last place in 2008 to the title in 2009, defending champions Rajasthan Royals failed to reach the semi-finals, with former Australian star Shane Warne unable to inspire his comparatively modestly-funded teams to another triumph.
Much of the early focus was on Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan, Shilpa Shetty and Preity Zinta, all co-owners of franchises, but none of their teams did particularly well.
Khan's Kolkata Knight Riders finished an embarrassing last, winning only three out of 14 matches and Khan returned to India early in the campaign.
Zinta's Kings XI Punjab were squeezed out of the semi-finals on run rate, while Shetty's Rajasthan were sixth.
In the end, the cricketers were able to claim centre stage.