The lynchpins of their respective teams, Sourav Ganguly and Chris Gayle have revolutionised the fifth season of the tournament. While Ganguly has stirred a dilapidated Pune Warriors India, who finished second from bottom in their debut season last year, the Chris Gayle storm, though not as strong so far as it was in the previous season, has blown away most of the opposition and remains pivotal to the fortunes of Royal Challengers Bangalore.
How difficult it must have been for Ganguly to draw the best out of himself when almost the whole world was clamouring for him to hang up his boots. After his retirement from international cricket in 2008, Ganguly too seemed to think along the same lines as his stints as a TV commentator and with the BCCI's technical committee suggest, but the fire to challenge and get challenged on a cricket field eventually brought him back to the game.
As a player and a leader, Ganguly has achieved everything he possibly could in Tests and ODIs. His record as an Indian skipper is still the best, though MS Dhoni is closing that gap with him. But the unquenched desire to prove himself in the game's shortest format and send his critics into hiding kept him going even at the age of 39.
After leading Kolkata Knight Riders in the first couple of seasons, Ganguly was snubbed by the franchise when the team failed to finish in the top four in three attempts. He almost detached himself from active cricket until Pune, the IPL family's youngest member, asked him to join them midway through the 2011 season. After Yuvraj Singh, the captain of Pune in their first season, was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, Ganguly, the prince of Kolkata, emerged as the ideal candidate to take over Pune's reigns and was appointed as the captain cum mentor. And so far, he hasn't disappointed the team owners, excelling more as a captain than as a player. Even though his form as a batsman has been scratchy, scoring 150 runs in nine matches so far, he has been in sublime form as captain, winning four out of eight games so far.
Whether it's taking key decisions or maneuvering his fielders and bowlers, Ganguly is back to his old self once again. Although two back-to-back losses have disturbed the momentum of his side, Pune still have the team and a captain in Ganguly to get themselves back to winning ways, and possibly take them all the way. Like he showed in the match against Delhi Daredevils when he chose to put himself in the firing line and uprooted Kevin Pietersen's stump on the first ball he bowled.
Like Ganguly, Gayle has also served West Indies cricket wholeheartedly. But his flourishing career was curtailed by a tussle between him and the West Indies Cricket Board. Undaunted, Gayle has become a globetrotter, playing Twenty20 cricket in virtually every cricket-playing nation. His skills in the ultra-limited format of the game have made him one of the most sought-after players in the domestic T20 competitions in Australia, England, Zimbabwe, India and Bangladesh.
Gayle too had an estranged relationship with KKR, being discarded by his former franchise after the first three seasons. But Gayle took the IPL by storm when he joined the RCB squad in the later part of the 2011 season. He not only resurrected the team’s fortunes, but also single-handedly took them to the final.
His ability to clear the fence at will proved to be a nightmare for the bowlers and his two whirlwind hundreds and three half-centuries almost did the trick for RCB before they were beaten by Chennai Super Kings in the summit clash.
The big-hitting Jamaican, though not completely in his groove, has shown glimpses of his blistering hitting this season as well, when he smashed a 56-ball 87 against Kings XI Punjab, a 48-ball 81 against Pune and 86 in 58 balls against KKR. Although the versatile AB de Villiers has taken slight load off him in this edition, Gayle still remains one of the most fearsome batsmen in the IPL and the key to the hopes of his side.
Both Ganguly and Gayle hold the aces for their respective sides, but it's the unmatched flair, emotion and thrill they bring to a cricket field that captivates the audience and provides the team a spark that singes the opponents. And how deep RCB and PWI go into the league's fifth season largely depends on how these two champions provide that spark.