Archive for the ‘Cricket’ Category

Time to give it all he's got

Time to give it all he's got

Never having been a Shah Rukh Khan fan, it would be easy for me to gloat about his currently beleaguered condition. Particularly because, like most Kolkatans, it was irritating to watch SRK ‘buy’ a team that was nominally attached to the city I live in, waltz in, and try to become a Kolkatan overnight, giving us bumpkins a taste of Bollywood glamour by bringing in his entourage and camping in the city as the Kolkata Knight Riders played in the inaugural IPL Twenty20 championship.

Well, they fell decidedly short of greatness last year. But that, we thought, would change this year, because we would learn from our mistakes. That we didn’t is well documented, so I won’t dwell on the bad times. What IPL season 2 has unfolded, however, is a fascinating study of the rise and fall of Shah Rukh Khan — IPL team owner and apparent cricket expert. And his real estate dreams seem also to be turning sour, but more on that later.

Consider what SRK and his team management did as they went about trying to right last year’s wrongs. Badshah Khan bought Bangladeshi tearaway Mashrafe Mortaza for a ridiculous $600,000 (over Rs 3 crore at the current exchange rate) after a bizarre bidding war with Kings XI Punjab, ostensibly to replace missing Pakistani speedster Umer Gul, only for Mortaza to remain bench-bound thus far. This when Ishant Sharma clearly lacks a new ball partner, and the bowling attack comprises luminaries like Ajit Agarkar, Laxmiratan Shukla, and utility bowlers like Chris Gayle. And the less said about last season’s ‘find’ Ashok Dinda the better. Another new recruit, Ajantha Mendis, who so traumatised Indian batsmen on a recent tour of Sri Lanka, has also been used sparingly, and that is a mystery still waiting to be solved.

Evidently as a marketing manoeuvre — because let’s face it, Kolkata is not the most marketing-friendly name or destination in sight — SRK dropped Kolkata from the team name (for which many of us shall always remain grateful), even as Man Friday John Buchanan announced a four-captain policy that at first seemed like rubbish, then seemed like a clever ploy to get rid of old warhorse and KKR (well, KR) captain Sourav Ganguly, and then seemed like nothing at all when it was junked and Brendon McCullum appointed captain. See, many of us honestly felt it was time for Ganguly to go gracefully, and it seemed as though an exit route had been smoothly handed to him. True to type, he didn’t take it, but chose to make his displeasure and disappointment evident to anyone who would listen.

All this was before the tournament had even begun, and we were still adjusting to the venue shift from India to South Africa. And then, on day one of IPL Season 2 came the Fake IPL Player whammy. Someone implying he was part of the KR team began dishing out all the dirt from within the camp, complete with gossip about dressing room debates and invidious infighting within the team, as well as malicious but apparently authentic gossip about a few of the other teams. Particularly striking were the blogger’s delicious nicknames for the players and coaches he wrote about, indicating both a wicked sense of humour as well as some serious axe to grind.

As theories flew thick and fast about who the ‘fake’ blogger was, a further blow to KR came in the form of Ricky Ponting’s pull out. That left two big hitters at the top (McCullum and Gayle), an earnest Brad Hodge at number three, a vengeful former skipper at number four, and confusion to follow. And when I say vengeful, I mean it. Ganguly is not the man to swallow an insult and dedicate his services to those who have delivered it. He is unique in his ability to be part of a team without really being part of it, and spread the fire of disaffection and negativity if he so desires. SRK and henchmen seriously miscalculated the impact that removing Ganguly would have, especially in such a ham-handed manner. To add to KR’s woes, Cheteshwar Pujara has been sidelined with an injury.

Amidst jokes about KR having more support staff than players (courtesy Buchanan who seems to think nothing of packing his management with ‘support’ from his native state of Queensland in Australia), came the second whammy — that Shah Rukh was going to sell the team, a report that he and IPL supremo Lalit Modi have since denied, though doubts remain. As a result of the steady stream of KR losses, however, SRK is finally learning to stay out of the limelight, to not try and talk cricket at all (no matter how much he apologises later), and to scale down the smug know-all air that has infuriated many.

On top of all this are the reports that the $2.2 billion luxury apartment project associated with him in Dubai has been shelved owing to the recession. Can life get any worse? Well, going by their most recent performance, KR are trying their best to prove that it can indeed.

Badshah Khan, meanwhile, is back in India, having vowed to not go back to South Africa until ‘his’ team starts winning. Which ought to keep him home bound until at least the next season, going by the look of things. In the course of a single year, he has gone from hero to virtual zero in his ‘adopted’ city, managed to make a laughing stock of himself and his team in the eyes of the world, and mysteriously come under the thrall of John Buchanan, a man who seems to confuse cricket with rocket science, and infect everyone around him with that confusion.

The IPL’s ‘most glamorous team’ is thus nothing but a collection of demoralised and ill-picked individuals playing bad cricket, served by a bad coach and hampered by an owner who clearly knows neither his cricket nor his limits. Can anyone save them? Not this time, at any rate.

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Swinging as only he can -- Chris Gayle of Kolkata Knight Riders

Swinging as only he can -- Chris Gayle of Kolkata Knight Riders

Having despairingly watched cricket die a slow death on pancake-flat Indian — make that subcontinental — pitches, and the odds increasingly stacked against hapless bowlers, it is inexpressibly refreshing to see the latter get some of their own back in the Twenty20 format, of all things.

The primary reason has to be the location shift to South Africa, where the pitches will thankfully provide real cricket rather than ‘baseball on Valium’, as Robin Williams once famously put it. And contrary to popular belief, people don’t come to cricket grounds only to watch fours and sixes rain down. The savagery may seem exciting initially, but the bloodlust dies down after a while and the parade of boundaries merely seems boring.

And so, as this edition of the IPL increasingly shows signs of being a bowlers’ tournament, we are faced with the mouth-watering prospects of Anil Kumble and Shane Warne luring batsmen down the pitches to their doom, of a Kamran Khan or Ishant Sharma making batsmen hop around (no harm in hoping), and a Chris Gayle keeping them so completely quiet that it takes them five overs to hit boundary. What more can we ask for in this age of three-hour cricket?

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He’s Back!

Posted: September 14, 2006 in Cricket

The thing about Sachin Tendulkar is that he somehow makes one forget all past lapses. He makes boys of sensible, responsible men (and girls of some women), who scream with joy as he pulls savagely over backward square leg for one six, or tonks one back over the bowler for another. Presto! Stocks rise, tempers fall, and there is an idiot grin on every face. In a trice, we forget his recent patchy run, the doubts about his form and fitness after a huge lay off, and are reconverted into devotees.

Yes, it helped that Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor bowled with the kind of generosity that batsmen can usually only dream of, and that Carlton Baugh inexplicably deflected what would have a sitter for Chris Gayle when The Sachin was on five, but in the end, greatness is also about making the most of one’s opportunities. On a pitch of fairly uncertain bounce, Sachin proved quite emphatically that he isn’t done yet, oh no. Just have another look at the dismissals of Dravid, Dhoni and Sehwag and you’ll know why Sachin’s innings today was a bigger deal than the Caribbean bowling made it seem.

Quick One

Posted: September 14, 2006 in Cricket

Watching the India-West Indies match and thinking dark thoughts about the Greg Chappell-Rahul Dravid combo as I watch the world’s best number three walking out to open. A journalist friend tells me he has access to a tape that went around after Sourav Ganguly’s sacking roundly abusing the sackers. Will let you know once I get hold of it.
Another friend called Chappell the Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq of the 21st century this morning. The thing is: whatever Tughlaq touched turned to dust. Whatever Chappell touches seems to turn into at least copper, if not platinum.