From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.17 :: Apr. 28, 2011
The Bangalore crowd was supporting Mumbai Indian Sachin Tendulkar much more than the local Royal Challengers!
Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men had no time to sit back and savour their life-defining moments as the Indian Premier League zipped in at break-neck speed. The World Cup triumph at Mumbai on April 2 had to be mothballed in memory as the players got scattered and donned different jerseys that reflected the aspirations of 10 cities spread across India.
On April 8, the rival captains scrawled their signatures on glass panels at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai and the IPL's fourth edition had finally commenced. The mixed build-up of trauma as reflected in former chairman Lalit Modi's exit and the ownership travails of King's XI Punjab, Rajasthan Royals and Kochi Tuskers Kerala, were all forgotten and a game was truly on at Chennai, which Yuvraj Singh in one of his earlier tweets had said, “is the land of garmi but loving people.”
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man who seems to have perfected the ‘Midas Touch', was at it again, marshalling his resources well as defending champion Chennai Super Kings defeated Kolkata Knight Riders by two runs. Tim Southee held his nerve and bowled a tight over and later television figures hinted that the World Cup did not trigger viewer fatigue towards the IPL as the TRP ratings were pegged at 7.77, the highest in the league's history.
The eyeballs on television may have been high, but at venues the stands did not display the overt sense of passion that was evident when India played in the World Cup. In Kolkata where the turn-out did not match the expectations, Shah Rukh Khan had to mouth platitudes about the relevance of Sourav Ganguly to the Kolkata Knight Riders though the former captain was not picked! It looked as though even the fans needed some time to get over their World Cup hangover.
The spectators cutting across venues though revered the players who were part of the World Cup winning squad and city loyalties were forgotten. The IPL in that sense at least in the initial week became a sort of thanks-giving from the loyal fan to the ‘Men in Blue.' In Bangalore, when a local spectator was dabbing the Mumbai Indians' colour on his cheeks, he was gently reprimanded by his friends but the fan, would have none of the criticism and said: “In the end they are all Indian teams.” And guess who the crowd was rooting for when Mumbai Indians' captain Sachin Tendulkar batted against Royal Challengers Bangalore skipper Daniel Vettori? It is actually a no-brainer as the Mumbai Maestro lapped up all the adulation.
Scrambled teams, perplexed fans
The local touch was missing in quite a few squads as a few team owners discarded sentimentalism. Royal Challengers Bangalore had just one international player from Karnataka in its ranks — Abhimanyu Mithun. It is a fact that rankled the fans and the overbearing whisper at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium was: “Nammavaru ee teamil illa.” (None of our boys are in this team).
Ambati Rayudu of Mumbai Indians is humming these days and he owes much to Sachin Tendulkar for the present state of affairs.
Only Virat Kohli served as the link between the current squad and teams of the past but then the youngster is from Delhi. Regulars likes Rahul Dravid, R. Vinay Kumar, Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey were all picked by rival teams while the RCB management tightened its purse strings. Even the overseas players like Jacques Kallis, Ross Taylor, Dale Steyn and Cameron White were lost to other squads and even that bond that the fans had formed, were snapped in the new dynamics of season four.
A former India player however said: “Once the team starts winning, these fans will support.” Even in neighbouring Chennai where CSK retained a large chunk of its earlier group, a quintessential local hero like L. Balaji or the immensely popular Muttiah Muralitharan, slipped out in the auction and no longer feature in the yellow dug-out. The changed environment and fresh loyalties is the new reality for both players and public alike and it will take time to register with everyone. Ask Preity Zinta, who did not know how to react after King's XI Punjab's earlier key player Yuvraj, now leading Pune Warriors, ambushed his former team.
Ambati Rayudu's has been a tale of luminous talent and wrong choices. The youngster from Andhra Pradesh, was caught up with the politics of both Andhra and Hyderabad cricket. He then forayed into the rebel Indian Cricket League and paid the price. A career resusication happened after he moved to Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League and with Tendulkar's guiding hand leading the way, Rayudu has shown glimpses of the skill-sets that had marked him out as the special-one during his under-19 days. In the IPL's current edition, Rayudu has been in his element, playing rousing shots and stitching partnerships much to the delight of Tendulkar.
The first recipient of the prestigious Border-Gavaskar Scholarship from the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, Rayudu has wended his way back and besides the obvious talent, he has also added to his vocabulary. His earlier press conferences and interviews were often a nightmare as he often dispensed a beaming smile and spoke in monosyllables. Now he goes beyond the few words and yes answers are often laced with references to ‘Sachin Sir.'
The senior statesmen
Twenty20, often pigeonholed into the young man's domain of fearless hearts and fresh legs, has proved that it has space for classical cricketers irrespective of lines on their faces and that rare tinge of grey in their hair. Tendulkar strode into cricket's global heart in 1989, but the passion is still fresh and the urge to dominate is ever-strong.
His maiden hundred in Twenty20 came in the IPL on home-turf as the Wankhede Stadium reverberated on a Friday night. An unbeaten 100 against Kochi Tuskers Kerala was however destined to embrace tragedy as Mumbai Indians failed to cope with the brilliance of Brendon McCullum and rival captain Mahela Jayawardene. There was however much to cheer in Tendulkar's ton, especially the helicopter shot that he unveiled. Dhoni must be feeling flattered.
At the other end of the spectrum, men like Jacques Kallis (Knight Riders) and Rahul Dravid (Rajasthan Royals) excelled for their respective teams to prove that men of stature will find their own ways to sparkle even in a terrain, supposedly alien to them.
A jinx broken and new twists
Deccan Chargers had strangely twisted the words home-advantage into home-disadvantage over the years. Over three years, eight IPL and two Champions League games, the Chargers had slumped to inexplicable defeats at Hyderabad's Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium. Finally the ghosts of the past were laid to rest as a new-look team led by Kumar Sangakkara defeated RCB with a resounding performance on April 14. A jinx was broken and Hyderbadis can truly breathe easy.
Mumbai Indians Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds are now on the same side of the fence and have forgotten their previous animosity.
For RCB it must have been a strange feeling as the two Hyderabad heroes — Dale Steyn and Bharat Chipli — have had their links with Bangalore. Steyn played for RCB in the previous seasons and Chipli is a Bangalore boy, who stayed on the sidelines though he had his stints with the Karnataka Ranji team and had his share of limelight during the annual Karnataka Premier League.
Meanwhile, new captain Gautam Gambhir has effected a turn-around with the Knight Riders and fresh teams Pune Warriors and Kochi Tuskers Kerala have shown that they can compete with the big boys though these are still early days. And in a reflection of the strange bind that keeps cricket and international relations together, the diktat by the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, asking its players to return to the Emerald Isle in the first week of May for a pre-season camp, was seen as a political act.
‘All in the past'
Ever since the acrimony of Sydney 2008, Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds were placed at opposite ends while allegations flew thick and fast.
By a strange quirk tweaked in by the player-auction, Symonds and Harbhajan are now part of the same team — Mumbai Indians. “It is all in the past and at times media does the needle,” Harbhajan said and added: “Symonds is a great player and hopefully both of us will play well and help our team win.” A niggle kept Symonds out of two matches and finally he did take the park against Kochi Tuskers Kerala, a game that the Mumbai Indians lost and the burly Australian allrounder and Harbhajan were on their best behaviour. All's well that ends well?
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