Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Khel Khatam ... Paisa Hajam

One of Shahrukh Khan's pet dialogue in his recent blockbuster “Om Shanti Om” was “film to abhi baki hay” (The show is still on). I wish he could say the same for his much pampered IPL team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. Interestingly, in rural Bengal, it used to be a common practice (even in the early 20th century) to make village idiots (who would create a nuisance) parade all around the village sitting on a donkey, facing its ass. I think its time SRK’s team gets a new name … the “Kolkata Donkey Riders”. May be he needs to finish his sentence … “film to abhi baki hay … parantu khel khatam ... aur paisa hajam”. May be he sensed that and made an exception to his enthusiastic presence by being surprisingly absent from the last match against Rajasthan Royals. The man can certainly entertain, probably can act but sure doesn’t know squat about cricket.

Most of the IPL teams were built on a common principle that involved nucleation around an Indian cricketing superstar. This is evident in Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag, Laxman and Yuvraj, respectively, leading Mumbai Indians, Bangalore Royal Challengers, Deccan Chargers, Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab. Rajasthan and Chennai were an exception because they don’t have a local star in the Indian team right now. When it came to Kolkata, Shahrukh obviously picked Saurav Ganguly as its leader. Even though Ganguly is not at the best of his form and also not unequivocally proven in this format of the game, at least he is a crowd puller and his leadership skills are unparallel, which could be an asset in the field. Overall, when you mix cricket and Kolkata, the answer is only and always … GANGULY! However, we know from the Mike Brearley example that a captain does not need to be the meat of the team. SRK and Ganguly had ample opportunities to build a strong and balanced team that included international cricketers who either have a flamboyant batting skill or a lethal bowling prowess as well as Indian cricketers who have either done extremely well in the T20 format or have the potential to do so (like Swapnil Asnodkar). SRK had both the money and influence that was necessary to bring in almost anyone he liked. Yet he landed up with a team that did not have any of these essential ingredients. With Ricky Ponting failing repeatedly, Ganguly showing his worth only with the ball and others such as David Hussey and Brendan McCallum having sporadic success, the Kolkata Knight Riders were left with NO ONE TO BAT!! Why weren’t players, Yusuf Pathan, Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir tried when they are proven players of T20? Instead, they picked Akash Chopra, who was so slow and mediocre in his batting that he was dropped from the test team, never even got considered for the one-day international, let alone T20!! Even when it came to all-rounders, SRK and Ganguly bid for Laxmiratan Shukla and Ajit Agarkar over other choices such as Shaun Pollock or Irfan Pathan. Laxmi Shukla has suddenly found himself in a slightly stronger position within the Bengal team after a mass exodus of most of its players into the ICL. He has had a long history of trouble with authority with multiple suspensions in his record, which kept him distracted long enough to hardly take cricket seriously. Having said that, I will not waste my time (and yours) by talking about Agarkar … he is exactly what he has done in the tournament … a big NOTHING! He is one of those rejects who somehow manages to crawl back over and over again for reason that are beyond any logical comprehension.

Another surprising aspect is the choice of the wicketkeeper. Even though Dhoni was already taken and it didn't make much sense to get Parthiv Patel, there were a lot of wicketkeepers up for grabs. Was Adam Gilchrist even tried? What about Kamran Akmal or Kumar Sangakkara? Even the local lad Sreevats Goswami, who plays for Bengal, had a nice run at the U-19 World Cup and hit a splendid knock in a recent IPL game went unnoticed by SRK and Ganguly and got eventually plucked by Bangalore RC. Instead SRK preferred to take the relatively unknown Wriddhiman Saha and (almost coming out of oblivion) Tatenda Taibu of Zimbabwe (do they still play cricket?). I also somehow didn't understand the inclination towards Pakistani players. They are a fine cricketing nation but to pick players like Md. Hafeez and Salman Butt, who can barely make it to their national team and leave out proven T20 talents like Misbah-ul-Haq and Shoaib Malik, I frankly find confounding. After the Bangalore RC CEO Charu Sharma was fired, Vijay Mallya, the owner of the franchisee, came out in the open and admitted that even though he let the then CEO and captain Rahul Dravid pick their team, he only insisted upon taking Misbah-ul-Haq because he is such a proven force in the T20s. Did SRK put up a fight or was he too busy picking out the rejects from Pakistan? If you can’t take on Vijay Mallya head on, then how the hell can you stand as an icon … a megastar?

The cricket fans of Kolkata may appear to be boorish at times. We have been known to be vocal about our opinion as well as throw things at the players and the field (often leading to matches being abandoned) when we smell cheap politicking, when we see incompetence or recklessness and when we sense total lack of cricketing sense (pun intended). However, even Sunil Gavaskar, who had some choice words to say about the Kolkata fans when he and his wife, Marshaniel, were pelted with rotten eggs at Eden Gardens, admit that the Kolkata fans are one of the most knowledgeable and astute when it comes to understanding the game above and beyond supporting for their team. When we hit the road leading to Eden Gardens, we take our mind for the game and our heart and soul for supporting our own. It is utterly shameful for SRK and Ganguly to have completely undermined this intensity of the Kolkata cricket fans in putting together a team that is mere fractions of our true cricketing spirit. Last night in a news report covering the reaction of Kolkata cricket fans on their (of what seems like an almost certain) exit from the IPL, an NDTV reporter commented "Are the ardent Kolkata supporters ready to jump ship?" For his (and everyone else's) information ... the ship has sunk to the bottom and taken the “ardent Kolkata supporters” with it ...

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