Monday, May 26, 2008

Myth of the sportive Chennai crowd and other IPL stories

I am writing this entry after watching Bangalore beat Hyderabad by 5 wickets, in another thriller that finished in a flurry of sixes (B Akhil carting poor Chamara Silva over the ropes 3 times in an over to seal victory). Apart from a victory, which is always welcome considering the way Bangalore started off their campaign, what came as a pleasant surprise was the applause Bangalore received from the Hyderabad fans, and a small posse dressed in Royal Challengers colours (I'm guessing Bangalore ex-pats). Quite a contrast to the sounds that emanated from the MA Chidambaram stadium when Bangalore beat Chennai in the reverse encounter. There were no applauses (or if there were, the microphones which are pretty sensitive didn't pick them up) when Dravid was called forward during the presentations, which was probably the only time the crowd could have actually clapped because otherwise for the most part of the evening, the game was pretty drab. But like I said, the absence of applauses was almost deafening, especially considering the fact that the Chennai team received their fair share of plaudits when they beat Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy stadium, including whistles and applauses from your's truly, who was thrilled to have witnessed a game as thrilling as that in the early stages of the IPL. I must state here that although I would have liked to watch Bangalore win, all I hoped for was a GOOD game, which I got to see.

So I come back to my question, does the crowd's sportive image take a back seat when it comes to issues where blood is thicker than water (in the Bangalore-Chennai case, quite literally I might say)? Almost everyone would remember the magnanimous gesture of the Chennai crowd when Pakistan beat India in a nail-biting test match after Sachin TendulKar almost single handedly took us to victory. I wasn't expecting a similar gesture, but a round of applause when the victorious captain took the stage during the presentations was certainly called for. What surprised me equally, if not more, was an article I read by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, an assistant editor with Now if you read the article, I won't blame you if it left you a bit perplexed. The vitriol against the Bangalore side was unmistakable, but more importantly, Siddhartha puts the blame squarely on Bangalore for Chennai's loss. He lambasted them for the pathetic batting display (which I too agree was very poor... I mean losing 4 wickets for 40 runs inside the first 10 overs... come on!!!) and makes it sound like the Chennai team lost interest in the game because of Bangalore's shoddy display with the bat. There were more kudos showered on the Chennai players than the Bangalore players, except for Kumble, so I have to assume Siddhartha is a fan of Jumbo. Although there was a mention of the fiery pace of Dale Steyn, again, he attributed the wickets of Morkel and Vidyut to their own ambitions. Somehow, I'm certain that if Morkel's hook had gone for six over backward square leg instead of into the hands of the fielder posted there, Sid would have been showering praises on the Springbok all-rounder for carting his compatriot over the top. If the game was as lackluster as he says it was (and trust me, he got that right, it was), then I don't think the reporter should have praised the Chennai bowlers, because by his own admission, the Bangalore team had batted poorly. Come on Sid, be a little more neutral at least when you strut your trade. Aren't media editors supposed to be neutral (at least pretend to be neutral)?

Cricket crowds in India can be very fickle. Yuvraj made a lame comment to the Mumbai crowd about not support his team because some of them played for India too. Yuvraj, looks like you still have a long way to go before you can be crowned Maharaj, so until then remember that in that game, Mohali played Mumbai and the fact that a player represents India is immaterial in this context. Actually, for the Kolkatta crowd, even that doesn't matter, for the communist citizens put state above country, as was very apparent when India took on South Africa in a one day game soon after Rahul Dravid was made captain, displacing Ganguly. The crowd booed Dravid, and booed the Indian team because an out-of-form Dada, who at that time was a liability to the team, was dropped. In their defence, they're communists, they'er a little kooky, so such things are part and parcel of the delusional life they lead.

One last thing Siddhartha got right was that the pitch wasn't the cause for the poor batting display. Righto, it did not hide any demons, and the crowds did not hide their emotions. They were stunned into a zombie-like trance because they lost to, of all the teams, Bangalore. Come on Chennai, Indian cricket needs your sportiveness, since the Kolkattans have lost theirs (actually they never had any, it was just the charm of the Eden Gardens all along), so don't go bonkers over a T20 game. A lot of water will pass from the Cauvery, get your act straight.

Among other positives that have emerged from the IPL is Rahul Dravid's batting. He has shown time and again why he is considered to be India's most reliable batsman. He has adjusted to the new format quite nicely, and so I hope the selectors at least consider his name for the 50 over version of the game. Of course, that would be a pipe dream, given the fact that Dhoni himself was the one responsible for Dravid's ouster from the team because he didn't want 'older players' (but why he didn't ask for Sachin to be dropped as well will remain a mystery, although I think we all know the answer to that one) and the tension between the two was visible even during the toss at the Chidambaram stadium, and Vengsarkar's dislike for Dravid. However, it's also nice to see the likes of Abhishek Nayar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shreevats Goswami, Ashoke Dinda and Manpreet Gony shine in the limelight. But is it right to drop (or not select) a player who is playing as well as, if not better than the younger lot, just because he happens to be on the wrong side of 30? According to the thoughts that flow between the ears of our Ranchi dada, the answer seems to be, sadly, yes.

And finally, although there were a lot of shining stars and stellar performances by the younger generation, I hope against hope that they are not selected directly into the Indian senior or A teams merely based on their performances in the IPL. The IPL is should be seen more in terms of a launch pad, rather than a back door short-cut entry into the national side. Bowling 4 overs at an economy rate or 7 or 8 with a wicket or two may be fine in a 20-20, but that certainly doesn't merit a cap in the national side (or the A team for that matter). These performances ought to be considered by the state selectors and the players need to be drafted into the state Ranji teams, which is the correct route that needs to be followed. One can only hope that the selectors have their thinking caps on (wishful, I know).

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