Watching Extraa Innings without Mandira Bedi’s comforting presence and sharp cricketing knowledge is akin to experiencing spring without the koel bird, or more accurately a nuclear holocaust without radiation burns. Which is why when I saw Sameer Kochchar, the star of new-age movies like Bold and the international sleeper hit Ek Se Mera Kya Hoga (reportedly Shane Warne’s favorite flick), I felt a tightening of my neck muscles. Perceiving Navjyot Sidhu, the Adolf Eichmann of the English language, sitting next to him did nothing to lessen my sense of dread till presently my eyes alighted on the third person in the room, Arun Lal. He was looking serene and peaceful, almost like I imagined Lord Buddha, verily a teardrop on the cheek of time, dispensing zen-like knowledge as is his wont. It was then, especially when Sidhu and Arun Lal started getting into banter about pulling down trousers, that I could relax on my sofa. All waz well.
Things became better once their on-field expert Ravi the Chappatti shot took over. Ravi was looking like a vampire who had been in the coffin for too long, steaming his face. More curiously there was something about his hair—as if he was growing a crop of BT brinjal saplings on his scalp which later on I realized was part of IPL’s going green campaign. He set the ball rolling by reminding us of IPL commentary’s Rule no 1—the Hyperbole (not to be confused with Rajasthan Royal’s Halla Bol) Policy which consists of using sentences like “There is electricity in the air” and “The crowd is going wild” and “This is immense” every five sentences. He also invoked Rule no 2 which is to introduce Modi with adjectives like Supremo, Fuhrer, God Of All Things, Mahabali and to stress that the great man had been working “overtime”. Not that we ever doubt that.
The official part of the show got presently underway. Lalit Modi got hold of the mic and refused to let go of it, blabbering on like a corporation councillor at a junior school prize distribution function. Perhaps because he was working overtime, he did mix up IPL 3 with IPL 2 and just when I thought I should shift to watching the infinitely-more-entertaining movie Dalal on Zee, the speech ended. IPL then had the ceremonial signing of the “We wont be naughty boys” document and then the Green initiative was announced, if only to stress that IPL is driven by a love of the green. Cold hard cash that is.
There are many things the IPL can be accused of—-of bastardizing the game, of tearing apart world cricket, of bringing even more money into the sport. But one thing it has always been innocent of has been good taste. The opening ceremony was no different. It started off with a rendition of “I cant help falling in love with you” the “you” obviously being money with a bunch of backup dancers lamely cavorting around. On a careful dekkho, I thought I saw some of KKR’s bench players there—-I definitely thought I got a glimpse of Mortaza in a shiny white blouse slowly moving his hips. This was followed by a bunch of people in lighted Ku Klux Klan uniforms and some shadowy figures playing the drum inside a mosquito net.
Then came the mandatory Bollywood star. I was expecting Katrina Kaif since she typically has a no-bid contract over such events. But no this time it was Deepika who came out with a “Mumbai do you want More?” Good thing the crowd didnt respond otherwise I am sure Kiran More would have come out in disco tights. That perhaps would not have been such a bad thing since Deepika looked bored and disinterested, having the same expression that Sunil Joshi had in IPL season 1. Of course that was enough to electrify Arun Lal because later when Kochchar asked the panel “Any performance that stood out?” the Lal said “Deepika”, almost as worked up as he was in the finest hour of his career—-when he became Richard Hadlee’s 374th wicket.
The climactic act came from Lionel Ritchie, whose last hit was around the time Arun Lal opened for India. Since I could not make out what he was singing I suspected it was actually Tauseef Ahmed, the Ritchie-lookalike Pakistani spinner, who was on the stage, because the powers-that-be at IPL had decided to conserve some green. Their own.
Now with the fluff and hoopla finished, the time had come to get to the business end of the tournament, the real thing that we were all there for.
Namely the advertisements.
In some great innovations that could only have been conceived of by the Dark Lord Sauron, there were ads on giant screens in the stadium on which the camera would remain focused on between balls. Periodically the camera would pan up to a gigantic phallic-shape blimp in the sky with a sponsor’s name on it. Sometimes it would swing on to the Uber Supremo sitting right next to, what in scientific jargon is referred to as, item log. And for the few seconds that the IPL hadnt yet found a sponsor for, it would concentrate on the cricket match in the middle.
KKR started off exactly the way we expect it to. Manoj Tiwari, who bats worse than the Bhojpuri singer by the same name, was dismissed off the first ball he faced. Ganguly lasted two more balls. Pujara and Hodge flattered to deceive. Just when we could see IPL 2.0 all over again, Kolkata discovered the person who has the potential to be this season’s Shane Watson—an angel by the name of Angelo Matthews. Together with Owais Shah, he played professionally and strategically and took Kolkata to a score which was still 10-20 runs short of what the pitch demanded but still very competitive. KKR started off bowling exactly like they did batting, dropping chance upon chance, jumping over balls, hitting the umpire with the throw but then after a strategic time-out they radically upped their game doing something I have yet to see KKR do well—-that is bowl a very restrictive line. Things were so good that even Ishant Sharma didnt get carted for 20 runs in the end.
The highlight of the match to me was the way Symonds was dismissed. If anyone had been following his recent games in the Australian T20 series, they would see Roy has been increasingly getting out to the pull wherein he mistimes the shot and the ball rockets up. Today he was continuously fed short balls directed to his chest and he fell under this continuous barrage at his weak spot without causing much damage. As an aside, KKR would do well not to drop Angelo and Langeveldt when the big names—Gayle, McCullum, Hussey become available because these two are very good at-death bowlers. And they should get Vignesh, ICL’s stand-out performer, into the side as soon as possible in place of Manoj Tiwari.
But somehow KKR’s vastly improved performance didnt make any sense to me. I mean what could have happened to make these wimps into lean mean fighting machines? Surely it couldnt be Wasim Akram. Finally I had the answer when during one of the crowd shots, my eyes fell on a lady in a KKR uniform sitting in the VIP enclosure, a lady who looked Kate Winslett. And when the match finished, Dada went over and gave her a hug.
Relief. At last the KKR had got it, the fundamental lesson from Royals and Punjab. Hugs from SRK may work for some but not for all. Of course it was a bit unfair that only Dada got a hug but then again as a captain he does represent the team. Even when he makes a zero.
And so the tournament looks interestingly set-up. Will Arun Lal get excited again? Will Sidhu plumb new depths? Will Ravi Chapatti’s head see a Green Revolution? Will we get to see Ajit Agarkar? Will a gigantic Jackie Shroff shaped blimp advertising Musli power make an appearance? Will we find out the name of Winslett-look-alike? What other devious advertising schemes shall be conjured up by the magicians at the IPL? And when will Rameez Raja join the commentary team, thus completing Arun Lal?