For me the highlight of the IPL so far has been Paul Valthaty. Amidst all the millions of dollars and the often dial-in performances of the national and international fatcats, Valthaty is enough to warm the hearts of even the most cynical among us.
If the IPL has any redeeming value, it is that it provides Indian first-class cricketers, off the radars of selectors, who otherwise would be consigned to a lifetime of playing great innings in front of empty stadiums in Ranji trophy, an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of thousands.
Because otherwise this IPL, in comparison to the other three, has been tepid. I am not talking about the quality of cricket (after all, cricket is to IPL what character development is to porn) but about the masala.
The primary reason for that obviously has been the banishing of Lalit K Modi, the man who could keep a nation entertained purely by the “Dont you wish you had my life” Hugh Heffnerian aura that he gave off, his eyes almost always on the “game” so as it were. With his post-IPL parties (Girls are welcome, baaki sara bheer kam, karna bas enjoy, naughty boy naughty boy), this very very naughty boy sold a fantasy as big as the outdoors—-if you had the money, you could stand at the buffet line with superstar super-rich sportsmen and even if you were poor, you could at least salivate over their dinner. Now of course the master impresario of the IPL circus is merely history, control having passed to a joyless bunch who just want to milk the cash cow without enjoying a feel of the udders. With their dour sense of school-masterish propriety that seems to consider conspicuous consumption as unnecessarily asking for attention, they have made the tournament as much fun as browsing through Excel sheets, as tingling to the tastebuds as food served in a nursing home.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some teams have still managed to provide us with entertainment, albeit more on-the-field than off it.
Mumbai Indians: Why don’t we just give Sachin the IPL trophy and be done with it? One of the biggest beneficiaries of the retention rule which gave franchises that had a good team in the first 3 IPLs a greater advantage by providing them a much larger pot of money (since the full salary of the retained players did not count towards the “purse” as per the weird laws), MI has a boringly perfect line-up where even Bhajji and Symonds are caught on camera cozily together, with its only weakness being Sachin’s often bizarre captaincy. But then again perhaps mere mortals cannot understand the workings of God’s mind. Whatever it be, the Mumbai Indians provide me with very little excitement. Yes they want to win. Win it for Sachin. So please let them.
Chennai Super Kings: Equally uninteresting. Excellent batting line-up, the best brand identity among all the franchises, the man who can do no wrong as the captain, their owner the head honcho at the BCCI, they again are drab in their perfection. While I do like their canary yellow tweety bird costumes, what gets my goat is their cheerleaders, fully covered from head to toe and I am sure suitably split into Iyers and Iyengars, raising the temperature as effectively as a vat of liquid nitrogen. Male cheerleaders? What is this—the Indian Prisoners League? Which genius came up with that idea? The same people who wrote those keep it simple silly stand-up routines for Ranbir Kapoor?
Delhi Daredevils : While an impossibly strong franchise like MI and CSK is boring, so is an overtly weak one. Delhi Daredevils had it all the first three seasons—a batting line-up to die for and what I had mistakenly thought was a good think-tank which showed its sagacity by getting rid of Akshay Kumar as their brand ambassador after one season. (though I did not approve of this decision even then)
And then shockingly last auction, it totally denuded itself of talent transforming themselves into Delhi Dimer Devil (Bengali for egg-devil). They could have saved themselves though if they only had the good sense to play one of the players they bought, the magnificently marvelous Ajit Agarkar. They could have been really exciting then, exciting for the other team that is and exciting for me, who has over the years acquired a taste for Agarkar, like you build one for double malt whiskey. Like whiskey, watching Mr. Ajit play initially hits you bitter but, with time, it settles down in your throat giving a warm fuzzy feeling. There are few sights in cricket as awe-inspiring as Haarke Haarnewaale Agarkar with that “I have no idea how the batsman hit me for a six” face after every other ball and DD, for reasons best known to them, has so far kept him in the hut.
Deccan Chargers : They once understood both the process of charging as well as discharging—having the hottest cheerleading Catholic school-girl type uniforms. Now they just have a guy called Christian. Sangakkara, as was evident in the World Cup final does not know the difference between giving head and getting tail. Not just him but the entire team has a rather cold vibe, nothing like what it was when it had Andrew Symonds and Rohit Sharma, India’s best Rahul Mahajan look-alike with however none of his raw hitting ability. Whatever positives it has is the owner-lady Ms. Reddy but not enough to make the Chargers a team I am keen to follow.
Bangalore Royal Challengers :
Khuli Hai Supermarket Baap Ki
Kya Hai Pasand Kaho Aap Ki
Truer words have not been spoken about this franchise, in the song ironically pictured on Deepika, the “girl-friend” of the Junior Mallaya. That’s all they have —-the arrogance of the baap ki supermarket where they can buy anything they want. But where is the oomph? Where is Katrina? Where is Deepika? Where are the flashes of light reflected from the Washington Red Skin dancers or from Charu Sharma’s bald pate? All we have is Junior Mallaya’s accent and Senior Mallaya’s angry grimace. Not that those arent fun.
Punjab King’s XI: Most guys have this fantasy of hitting a six in an important inter-college game while his hot-hot-superhot girl-friend cheers him on from the side (a fantasy captured in the “Kuch Khaas Hai Hum Sabhi Mein”ad). Priety Zinta has done this “bubbly hottie who cheers up the squad” act for three seasons now, pretty well I would say. But it is getting more than a bit jarring. With all the arrogant, self-confident jocks gone, leaving behind only “Please Use” Chawla, it’s time Zinta looked for a different role. They do have a trump card though—Valthaty, the underdog story of the IPL.
Kolkata Knight Riders : Brrrrrr………what’s wrong with these guys? The single-most-exciting team in the past three IPLs has metamorphosed into a lean and trim fighting unit losing much of its Keystone Cops appeal. There is no misti doi vending Rohan Gavaskar (who would bat at No 8 and not bowl), no demi-god Agarkar, no cataract-afflicted Murali Kartik, no Gang Bangar, no Bhondu, no Mortaza, no Chucktar and most importantly for home-base Eden Gardens—no Dada. Of course there have a few gems like Balaji and of course Ruby Bhatia, Delhi’s revenge on Kolkata for Chittaranjan Park. But most importantly, even when it is doing so well, there is still an air of expectancy about these guys because of the Lady of Shallot kind of curse that seems to hang over the franchise, like a glass vase kept at the very edge of the table. And of course there is Shahrukh Khan, sometimes looking like he wandered off the sets of Khuda Gawah and sometimes making immensely amusing sarcastic “We will win this for Dada” kind of statements that keep me hooked to these guys.
Rajasthan Royals: They have two big wins. One is Shane Warne, cricket’s very own Ron Jeremy, who can do the flipper anywhere and on anyone, bowling like a dream and doing the Hurley Burley. And second is of course Ms. Shetty, whose face is the epitome of uncomprehending desolation. Even after three years, one gets the feeling (purely from that smile of hers) that she has no idea of the rules of the game and I can spend hours speculating as to what exactly she is asking her beau, like “Should I get up and cheer now that that the middle stickie has come out of the ground”?
Pune Warriors: I have a very personal fondness for these guys. A Bong franchise with fetchingly attired cheer-queens (the Bengali bodhu thing I totally loved) with a desi flavor they have brought Pona maach to Puna, packed their team with Juboraj, Oothappa, Monish Mishro, Smeeth, and made them wear uniforms cut out of special edition Mahendra Dutta’s black umbrella cloth. And in their sagacity, they have kept their business as far away from Kolkata as possible.
To top it off, they have gotten Bappi Lahiri to pump up the team which means inspiration will not be a problem. To every Bengali parent who has ever told his son/daughter that “business is not for Bengalis”, Pune Warriors is the response. Go Pune.
Kochi Tuskers: My favorite franchise. Dressed like gigantic orange-flavored condoms touched by someone eating purple baingan bharta, these people are a force of nature. There is McCullum, code-named Baz, possibly after Karishma Kapoor’s “Baaz a Bird in Danger.” And if one KKR alum is not enough, there is that old man with a stomach ache, Hodge, with that permanently pissed expression on his face as if he will hit you with a cane if you get close to him. There is Ramesh Powar, the male Shakeela. There is Ravindra Jadeja, the new generation’s Agarkar, whose fans get elated if he scores 20 runs because it shows his promise. Finally there is Sreesanth, a mad elephant in his own right, in the throes of passion whose magnitude one cannot imagine.
And on their day, the Men in Orange can toss Mumbai Indians to the side, like a small plant in the path of a charging tusker .
Love these guys.