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Seven up

Teams have spent more time travelling than playing; starry nights are now the norm; some growing pains have been tossed in with the glamour.

cricket Updated: Apr 25, 2008 02:52 IST
HT Correspondents

Khan-daan is what does it to Eden

Power failure, a pitch problem and some disgruntlement over daily allowances among local players — the IPL’s Kolkata chapter has been eventful and quite an experience. Thanks to the presence of one Shah Rukh Khan however, the controversies have not snatched the driver’s seat yet.

Their team posted two successive wins, the Eden was full during the only match it hosted and if that was encouraging for people who invested massive amounts in the Kolkata team, there has been some encouragement as well. Team T-shirts are visible in sports shops and a decent number were sported at the ground too. Demand for tickets is on the rise too.

Since it has got more to do with pure cricket, the dash of glamour provided by the famed SRK charisma has been the pulling force so far.

The presence of 70,000 at the Eden on Sunday clearly shows that star power equals pulling power. And thanks to the controversies, the Kolkata phase of the IPL has rarely missed the headlines.

Positive or negative, publicity has not been a problem with this team yet.

Waiting for their faithful to rise

When Virender Sehwag brought up the ticklish age issue with Glenn McGrath he reacted like any Delhi wannabe socialite. “What do you mean 38? I’m only 28.” McGrath displayed a sense of humour you don’t associate with this prickly, tetchy, permanently cussing fast bowler.

That has been the Delhi IPL story so far. They were meant to be a problem side where petty rivalries and bent officials would make success impossible. But this is not the usual DDCA team. It is a successful unit, and that makes for a happy dressing-room.

The IPL is not merely about cricket, but teams will soon realise that Bollywood babes and cheerleaders will not make a difference if the team’s getting pasted. Kolkata are lucky in that they have readymade team loyalty: the Eden faithful don’t look beyond Ganguly. But Delhi’s management have a razor-sharp focus on “connect” and it helps that Sehwag and Gautam “T20 Bradman” Gambhir are sons of the soil. Foreigners delivering, locals like Rajat Bhatia doing their bit... Delhi’s on the up. All that remains is for the fans to get behind their team.

That’s what friends are for?

Muralitharan wearing a jersey with Dhoni written on it before Chennai’s league opener against Mohali. Dhoni, at that time, was in Bangalore for the opening ceremony and when asked about the jersey, the jovial Murali remarked, "I don't want the boys to miss their captain."

The bonhomie in the team, is evident, even though it is one of the two teams not led by a homegrown boy. But their bonding has been reflected in their performances.

With Ntini yet to drop by, Dhoni gave Punjab youngster MS Gony a chance to get on to the big stage and Gony, not picked up by Mohali, more than repaid that faith against Mumbai. He says the big stars have treated him like a kid brother, and that’s helped him immensely.

With the likes of Hayden, Hussey, Dhoni, Badrinath, Fleming, Raina, Parthiv etc, batting is easily Chennai's strength. Saturday's tie against Kolkata at home will be their acid test. If they pull off that one, they’ve got it made.

There’s no ‘I’ in Warne!

I'll fess up straight off, it was the allure of an individual, rather than the team, that drew me to Jaipur.

Having grown up idolising Shane Warne, it was, and still perhaps is, hard for me to look beyond his unique persona. The fact that they put on such a tepid show in their opener against Delhi only intensified my doubts about their ability and credentials as a team.

However, after watching them for a week, I confess I jumped the gun. If success is 99 per cent perspiration and one per cent inspiration, then Jaipur is guaranteed a good time in the event. Young, eager, industrious and focused, the team may not be sprinkled with stardust, but have a great, never-say-die attitude. The players clearly take pleasure in each others’ feats and Warne and the coaching staff, are doing a great job in fomenting team spirit. Warne is playing the role of an elder statesman to perfection and is constantly seen advising youngsters. Their practice sessions are fun and vibrant and that might make the difference.

That underdog’s day out

Bangalore, mocked as a ‘Test team’, happily had their magic moment in front of a packed, partisan Mumbai crowd last Sunday. That too without Kumble and Dale Steyn.

Frankly, I really wanted Bangalore to win against Mumbai. I don’t have anything against Mumbai but after watching Bangalore go down in front of their home crowd in the tournament opener, I really did not want to see 'my team' going out. Plus, we need these underdog’s days.

My fun moment so far? Watching the reserved Rahul Dravid grin unabashedly when asked if the Washington Redskins’ cheerleaders were distracting his players. Rahul stressed that the Kookaburra 'white ball' was being used and said he’d told his team to concentrate on the 'white ball' and nothing else. This’ll be fun!

The Groin leaves them groanin’

As Brendon McCullum smashed the Bangalore bowlers all over the park at the Chinnaswamy stadium in the IPL opener, one man was doing the same in the Mumbai nets at Wankhede stadium: Ashish Nehra.

Well, it's another matter that Nehra couldn't repeat his net heroics when it mattered most on Wednesday, failed to capitalise on a free hit in the last over, something that eventually cost Mumbai the match against Chennai. Two matches, and as many losses, has been Mumbai’s horror story so far. And it tells us a lot about what the absence of the gent who turned 35 on Thursday, means to them.

India’s most famous groin injury means that Harbhajan has had to lead and while the fiesty offie has taken on the skippership enthusiastically, we need him back as a bowler.

But despite the losses, the mood in the camp is still upbeat since Mumbai were in the game till the last over in both ties. Shaun Pollock, who seems to be hugely enjoying himself, said the team has gelled like a "family". Polly has been trying to charge up the youngsters with his limited Hindi vocabulary, egging them on with: Chalo, chalo! Jaldi. Not bad.

Company matters!

Different. That's what rushes to mind when I think of the IPL so far. Like the majority, I couldn't connect with the concept and it took some effort not to feel bad (forget feel great) watching Lee castling Dhoni. It was also an experience to see cricketers sitting at ticket counters to boost sales! They had little to grumble about though, for the boss herself (Preity Zinta) kicked off ticket sales, with Lee by her side.

Another thing that you don’t usually see is players coming in as late as match eve, like when the Windies and Lankan players dropped in from the Caribbean post national duty.

The weirdest thing for me was seeing team members staying in different hotels. "We wouldn't see such things in national and international cricket," I grumbled to an old timer.

"But why are you comparing it to something which it isn't. Look at it as a company and players as their employees, and you’ll get the right perspective," he admonished. I was enlightened.

Banking on net theory

Right through the Ranji season, where I trailed Delhi, the method I would use to gauge the team’s chances was to study the players at nets. If they were having a good time, I thought they were not overtly worried and it looked good. I know it wasn't the most scientific way of weighing a team's chances, but surprisingly, it invariably worked. Delhi kept winning, and my belief in my ingenious theory kept getting stronger.

On my first day at the Hyderabad IPL team’s nets, I put my theory to test again and saw no team bonding. Apart from a few, most just went through the motions. Team Hyderabad looked distinctly disjointed, more like a side making up the numbers, forget about being title challengers. What happened at the Eden is, as they say, history.

Still, they had, among others, a man called Andrew Symonds. But then, things hardly changed at the team's second nets at home. There they were again — big stars with unmistakably bored faces, trying their best to look interested. Predictably, Hyderabad lost two in a row.

Laxman & Co need some help. I'm thinking of offering my services and scientific powers of deduction.