‘I sold my soul to the company’s goal’, ruefully sang The Platters, a legendary gospel group of the 1960s. That could well be adapted as the theme song of the Indian Premier League (IPL). It has finally sunk in the piper calls that the tune and our cricketers — under immense pressure from their corporate bosses to perform — are waking up to this new bitter reality. Expect a perfect storm to erupt once the first season is over.
Bangalore Royal Challengers owner Vijay Mallya set the ball rolling with his petulant public attack on captain Rahul Dravid. While admitting he has no knowledge of cricket and left the choice of players at the February auction to Dravid and now-sacked CEO Charu Sharma, Mallya went onto add that the selection of Pakistani batsman Misbah-ul-Haq was his alone. Misbah’s current average is 19.75 from five games only confirms Mallya’s statement that he knows nothing about cricket!
Dravid is in a position where he cannot defend himself. But he has said he will do so at an “appropriate time and forum”. Expect the sparks to fly.
In fact, the selection of the team had come in for a lot of flak from the start and it was dubbed a Test team in 20/20 clothing. Then again, who would have guessed a side packed with hard-hitting superstars like Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Shahid Afridi and Hershchelle Gibbs would be the other big flop of the IPL? The Deccan Chargers currently languish at the bottom of the table.
Like any sport, in cricket too there are no set-in-stone certainties. You win some, you lose some, particularly in the 20/20 format which is more like a lottery. Yet the giant and fragile egos of the owners cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that only four of the eight teams can make it to the semi-finals.
Take the case of owners’ access to the players’ area which has always been off-limits to all but the players themselves and the support staff. Now the dressing room — the players’ sanctum sanctorum — is being invaded by all and sundry, including the owners’ children and their bodyguards.
The latest owner/captain rift has just been revealed within the ranks of the Kolkata Knight Riders. As the team has slid down, the prancing antics of Shah Rukh Khan have become more and more muted. Unfortunately for SRK, unlike in Bollywood, in sport there are no guaranteed happy endings. News is SRK is using coach John Buchanan to clip the wings of Sourav Ganguly, the most successful captain in Indian cricket history. And Buchanan, a legend in coaching circles, is dancing to SRK’s tune. Not surprising though, considering that he has managed to get his son Michael into the franchise. His role? ‘Strength trainer’. Jobs for the boys? Go figure!
Gulu Ezekiel is a freelance sports journalist and author based in New Delhi.