IPL 2024: Shreyas Iyer's Knights shine a light on Kolkata | Crickit
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IPL 2024: Shreyas Iyer's Knights shine a light on Kolkata

ByDhiman Sarkar, Kolkata
May 27, 2024 11:39 PM IST

The city may not be a lot of things but its football clubs have dominated the last Indian season before its IPL team topped the best T20 tournament.

Talking of Sunday’s final of the Indian Premier League (IPL) could seem trite at a time West Bengal was wet, water-logged (in parts), without electricity (in parts again) and with at least two deaths from electrocution by a cyclone whose landfall coincided with Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) making short work of Sunrisers Hyderabad. Conversely, it could also be a distraction, however fleeting, from Remal which hit the state and its capital gradually and then intensely as evening bled into night.

Kolkata Knight Riders' captain Shreyas Iyer along with teammates celebrate as they lift the Indian Premier League 2024 trophy (ANI)
Kolkata Knight Riders' captain Shreyas Iyer along with teammates celebrate as they lift the Indian Premier League 2024 trophy (ANI)

“Kolkata Knight Riders’ win has brought about an air of celebration all across Bengal,” West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on X soon after the eight-wicket win.

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Robin Uthappa didn’t have that in mind – or at least didn’t say he did – when he spoke about the supporters and what ending a 10-year wait would have meant to them. The gap between Venkatesh Iyer’s streaky hit for the winning run and Shreyas Iyer holding the trophy being nearly as long as the match meant a lot of things had to be said to fill air time but Uthappa’s comment stood out because he had spent six seasons with KKR winning an IPL and an orange cap.

Both were in 2014 and while Uthappa may or may not know about this, journalists crossing Eden Gardens’ upper tier to access the press box regularly heard fans toting up his runs while mentioning how far behind closest competitors Dwayne Smith, Glen Maxwell and David Warner were. IPL’s plastic fans is a reality but so is this. “Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true,” the British economist Joan Robinson had said.

For most of the past two seasons KKR’s campaigns felt like Rudyard Kipling’s description of Kolkata: chance-directed, chance-erected. That changed this term and how! Fickleness is one of the charms of T20 but KKR won nearly 80% of their games this term. From Gambhir to Gurbaz, Nayar to Narine, Salt to Starc – especially him in the qualifier and the final – everyone contributed. “We played like Invincibles throughout the season,” said Shreyas Iyer before collecting the trophy. Finding the right words can be difficult in such moments, not for KKR’s skipper.

What do such moments mean especially when they come after a wait this long? After over a page listing several options, Nick Hornby gave up and said in “Fever Pitch”, “there is nothing to describe it.” He was referring to Arsenal ending an 18-year wait for the league in 1988-89. Not being able to recall anything he had coveted for this long, Hornby chose “that sporting moment” as his best ever. “We do not lack imagination, nor do we have sad and barren lives: it is just that real life is paler, duller and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”

Lord’s being overrun by West Indians and, in 1983, by Indians, Leverkusen fans swamping BayArena, Liverpool ending a 30-year wait for the league and overturning a 0-3 deficit in a Champions League final, Sheringham and Solskjaer making magic against Munich, Argentina beating a dream team of American men’s basketball players in the 2004 Olympics, MS Dhoni’s 2011 World Cup moment at Wankhede, Lionel Messi’s at Lusail 11 years later are just a handful of examples to show how accurate Hornby was.

It is why Ed Sheeran was in a front of a TV set at 7am in Florida to see Ipswich Town return to the Premier League. It is why a KKR fan, introduced at an event before the season began, said he would leave home in the morning, change trains to get to Eden for home games. It is why-day-after trophy parades at Eden after IPL triumphs in 2012 and 2014 had near full houses. It would have been no different this time but for Rumel and the final phase of general elections. Tribalism and sport run well between wickets.

And yet, George Best is deeply loved in Manchester, Lionel Messi in Barcelona, Mo Salah in Liverpool, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Gautam Gambhir in Kolkata.

It is in sport that Manchester or Liverpool, Blackburn and Ipswich too, can rule England, Leverkusen Germany, Naples Italy in the time of Maradona and Osimhen and Chicago Bulls USA. In other words, it is a way out for a city not the biggest or the richest. Explains why the author Thomas Keneally, while referring to his schooldays in Sydney, had said: “Cricket was the great way out of Australian cultural ignominy for, while no Australian had written Paradise Lost, we knew Don Bradman had made 100 before lunch at Lord’s.”

Kolkata isn’t the second city of a colonisation project where the sun never set, it isn’t the city of palaces, a former prime minister said it was a dying city, India’s financial capital and the national capital are both over 1500km away and when he is not anchoring a popular television show, Sourav Ganguly is in the Delhi Capitals’ dug-out. Not the worst of times, but certainly not the best either.

But in a season where Kolkata’s football clubs booked Asian berths, won Indian leagues and cups, its team is the champion of the world’s toughest T20 league, one that has a big following across the cricket-loving world. Should fill a city with joy, don’t you think?

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