IPL April 20, 2010

The Dalai Lama, the Chennai slammer

The Super Kings-Punjab game had many and varied delights, not least the return of the Butcher of Jharkhand

The Dalai Lama extracts a promise of non-violence from MS Dhoni, which the Chennai captain soon broke © Indian Premier League

It is election time in the UK, and as you might expect, carbon dioxide emissions are reaching dangerous levels. In an effort to avoid the hot air, I remained indoors on Sunday and sought sanctuary with the IPL. But election madness has even affected the land of Modi, because I learned that polls have just opened in an even more significant vote: the election of the best IPL commentator 2010.

Campaigning has already begun. Ahead of Sunday’s game, several of the candidates headed for the hills for a bit of a walk. Naturally, it wasn’t enough for them to take a stroll; like many tourists, they had to bore us all with it afterwards. It felt like an audio retelling of that 1995 Hugh Grant film, The Men Who Went Up A Mountain And Wouldn’t Stop Going On About It.

By the close of play, we knew the exact composition of the walking party, how steep the mountain was (fairly steep), what effect it had on Michael Kasprowicz’s meniscus cartilage (a slight tear), how near they got to snow (quite near), and so on. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Harsha Bhogle had opted to stay in their hotel, leaving them bereft of hilly anecdotes but comfortably to the fore in a swiftly conducted opinion poll in the Hughes living room.

But mountains were not the only feature of the action from Dharamsala. A religious leader was in the house. Who was it, Danny? The Dalai. Lama! That’s right. On a day that I’m sure Tibet’s spiritual leader will long remember, he shook hands with Yuvraj Singh, came face to face with the Morrison, and sat in the stands wearing a vaguely amused expression as a certain Bollywood star explained to him the rules of our peculiar game.

This coming together of celebrity and guru has led some to speculate that we could be about to see the first ever IPL-franchised offshoot of a major world religion. Zinta Buddhism has a simple doctrine, based on the four noble truths:

1. Losing in the semi-finals is suffering. 2. This suffering is caused by qualifying for the semi-finals. 3. The way to cessation of this suffering is not qualifying for the semi-finals. 4. Not qualifying for the semi-finals can be achieved by following the Eightfold Path of the Kings XI.

The Eightfold Path is as follows:

1. Employ Sreesanth. 2. Put all your bowling hopes on an ageing Aussie with a dodgy elbow. 3. Don’t pick your talented West Indian opener. 4. Field badly on the ground. 5. Field badly in the air. 6. Make random bowling changes. 7. Pick your team out of a hat. 8. Ensure that your best batsman is feeling particularly peeved.

The Dalai Lama left after just nine overs (no patience, these Buddhists). Or possibly he had one or two other things to deal with. At any rate, he missed a classic of its kind that had just about everything. There was curly, drifty, tantalising spin bowling from Powar and Ashwin, and there was some genuinely nasty fast bowling from Doug the Rug, who smacked Shaun Marsh in the chest, bruised him on the hip and then had him hopping around in the crease with a brute of a yorker. Do they not get on?

There was also some shocking fielding, but it seems churlish to witter on about the occasional outbreak of butterfingers. Instead, I want to mention Tyagi’s memorable catch. Watching him organise his collection of limbs into a spearing upwards effort was fascinating, like witnessing a crane rising slowly upwards from a river bank to catch a dragonfly. If cranes do that sort of thing.

But above all, there was Dhoni. As the tension increased, the music was cranked up louder, Siva gripped his microphone more tightly, and Sangakkara started to take 20 minutes to arrange his field, the Chennai captain discovered his inner Dhoni. For a long time we were watching the 2010 version: patient, calm in a crisis, hustling singles, apparently wearing the burden of captaincy easily.

But in the last two overs, we got a glimpse of Dhoni 2005 as he exhibited a range of astonishing shots that had the crowd twisting their necks to follow the ball into the darkness, threatened to dislodge snow from the mountains, induced a look on the face of Priety Zinta that could curdle milk and launched the Super Kings into the semi-finals. Badhai ho, Chennai.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England