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By the time I arrive in front of my television with a pot of Lady Grey and a slice of Battenberg, things are just getting interesting. In the battle of the tragic failures, Punjab have set a modest total and KKR are chasing it modestly. At 99 for 6 they have clearly been making a seven-course banquet of the situation and deep suffering is written on Gautam Gambhir’s face as he sits on the bench, clutching his blankie.
The Eden Gardens crowd don’t sound worried but their celebrations are surely a reckless tempting of fate. If a team I’m supporting appears to be winning, I, like Gautam, assume that they are about to throw it away and am unable to watch. But Kolkata’s fans are going prematurely berserk, even making an occasion out of the countdown to mark the end of the strategic time-out, as though it were midnight on New Year’s Eve.
By this stage, the Knight Riders’ hopes depend on Debabrata Das and Ryan ten Doeschate, or Tendo as the shirt embroiderer has labelled him; a title that makes him sound like a Japanese martial art or a Mexican wrestler. This time, the Mighty Tendo is leaving it all to Das, who is clearly a big Rafael Nadal fan. Wielding his bat like a tennis racket, he hits a lovely two-handed forehand through long-off and a fierce cross-court on-drive for four.
When Tendo the Magnificent swings and misses, but the ball still scuttles past Gilly for byes, the target is 13 off 12 and on the Kolkata bench, Gautam has unclenched a little.
Enter Praveen Kumar. In a whirl of gesticulations and yorkers, he starts to put the squeeze on the Kolkata duo. All they can manage are singles; not well-brought up, Alastair Cook-style singles, but scruffy, unlovely singles, the kind of singles that hang around the rough end of the scorebook. There is much swinging, scrambling and sliding in the dust, but Kolkata still haven’t won and now Gautam ‘s left hand is covering most of Gautam’s face.
One over to go and Harmeet Singh is on. If you haven’t seen Harmeet Singh, he’s the Indian version of Derek Pringle, and if you haven’t seen Derek Pringle, well, then you haven’t lived. Like his hero, Harmeet offers a cocked wrist, a plodding run-up and six flavours of slow-medium, and Kolkata can’t get him away. Seven off four. Gautam is clutching his blankie to his chest and you can almost hear the nervous conversations in the crowd.
“We are going to win this, aren’t we.” “Of course we are. “ “Yes, I know, I’m being silly, its just that, well, we are KKR, after all.” “What do you mean?” “Well I don’t want to sound unduly negative, but if there’s one team that can blow a chance like this, then it’s probably us.” “Yes, I know what you mean. But look who we’re playing against.” “That’s true.” “If there's one team who can immediately blow their chance if we give them a chance by recklessly blowing our chance, then that team is surely Kings XI.” “Good point. I feel better now. Time for the sign with the big number four on it?” “Definitely.”
But then, calamity. Tendo the Air Swisher finally makes contact with the leathery thing, but only in order to divert it onto his stumps. Wasim Akram closes his eyes and bangs his head slowly on the inside of the dugout. A smear to long-on, a roll in the dust from Praveen, who manages to make not throwing the ball at the stumps look intimidating, and we’re down to the last ball. Four needed to win and Gautam is eating his blankie.
There is a moment of hush. Das’ chin strap flaps in the breeze as Harmeet plods up. What’s it going to be? Against the odds, it’s another completely unexpected slower ball! But Das can only bumble it to midwicket and Punjab have won. The crowd don’t go wild, and as I watch the purple-clad dignitaries file out glumly from their balcony seats, I realise with some astonishment that I have now seen the Kings XI win two games. In the same week.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73