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The Royal Challengers have only been around for four years, same as the others, but somehow they feel like the oldest franchise. Good old Bangalore, the team of Dravid and Kumble, Kallis and Vettori, never won the thing, but that isn’t what they’re here for. They’re the reliable old carthorse in a stable full of show ponies, and when all the others have gone lame they’ll be plodding on to the finish line to take a respectable third.
But this season they have a problem. Over the years Vijay Mallya has gone a little crazy at the sales and now there is far too much stuff and not enough space in the talent wardrobe to put it. It’s the same problem that Pune have and it is the unspoken curse of the IPL. Many a melancholy millionaire will tell you money can’t buy you happiness and having the most overseas players on your books is a burden, not a blessing. How so?
You remember what it was like when you were allowed to go to the sweet shop on the way to school, but only given a limited sweetie allowance. You’d rush along the counter, grab a packet of Flailing Gayles, a handful of Tillakaratne Twizzlers and a scoop of AB Allsorts. But then you really really wanted some Fizzing Muralis, and what about the subtle flavours of the Vettori Twirlers or Old McDonald’s Ginger Dobblers?
The Reds have three of the stingiest, meanest, dot-balliest bowlers in Twenty20, but unless they give them fake Indian names, they can’t fit them in because the Royal Challengers plate is already loaded with expensive foreign biffers. Consequently they are leaking runs as if leaking runs were the fashionable thing to do, and are more unbalanced than a gondola full of budgerigars being piloted by an elephant.
Murali and McDonald have done their time on the bench, and now, since the IPL is a ruthless mistress, her wrath has fallen on Bangalore’s poor captain, who, like Sangakkara before him, has been handed a revolver, pointed in the direction of the woods and asked to do the decent thing. Fortunately for Kumar, Deccan were so bad that his absence made no difference and he was soon reprieved. Sadly, Daniel might have to wait a little longer.
That’s because, since their brutal decapitation, the red shirts have been doing better. Their bowlers even managed a reasonable impersonation of competence in Mumbai on Tuesday, although they were up against possibly the flakiest line-up in the competition, a batting order that reads, “Some foreign guy, Greatest Batsman of the Modern Era, Somebody else, Ditto, Whatever, Kieron International, The tail.”
It’s a sign of how crazy this season has been that the unbalanced Challengers and flaky Mumbai Indians are fifth and third. And it’s a good thing. After all, ruthless efficiency and consistent performances make for very dull television. Just above them, Delhi Daredevils are also starting their end-of-season wobble, like an enormous statue of a once-powerful god that suddenly looks a bit unsteady, causing tourists standing directly below to scatter, whilst KKR are just KKR and can go hilariously berserk at any time.
Best IPL yet? I think so.
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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