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The IPL’s television ratings may be a few viewers short of a full sofa but those people who are wasting their time watching other shows really should give it a try. It has more preposterous posing than an episode of Jersey Shore, more outlandish dance moves than a Bollywood flick, and some of the strangest hair styles you’ll see outside of English football. There are also sweaty men in polyester, if sweaty men in polyester are your thing.
Most importantly, it is really very close this time. Usually at this stage in the IPL cycle, we are sitting around twiddling our thumbs, trying not to look too bored, and sneaking furtive glances at the calendar when the players aren’t looking. When do the playoffs begin? As battles go, the battle for fourth place is not exactly Gettysburg. Many of the games at the fag end of the league stage have all the gripping tension of the Shopping Channel.
But not this time. As we speak, the IPL is poised as delicately as a priceless Greek vase on a rickety wooden trestle table in the foyer of a really busy hotel. You know it is going to fall eventually. But which way will it fall and when? And how many pieces will it break into? And who will clean the pieces up? And who will fill in the insurance claim forms? You get the idea. Will plucky Rajasthan escape their mid-table peril? Stay tuned to find out!
Credit for this state of affairs has to go to the former pace-setters, Delhi and Kolkata, who rather than ploughing on tediously with the victories, have seen the bigger picture and thrown in a stinker or two. Consequently the others have been able to catch up and the viewer has some reason to tune in for the rest of the league stage other than the chance of seeing Ganguly’s hair call a press conference to announce its resignation.
Kolkata went first on Saturday by losing to Mumbai. Losing is too small a word to describe what happened but it will have to do because I’m saving “catastrophe” for the Delhi paragraph. I also own an apology to Rohit Sharma. I thought the man who has been impersonating him was doing a reasonable job, but now that the real Rohit has showed up, I can see the difference. Rohit can bat, after all.
He was helped on his way by Jacques Kallis who has clearly watched Fire in Babylon once too often. When one short ball was despatched, Kallis said rude things to Rohit and followed up with another one, which went in the same direction. Big Jacques lingered for a moment, glaring, with the deeply etched frown of the school bully on whom it is slowly dawning that he might possibly be wasting his time.
But then Jacques, not so much Whispering Death as Lumbering Groin Strain, asked himself: what would Michael Holding do? Inevitably, there ensued a third bouncer, which this time provoked the new IPL signal of umpiring disapproval from Simon Taufel, in which the official places his right palm against his face and shakes his head slowly. Oblivious, Kallis went to plan D. A long hop disguised as a bouncer! Take that, Rohit! And so it went on.
And what Kolkata can do, Delhi can too. Their catastrophe in Chennai was a homage to previous Delhi teams, who often forgot to pick any middle-order batsmen on the basis that they had Sehwag so they didn’t need any. With KP off playing for Somewhereshire in the English Precipitation League and Mahela having mislaid the plot, Delhi are once more dangerously dependent on their tiny openers, Slashy and Swipey, the deadly dwarves of destruction and, on occasion, self-destruction.
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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