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The time-warping qualities of the IPL are extraordinary. As you set out on your journey, armed with just a remote control, a fixture list and a tub of Valium, the thing seems interminable, a long and winding trail of 72 games stretching on and on and on, as daunting as the prospect of watching three productions of the Ring cycle back to back.
But now we’re getting towards the end and I don’t know where the time has gone. It seems like only yesterday that we were watching dancers gyrating inside giant plastic bubbles or listening to Robin Jackman reminiscing about how a shot by Manvinder Bisla reminded him of Basil d’Oliveira facing up to Wes Hall at Lord’s in nineteen hundred and before you born, son.
Ah, the carefree days of early April. Sarkozy was the French President, the Greeks had a government, Manchester United thought they were going to win the Premier League. In those more innocent times, no one had heard of Kevon Cooper and the people of the earth were blissfully unaware of the horror of all those feeble Richard Levi puns that awaited them.
But now the ruby-encrusted rollercoaster is hurtling towards the buffers and even though we’re feeling slightly giddy and a little nauseous, the cheerleaders have lost their pom-poms and our hair is full of flying insects, we don’t really want it to end. Fortunately there are still some stomach-churning highs and face-stretching lows to hurtle through before it’s all over.
At the time of writing, Pune and Deccan have already been cast out into outer darkness, the Daredevils and the Knight Riders have qualified for nirvana, or at least the nirvana elimination playoff, and the rest are sitting in the waiting room of cricket fate, chewing their fingernails, helping themselves to bottles of hydrating fruit-flavoured energy drink and pulling faces at each other.
By the time you read this, Kings XI and Royal Challengers could have fallen through the trapdoor and Rajasthan Royals could be hanging on by their fingernails. The inexorable logic of mathematics disposes of the contenders as mercilessly as Jesse Ryder tackles his post-warm-up tray of iced doughnuts, and by the time you’ve forgotten you ever clicked on this page, argued with your spouse about whose turn it is to do the grocery shopping, deloused the cat and straightened your hair, we could be down to just four.
So who will win? Well, before I go on, readers should be aware that my IPL tipping record is some distance south of impressive. In 2008 I plumped for Deccan because I liked their shirts. In 2009, my recently paroled financial adviser told me to re-mortgage my house to get on Kolkata; in 2010 the tea leaves seemed to coalesce into a picture of Preity Zinta; and last year I was sure that Delhi were on the brink of something, which they were, but it turned out to be a far more disappointing something than the something I had in mind.
So with that disclaimer out of the way and assuming that I have to choose between top-heavy Delhi, jittery Kolkata, angry Mumbai and yawnsome Chennai, I must once again declare for the Knight Riders. Why? Well they have all the right ingredients: Sunil Narine’s hair, Jacques Kallis’ forearms, Brett’s teeth and Wasim’s bespectacled calm. But above all, thanks to their owner, they have finally shown some fight.
For four seasons, Shahrukh Khan has sat brooding on the balcony, watching his chaps screw it up again and again and again. And again. Well he’s not going to take it anymore. He’s put on his angry pants, descended to the plane of mortal men and got well and truly stuck in. He’s Jimmy Cagney, he’s Riff from West Side Story, he’s Rocky Balboa, and if he damn well has to drag his team to the final with his bare hands, he will.
So this year there will be no let-downs, no slip-ups and absolutely no behind-the-scenes squabbles. Kolkata will win the IPL. Remember, eye of the tiger, Gautam, eye of the tiger.
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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