May 21, 2012

A weekend of heartbreak

It’s goodbye to the royals, but at least there’s one bunch of kings left

So farewell to the Kings XI, to Preity, Adam, Praveen and the rest. Once more they arrived at the final game of the group stage like a teenager at his first date, feeling slightly sick, clutching a bouquet of flowers and with only an outside possibility that it might go well. Yet again they ended up going home on their own, with a bunch of wilted roses, soup stains on their shirt and a slapped cheek.

But they couldn’t have picked a better spot to be dumped (again) than Dharamsala. When the camera panned over the pavilion to the mountains, it wasn’t a fleetingly picturesque distraction, like a lingering glimpse of a Derek Pringle tattoo on a cheerleader’s ankle; it was a view so stunning that for a few moments the whole business of net run rates, WWF Maximums and points tables seemed utterly futile.

In fact, David Warner was so busy gawping at the scenery that he completely forgot he was playing cricket and copped a faceful of leather from Ryan Harris. Fortunately the Delhi backroom staff stepped up to the plate and treated us to a 20-minute demonstration of their art, including towel-rubs, eye examinations, blood tests, aromatherapy, crystal healing, some light dental work and a Jungian counselling session.

But whilst the men in bibs fussed about with towels and bottles of water, as though wee David was about to give birth, down at the non-striker’s end his partner Unmukt Chand leaned on his bat, stifled a yawn and surveyed the scene with impassive cool - the Clint Eastwood of the IPL. Clearly it takes more than a blow to the head to evoke Unmukt’s sympathy, a ruthless streak that bodes well for the future of Indian cricket.

Of course, Kings XI weren’t the only hopeful suitors to have their dreams dashed in a weekend of heartbreak. On Sunday, the Royal Challengers managed the IPL equivalent of tripping over your own shoelaces just short of the finishing line by losing to Deccan Chargers. The words “losing” and “Deccan” are often found in the same sentence but usually the other way around, so hats off to the Royal Challengers for broadening our grammatical horizons. Sadly for Chris Gayle, he no longer has any excuse not to catch that flight to Heathrow. I’d bring a scarf, if I were you, Chris, and possibly some thermal underwear.

Rajasthan Royals won’t be in the playoffs either. They may be everybody’s favourite underdogs, but surely there is a limit to how long they want to carry on being the loveable mongrels from the wrong side of town, patted on the head for being so plucky and making the best of what they’ve got. Maybe at the next auction, instead of trawling the bottom half of the market for overlooked bargains they could go all vulgar and buy some top of the range players.

So if Kings XI didn’t make it and Bangalore and Rajasthan missed out, who does that leave? Oh, of course, I’d completely forgotten about them! Sidling in through the back door thanks to the generous last-minute ineptitude of their peers, it’s Mr Dhoni and friends. As we all know, Chennai are a shadow of the team that won IPL 3 and IPL 4, struggling for runs, lacking a cutting edge in the field, just sneaking into the playoffs but allowed in purely to make up the numbers. I mean, there’s no way they can actually win the thing. Is there?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England