April 17, 2013

A boxing bout between two blindfolded masochists

Punjab v Kolkata: the team that doesn't know how to win against the team that can lose from any position

I don't like these afternoon games; they're a little too outdoorsy. In my imagination, the IPL is staged in an enormous supersonic intergalactic circus dome screeching across the Milky Way. Daylight is an unwelcome intruder, as it would be at a Bollywood party. You don't want to see the wrinkles and crow's feet. For example, I used to think that Kolkata's outfit was glittering gold and royal purple. Turns out it's just aubergine and mustard.

Still, Punjab versus Kolkata is my favourite fixture. Traditionally it's the team that doesn't know how to win against the team that can lose from any position, and games like these are morbidly fascinating, like a boxing bout between two blindfolded masochists.

Since they've won the thing, I thought Knight Riders might be all serious faces and Powerpoint briefings this season, which is I why I ditched them and switched my support to Preity's lot. But on Tuesday the multiple Ks showed that they retained their old ability to make a complete Mike Hendrick of any given situation.

They weren't the only ones. If I were to be interviewed sofa-side by Ramiz after this match, I would have to admit to being a little disappointed with my performance. Truth is, I never really showed up for the first innings. I was out shopping. By the time I sat down, I'd missed Narine's hat-trick and Kolkata were already 2 for 1.

This uncanny knack of being elsewhere for the good bits has dogged me for years. I'm the man who turned off the 2005 Champions League final at half-time. When I first saw Titanic I sat through all the interminable build-up but then left two hours in, having fallen for a rumour going around the cinema that there wasn't going to be an iceberg after all, and that the whole thing was just a long-winded romantic mid-Atlantic comedy.

So naturally, my arrival in front of the television coincided with the most uneventful section of proceedings. Kolkata were rebuilding, but construction is nowhere near as much fun as destruction, which is why loads of people turn up to see chimneys being demolished, but almost no one would tune in to watch live coverage of a building site.

The commentators did their best, but they didn't have a lot to work with, and their job has been made harder by the insistence of someone higher up that interviewing players during the match is a good idea and that we should have more of it. As a viewer, I don't remember being asked about this, but if I had been, I would have ticked the "very strongly disagree" box underneath the statement "on-field player interviews enhance my enjoyment of the game".

Harsha Bhogle did manage to get some mileage out of mohawks and hair gel, talking without hesitation, deviation or repetition on the subject of Sunil Narine's haircut, as though he were a contestant on Just a Minute, or in this case, Just Twenty Minutes. But despite his best efforts, things were starting to drag.

Then, just as I was toying with the off button, Gambhir was caught, and wandered off looking bewildered, as though life had just slapped him about the chops with a wet fish. Shortly afterwards, Morgan skilfully side-edged one back to the bowler and Kolkata's chimney started to crumble. Tiwary played an X-rated shot, Yusuf Pathan did his thing, Bhatia had a swing, and Kolkata's victory imploded spectacularly into a pile of dusty disappointment.

My man of the match, or at least, my man-of-the-bit-of-the-match-that-I-managed-to-see, was Mr Angry Beard himself, Praveen Kumar. As per usual, he'd been as grumpy as Bob Willis with toothache for most of the innings. But come the last over, a time when some bowlers turn into jittery no-ball spewing jellies, Praveen was in his element. While the stadium echoed to the nervous chomping of fingernails and Adam Gilchrist's expression was strained to breaking point by the expletive he was holding in, Praveen was grinning and chatting. He even had time for a ridiculous no-ball bouncer, before calmly closing out the game.

He's either the coolest bowler in India or he's a little bit insane. Either way, he's a hero.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here