May 8, 2013

Daredevils: abandoned by mathematics

Just when you think it can't get more painful than a session with your dentist, the Daredevils arrive

On Tuesday morning I had to visit the dentist. Lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, wincing as my teeth were scraped, chiselled and sandblasted, I consoled myself with the thought that this wasn't the worst part of the day. I still had to watch Delhi Daredevils.

One of the reasons I'm not cut out for sport is that I hate watching people lose. All those slumped shoulders, those eyes glistening with a sheen of tears, the wobble in Siva's voice: it's too much to bear. That's why I can't stand nature documentaries. You know there's a good reason why the lion has to tear the baby rabbit to shreds, but anyone with a trace of empathy is praying that the rabbit has been taking self-defence classes.

Daredevils have been mostly awful so far, but the IPL is a cruel lover who likes to keep you hanging on, and the Doughnuts still had a mathematical chance. So in their effort to squeeze through a tiny gap in the barbed-wire fence of plausibility, they'd tried to shed as much baggage as possible. Six losers were jettisoned and six more losers called up, ushered out onto the stage like reluctant children at a school play.

Rajasthan Royals had also done their best to give the Double Defeats a chance, by including another fortysomething and recalling Tait, The Incredible Inflexible Man, who put on an exhibition entitled "The Wide Throughout the Ages". He gave us the original eighteenth century round-arm wide; the discreet Victorian "Pardon me Vicar" wide, and the kind of wide that happens when you jam your foot in a rabbit hole during the delivery stride.

As subtle as a runaway crane, a rusty Tait is physically painful to watch. He seems to be wrestling with himself, an out-of-condition contortionist running for the bus while trying to throw off an itchy sweater; his efforts ending always in a disappointed tangle as, somewhere in the distance, a leather ball connects clunkily with an advertising hoarding.

Yet Delhi Daredevils couldn't win. Rahul Dravid, still the coolest thing in the IPL, played out a beautifully satirical maiden at the start of the chase. Then he and Ajinkya Rahane attended to business. They were like country gentlemen spending a pleasant, unhurried hour pottering around the garden, chatting about the weather, and pulling up the occasional weed.

Fifty for no loss. One hundred for no loss. They stroked, pushed and glided, their only moments of discomfort induced by Morne Morkel and his velociraptor run-up. Eventually Dravid was out, and the commentators purred at the classy timing of his dismissal. With Delhi's IPL campaign breathing its last, it fell to Shane Watson to butcher the carcass with a few wince-inducingly violent cleaves that left you feeling sorry for little leather balls.

As they trooped off the field into the embarrassed blush of a Jaipur sunset, Delhi Daredevils knew that with three wins from 12, even mathematics has given up on them. Their next appointment is with Dr Gayle on Thursday, but failure is a very effective anaesthetic, and I'm sure the two-point extraction won't hurt too much.

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