May 17, 2014

Punjab's extended honeymoon

Teams are discovering that if Sehwag doesn't get you, Saha, Maxwell, Miller, Bailey, or someone else will

When you're playing Punjab, no one can hear you scream © BCCI

So after several weeks of this interminable contest of hype and excess involving a collection of overrated and overpaid individuals who think that a few days' work per year entitles them to a lifestyle of five-star hotels, limousines, and having their photos taken with celebrities, the Indian general election is finally over.

To accommodate the vote count, the IPL has been put on hold for two days, presumably because politicians, like jealous old thespians, don't like having to share the stage with a younger, more talented and infinitely more popular cast.

Normally this business of closing down the nation's top cricket tournament to allow a bunch of power-hungry men to enjoy their 48 hours of fame would be a bad thing. But on this occasion the interruption is welcome. If watching the IPL is like climbing a mountain, then this is the point in the annual ascent when your companions have ceased to chatter excitedly about the breathtaking view and are now only able to produce involuntary wheezes and agonised mutterings as you stumble towards the summit, feeling increasingly dizzy and wondering if you're nearly there yet.

Fixture congestion is a problem. Contests that deserve to be savoured are packed in more tightly than rush-hour commuters on the subway. Most T20 tournaments are organised this way, because administrators think the format is disposable and forgettable, like fast food, but even burgers and fries with triple-hype shake take a little time to digest.

So to be given a couple of days off is like a climber finding a bench near the summit. It's a sort of involuntary strategic time-out, a chance to rest our brains and contemplate the points table. And the first thing the weary fan will notice is that Punjab are still top.

You might have thought the early success enjoyed by Preity's chaps was a temporary phenomenon, like Cinderella's pre-ball transformation, and that sooner or later Glenn Maxwell and David Miller would turn back into expensive pumpkins, but no. The orchestra's still playing, the ball is in full flow, it's well past two in the morning and Cinderella is still in possession of both glass slippers, as well as a fetching orange cap.

Punjab were at it again on Wednesday, although things didn't start well. Thanks to their opponents' innovative use of the wide and the full toss, Hyderabad had stuffed an enormous number of runs into their scorecard, and as Naman Ojha and Karn Sharma walked off the field, looking suitably pleased with themselves, the beaming Hyderabad backroom staff lined up for a session of high-fives to commemorate their almost inevitable victory.

A few minutes later, a portly bank manager wearing expensive bifocals walked out to open the batting for Punjab. Having forgotten his shirt, he'd borrowed Virender Sehwag's, and he even looked a bit like Sehwag when he swatted his first ball lazily over mid-on.

"He's clinical, precise, masterly," said the commentator, and viewers had to agree as the Sehwag impersonator hit the next ball clinically and precisely into the palms of the bowler.

But against Punjab it's not a good idea to take wickets because that merely hastens the arrival of more punishment. Next over, Wriddhiman Saha punched Dale Steyn for four, Manan Vohra hoicked him for six, and after Saha and Vohra tired of smacking the bowlers around, they let Maxwell and Miller have a go. An hour or so later, George Bailey lashed Steyn for a symmetrical 20: six, four, four, six, and the game was up.

The Hyderabad crowd groaned in despair, and not just because the scoreboard was displaying the word "Baileyistic" - the sort of pun that ought to constitute a disciplinary offence in scoreboard-operating circles. The home side had been pulverised, like seven others before them, and although there is some way to go in this campaign, I can reveal that a snap opinion poll conducted in the Hughes household (sample size: one) predicted a red-white-and-silver landslide on June 1st.

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