May 31, 2014

Mumbai's missing momentum

What happened to the secret weapon that sweeps you to victory?

"Your mass, my velocity, our momentum" © BCCI

These days, admitting to being an IPL administrator may be on a par with confessing that you're a tabloid journalist, or that you enjoy pulling the wings off butterflies in your spare time, or that you're a great admirer of the work of Adam Sandler.

But the chaps at the IPL did get some things right. They realised early on that having millions of people watch their tournament was, on the whole, to be welcomed, and now anyone anywhere on planet Earth can tune into the IPL.

By contrast, if you're English, sitting in an English armchair in an English house, and you want to watch England or any of the counties of England play cricket on your television, but you haven't got £50 a month to spare, then tough.

The ECB works on the principle that it's easier to squeeze more cash from an ageing band of middle-class cricket lovers than to encourage the great unwashed to take an interest, because the great unwashed are not the sort of people county members want cluttering up their nice clean empty stadia.

So instead of forking out piles of money for the privilege of watching David Gower snooze mid-sentence while the rain falls softly in the background, thousands of English cricket fans are watching the best players in the world for free.

You can even watch the whole thing on YouTube, including the opening sequence, which features footage of pretend supporters on their way to a pretend match over which, one by one, the IPL commentators give us a taste of their verbal mastery, like a team of Test cricketers taking turns to swing wildly in the nets:

"And this atmosphere here has to be seen to be believed."

You might think that atmospheres, being intangible layers of gas, are tricky to discern with the naked eye, but IPL commentators have at their disposal the latest High Definition Atmosphere-Detection goggles from NASA, which enable Alan Wilkins to identify the state of the atmosphere at any given moment and to keep his audience informed.

"Oh we expect fireworks in this game."

I've checked with the Indian Health and Safety Executive, and their fire safety regulations clearly state that munitions of any description are forbidden on the field of play, so if Mr Mbangwa is aware of any player intending to smuggle fireworks onto the pitch, he should immediately report this to the relevant authorities.

There was no danger of fireworks at the Brabourne on Wednesday, although the match had started with the crowd in an optimistic mood. Having crashed the IPL party by hijacking Rajasthan's qualification regatta, the pirates from Mumbai were now in possession of the "momentum", as the commentators didn't hesitate to remind us.

I've never played professional cricket, so I don't know what this momentum looks like, but as far as I can tell it is a bit like the mythical Bag of Winds that Odysseus was given by King Aeolus to help him get home, a magical secret weapon that can sweep you to victory no matter what the odds.

Batting first, Mumbai didn't score enough runs, but that didn't matter because they had the M word, and they also had Praveen Kumar. He was in full Sydney Barnes mode, torturing the Chennai batsmen with seam and swing, and with his tenth delivery, he had Dwayne Smith lunging down the wrong line as ball smacked pad.

It was out, clearly. But even though he was thinking, "Blimey, that was out!" Bruce Oxenford made the elementary umpiring mistake of forgetting to open his mouth.

Praveen pulled the face of a man who has been butted in the tummy by a charging stegosaurus, Smith blasted 24 off 20, and thanks to Suresh "Inevitable High Score" Raina and former-commentator-turned-cricketer David Hussey, Chennai achieved their target as the magic wind of momentum sighed out of Mumbai's gold-embroidered bag.

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