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Chin up, Kolkata

It's darkest before dawn, and people love to love the underdog

Shah Rukh Khan, Chris Gayle and other Kolkata Knight Riders during a parade through the streets of Cape Town, Indian Premier League, April 16, 2009
Winnie the Pooh with his team in happier times © AFP

Oh, dear. It's really falling apart for the Knight Riders, isn't it? Yesterday, after they lost to the Royal Challengers Bangalore (an equally flailing team), I thought, it's done, they're scraping the bottom of the barrel now. From the beginning the Knight Riders have been beleaguered by controversies so bizarre and varied, one might think they'd been scripted in Bollywood. Betrayals, egos, rumours, love triangles - there's a little bit of everything going wrong here. Let's just have a quick recap of the Knightmares thus far, shall we?

The multiple-captaincy theory of coach John Buchanan. The sacking of Sourav Ganguly as captain. The fake IPL player mystery blogger. The rumour that they dropped the "Kolkata" from "Kolkata Knight Riders" because of a numerologist. Sending back Aakash Chopra and Sanjay Bangar in the middle of the tournament. Add to that an out-of-form Brendon McCullum and a limping Chris Gayle.

And the icing on the cake? Shah Rukh Khan returned to India, "visibly upset", saying he wouldn't go back to cheer his team unless they start winning games! "I feel very bad when we are not winning," King Khan reportedly said. "I don't want to participate in that sadness with them."

Shah Rukh has obviously not heard about that eternal rule of partnership: together in sickness and in health. He can see the death coming and he's running. Only a few days ago, on his blog, "Keep the Faith", he wrote that the way to victory does not lie in how hard you can hit, but how hard you can take the hit. I guess he usually gets his stuntman to take the hit for him, but this time he's on his own.

I can't help but think that all along it's been a question of trying too hard. The slick PR campaign, the endless press conferences, the ridiculous music videos with Shah Rukh dancing shirtless, singing about how they're going to win down in the jungle. Perhaps it's time to tone it down a bit. Because while a little bit of masala, and the bad-publicity-better-than-no-publicity motto works in the movie world, it certainly does no favours to a team out on the cricket field. It's ridiculous that SRK is still banging on about team spirit, because when you look at his players, they look thoroughly demoralised. It's as if Ganguly has coached each of them in the art of sulking. Poor McCullum. I thought he was going to cry yesterday when he had to talk (again) about the team's defeat.

The thing to take heart in is to know that people love the underdog. And in the game of Twenty20 there's always room for recovery and small miracles. Look at the Kings XI Punjab. They turned things around nicely for themselves yesterday. Now it could have been that lucky prasad that Preity Zinta handed out to her boys before they trotted out on to the field, or it could be that other thing. You know, team spirit.

Either way, loyal KKR fans must remember that it ain't over till it's over. And above all, they must never lose sight of that most important thing. To quote from their website, "SRK is our lovable icon in the end." Yes, a bit like Winnie the Pooh.

Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer based in Chennai

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