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Who's on top of the cool table?

It's been fascinating to watch the personalities of the teams emerge

Irfan Pathan is charged up after dismissing Sanath Jayasuriya second ball, Kings XI Punjab v Mumbai Indians, IPL, 20th match, Durban, April 29, 2009
Irfan Pathan grimaces after taking a wicket, because he's cool like that © Associated Press

Some summers ago I taught a creative writing course for gifted and talented youth at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Essentially, it was a summer camp for nerds. Instead of going to regular camp, these 15- to 17-year-olds chose to spend three weeks learning how to solve quantum equations and how to make their own rocket launchers from scratch.

I learned a lot about human dynamics that summer, watching these teenagers. On day one, when they arrived, every one of them was a bonafide geek. They were from all over the country, each from the top one percentile of their class; and all their lives they had been used to being the smartest kid in class. Suddenly all that was about to change. Even in a congregation of super-smart kids, there can only be one smartest kid. So an interesting thing happened. They were forced to take on different roles in the classroom. Some turned artsy, others rockers, still others even turned jock. They retained their smartness, but it was almost as if in order to dilute the homogeneity of the classroom they had to find ways to reinvent themselves. It was fascinating, especially to see the most uber transformation of all: from nerd to cool.

Watching the IPL for the past two weeks, I've witnessed a similar transformation. Having missed last year's season, I got into this one with fresh eyes, and watching the teams emerge with their distinct personalities has been most interesting. The Deccan Chargers and the Delhi Daredevils are obviously top of the teacher's-pet table. They've only lost one game each, and are both determined to continue in their success. Their teams are filled with talented players who are at the top of their game. But are they cool? Hmm. I'm going to have to say no.

There's the Mumbai Indians with the colourful Lasith Malinga and Dwayne Bravo. (Are all West Indians cool? In my book, yes, it's the accent). But with stalwarts Sanath Jayasuriya and Sachin Tendulkar leading the troops, the feeling they inspire is more awe than cool.

Then there's Chris Gayle and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, two standout cool individuals, who you'd think would lift their teams into the super-cool strata. But to tell the truth, the KKR, well, it's not happening for them this year, and the Super Kings are a bit too earnest. One would think that the Bangalore Royal Challengers with the King of Good Times as their patron, and their wild unpredictability, would top the charts of the cool table, but, no. They're missing that certain oomph.

Which leaves us the Rajasthan Royals and the Kings XI Punjab. The Royals are close, mainly because of the charismatic Shane Warne, and the little dynamos he's nurturing within his side - and the blazing Yusuf Pathan. But they're not quite there yet. Which leaves us the Kings XI Punjab. If I had to crown jocks turned cool at this tournament, my pick would be Punjab. Mainly because the trio at the top - Yuvraj Singh, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara - epitomise an effortless personal cool that seems to trickle down to everyone else in the team. Add to this heavyweights Ramesh Powar and Yusuf Abdulla, flanked by hotties Brett Lee and Irfan Pathan. All in all, a good mix.

Coolness is a difficult thing to define, because it defies the normal boundaries of human classification. It has something to do with confidence, about not trying too hard. It's also a thing you can't cultivate: you either have it, or you don't. Putting a half-century on the board and taking a hat-trick is pretty cool. Not winning the game despite those efforts? I don't know what that is. Outplayed, I guess.

Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer based in Chennai

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