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Finally, a winning script

A city that has long lived on the fringes of sporting success has finally hit the headlines for the right reasons

Jayaditya Gupta
Jayaditya Gupta
Shahrukh Khan celebrates with the Kolkata Knight Riders team, Kolkata Knight Riders v Chennai Super Kings, IPL 2012, final, Chennai, May 27, 2012

Four years of embarrassment and humiliation in the IPL have finally ended for Kolkata Knight Riders  •  AFP

The post-match celebrations by Shah Rukh Khan, captured faithfully by the host broadcasters, overran the limits of good taste and induced cringes in all thinking people watching the show. But Shah Rukh can be forgiven his excitement, over-the-top even by his own standards. For Sunday's win capped not merely a season of exceptional cricket by his team but ended, with dramatic finality, four years of embarrassment and humiliation in the IPL.
In those four years his team usually made headlines for all the wrong reasons but Shah Rukh stuck by it; when things got especially bad - during the annus horribilis of 2009, when his team finished bottom of the league amidst intrigue, infighting and incompetence - he would seek refuge behind his superstar psychobabble so that no one knew whether he was being serious or not. Sometimes he seemed to contribute to his team's problems - most recently after his team's match in Mumbai, when a post-match altercation led to him being handed a five-year ban from the Wankhede Stadium.
Shah Rukh never gave up, though, and his decision to stick instead of twist, went beyond simple economic or financial reasons. His buying the Kolkata franchise back in 2008 was a bit of a surprise at the time - he had no obvious connections with the city - but soon it all became perfectly clear. He seemed to have a sharp understanding of his franchise, its hometown and its fans. They were emotional and theatrical, so was he and he played them like a finely-tuned harmonium.
He invested personally; again, not merely in terms of money - for much of that came from his sober sidekick Jay Mehta. His investment was in the form of his very identity, his status as India's most popular actor. He staked himself. He roped in the sponsors, often those with whom he had personal endorsement contracts; he struck up equations with Bengal's mercurial political leadership, latterly being anointed Bengal's brand ambassador; and he cleared his schedules so that for six weeks he and his gang of high-profile cheerleaders would go from stadium to stadium, usually in the scorching summer heat, to emote, wave flags, jump, shout, dance. And attend the after-parties.
Yet for all that emotion and apparent soft centre, the franchise was capable of taking hard decisions - none more so than in its sacking of Sourav Ganguly before the 2011 auction. It was a huge decision; for the people of Kolkata, Ganguly was far bigger than this upstart franchise. Yet that decision, and the subsequent rebuilding of the team around a new captain and coach, was perhaps the most crucial factor in winning the IPL. The one sentiment that was voiced by the Kolkata players on Sunday night was about team spirit; it wasn't the typical platitudes of a winning team. An invidious atmosphere, one of distrust, mistrust and bloated egos, was replaced by an honest team ethic and focus shifted to building for the future. The drama was toned down, the team returned to first principles and decisions were once again taken for cricketing reasons.
As I write, the crackers are going off in Kolkata. A city that has long lived on the fringes of sporting success has hit the headlines for the right reasons. It's been said that this Kolkata team had no Bengali stars but that is both incorrect - Shakib Al-Hasan is as Bengali as Ganguly, only from across the border - and an irrelevance. Kolkata was not built by Bengalis alone; one of the first truly global cities, it was built by Scottish traders, by Marwari moneylenders, by Greeks, Armenians, Jews. They were all adopted as sons of the city - as, no doubt, will Knight Riders' rainbow coalition. A Kolkata team owned by two Bollywood stars and a repatriated NRI Gujarati businessman and captained by a Delhi boy - that's sport in the 21st century for you.

Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo in India