Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Royal Disaster

Over the past three nights I've tried to examine, as objectively as possible, how the state of laborers in Dubai, or at least the popular perception of the state of those laborers, had come about. There is one more installment in that series on the way, but I wanted to touch on a few other matters for the next few nights before I get to that.

A Royal Disaster

Since the end of last year's IPL, with the absolutely stunning finale where Shane Warne and Sohail Tanvir eked out a single run victory on the very last bowl of the very last over, I have been jonesing for it all to start again. As a guy raised on a diet of NHL Hockey, CFL Football, NBA Basketball, and MLB Baseball, I've never had to worry about not having something to get excited about. But since moving to the other side of the globe, and being entirely removed from my native sports culture, and immersed in South Asian culture since, I've had no choice but to succumb to the siren song that is cricket.

Sure football, or what I call soccer, is the big game in town in these parts, but as a red blooded hockey fan, I generally have little patience for the low scoring ballerina antics of a bunch of European prima donnas. If play on the field can qualify you for an Oscar, then it just ain't a sport is all. And that's the gospel according to Don Cherry. So when it comes to European Football, I am a hater...well, maybe that's to strong a word...I am a disliker...ntach also...let's just say I'm an ambivalencer, if that's a even a word, which I don't think it is, but it'll do for now. I'm sure you get my meaning.

Come to think of it, though...strangely enough I do enjoy Euro and the World Cup, and play football/soccer every chance I get, so perhaps there is some hope for me yet? Who knows! But what I do know, however, is that I got to loving cricket, and I don't think there is any going back.

While I have not yet gotten around to reading C L R James' great book "Beyond a Boundary", I do intend to read it when I feel I have the lingo more fully mastered. Until then, a daily diet of will have to suffice. Nonetheless, as a quick study, I've gotten my head around the game sufficiently that I now no longer embarrass myself quite so much when talking cricket in public. Or at least people are waiting until I leave to snicker, which also works for me. On to the tirade.

I waited all year for the IPL to start again. During the inaugural season, I was one of those benighted fools who actually cheered for Rajasthan from the very first game. Seeing as how I tend to root for the destruction and failure of most of the deities of Indian cricket (Down with Tendulkar! To heck with Dravid!), with Sri Lanka being my favorite international team, I decided to choose a team that had picked not one overpaid BCCI endorsed blowhard (Though I do respect MS Dhoni), and instead chose an alcoholic washed up has-been for a captain, and a motley assortment rag-tag crew from the bargain basement of the cricket world. This was a team that the gurus of the cricket world declared would not win a game, a team that came so far under the salary cap they were fined for not paying enough, and a team that had the lowest overall franchise sticker price. This team was the plot of the movie Major League, starring Charlie Sheen. And I am an avowed lover of the under-est of underdogs.

It was love at first sight.

That first season was magic. Shane Warne delivered a masterclass on leadership that you could copy ans paste straight into the textbooks. His players, especailly the youngsters who saw Warne not as a man but as a legend stepping forth from the mists of history into their midst, responded to his leadership to the Nth degree. Rajasthan became a juggernaut, and while Rajasthan did not cruise through,they ended up in first place at the end of the round robin, consistently played some of the most thrilling games I have ever witnessed in any sport. Almost night after night they were staging come from behind victories that were so close to the line, so uncertain and improbable, and so utterly thrilling and captivating, that watching it on TV from a living room a thousand kilometers away, you could feel the bated breath of the tens of thousands of people packed into the stadiums watching the match live. This wasn't sport, it was televised narcotic of a potency heretofore unknown to man.

It was awesome.

The season ended, Rajasthan capped a magical run, and off the players went to their home countries to be swallowed up by the ODI, Test, and County Cricket machines. I had a year to wait, and it was a hard wait indeed.

And then the wait ended.

So last night, after my little one's first birthday party, and after Malinga had lead the Indians with three wickets as they dismissed Chennai in a surprise victory (The overpaid blowhards were earning their keep for once, and proving beyond the shadow of a doubt why they got the big bucks), I sat down for a treat. My victorious Royals were back for round two.

They should have stayed home.

It was hard to describe. The end score, all out for 58 in 15.1 overs speaks volumes in and of itself. But it doesn't state the issue poetically enough. not for a loss like this. Bangalore had not really racked up the runs, and had posted an entirely beatable score by the end of 20 overs, but it was like Rajasthan wasn't satisfied with beating Bangalore. No, they wanted a bigger challenge, beating themselves.

I tried to think of analogies that could explain what I was watching. It was like watching Canada take on Australia. It was like an watching elderly Alzheimers victim stand on a corner half naked, soiling himself because he's scared of the traffic racing by. It was like watching an alcoholic washed up has-been, and a motley assortment rag-tag crew pretend to play cricket.

Sorry, did I say "It was like?" My apologies. I meant to say "It was."

I can only hope that this whole bit was an anomaly, a joke on us die-hards. A little tease before they pull out the big stick and start banging it home. But I fear that may not be the case. Minus Shane Watson, the only really decent batsman on the squad, and absent the Pakistanis, especially Sohail Tanvir who absolutely dominated the pitch last year, I think what's left of that magic potion has fizzled into paste.

I'm always prepared to stand corrected, but something tells me that the most entertainment I'll get out of them this year won't be on the pitch, it'll be off the pitch whenever Shane Warne steps up to the mic with something to say.

Still, one does hope.

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