Bangalore’s season of thunder without the rain

 

RCB

Yesterday, May 14th, Bangalore played their last match of IPL 2017 and eked out a consolation win against the Delhi Daredevils who lived up to their name and dared more than was required and lost. There is something to be said for how the journey ends. Not that all that came before is redundant but we all like to hold onto how it ended, however messy and torturous the middle seemed.

Yesterday, May 14th, it rained in parts of Bangalore. But what preceded the rains was thunder that was loud and unruly. The rains that followed didn’t live up to the thunder that preceded it.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore has in its ranks a few force that can wreck havoc on their day. But this has been a season in which the team has been going from disaster site to the next.

Take for example Sunday, May 7th. The side took on the Kolkata Knight Riders in their last home match of a forgettable season and put on 158 against the backdrop of memes of the team exalting after crossing 49 and father-mother jokes about getting beaten. After Umesh Yadav’s last over went for 21, the skies opened up for a short while and the pitch which has played slow this year and made batsman work for their runs, all seemed to connive to give the Royal Challengers a consolation win in front of their ever-hopeful fans.

But on that day, they ran into Sunil Narine.

For the longest time, Bangalore had a draconian deadline where everything was supposed to shut down by 11.30 pm. That is now 1 am and even though the match began at 4 pm, Sunil Narine seemed to be in an awful and tearing hurry to finish the match. He was in such a hurry that he pulverized the attack and smashed the fastest 50 in the IPL ever. His 15 ball 50 was the beginning of a very hasty end for Bangalore whose campaign only seemed to go from bad to worse to ‘wtf just happened’? His whiplash decimated any hopes the team had of their last home game ending in a modest blaze of glory.

These are snippets of RCB’s report card from this season:

Bowled out for a record 49 against the Kolkata Knight Riders chasing a paltry 131.

Ended their chase at 96/9 chasing 157 against the Rising Pune Supergiants.

Were done at dusted for 119 chasing an underwhelming 138 against the Kings X1 Punjab.

While the 49 all out was as low as they could go, there were no soaring highs to balance out the scale that had tilted hopelessly towards the despair side.

If 2016 was a season where RCB gave its fans a lot to cheer before falling short at the finish line, 2017 has been a woeful symphony of sorts. The side is yet to win an IPL trophy and it has had to meander through some strange happenings over the years.

The birth of Royal Challengers Bangalore was a bit like the big bang. Not the formation of the team but the first ever match the side played during the IPL. Rahul Dravid, in all his wisdom, made a few tactical errors in team selection by choosing players who were more adept at the longer version of the game. With names like Sunil Joshi, Wasim Jaffer and the great Rahul Dravid himself, the side sought to make sense of a format and a league that no one had a clue about. The first match ever in IPL’s history was between Bangalore and Kolkata and while it was as good a start that the newly birthed tournament required, it was an unmitigated disaster for the team. Brendon McCullum went ballistic and smashed 158 and the team amassed a massive 222. In reply, Bangalore were rounded up for 82.

Then it got worse.

The side had Martin Crowe as a Chief Creative Officer, Charu Sharma as CEO and Venkatesh Prasad as bowling coach. As the side hurtled from one defeat to the other, Mallya lost his cool and sacked Charu Sharma. It was rumored that Venkatesh Prasad was to get the boot but he made amends by apologising for the team’s performance. The late Martin Crowe left after the first season (fled was more like it). Mallya’s penchant for showmanship also led to buying players like Kevin Pietersen for 1.5 million dollars and he repaid the faith by returning to England on national duty. The captaincy again fell into the hands of warhorse Anil Kumble who engineered a turnaround and led the team to the finals in 2009 where they lost to Deccan Chargers (now SunRisers Hyderabad). In 2015, they bought Yuvraj Singh for a whopping 14 crores while Mallya claimed he didn’t have money to pay salaries of employees of his defunct airline.

Not all business owners make the best team owners as Harsh Goenka has proved this season. In a disastrous combination of stupidity, immaturity and tactlessness, he tweeted about how replacing Dhoni as captain was one of the best decisions made by the franchise. The hiding he received on twitter was perhaps not enough and when the former captain himself put up a couple of stellar performances that had Goenka attempt to retract his statements and come out with his dignity reasonably intact. The Pune team will cease to exist after the IPL and people are still hoping that Dhoni will end his IPL career with the refurbished and hopefully cleaner Chennai Super Kings. Dhoni will retire a legend and Goenka’s presence on the planet will register in the minds of people only when he tweets something buffoonery.

Dhoni 1, Goneka -10.

On the topic of business owners, Bangalore’s, sadly is the worst. When Vijay Mallya bought the team in 2008, he was still the King of Good times who loved to throw a party at the drop of a hat. Now he is a fugitive from justice, hiding in England, evading the law. The person who couldn’t seem to get enough attention or eyeballs is now hiding from all cameras and tweeting cryptic messages about his life as a free bird.

As Bangalore’s challenge has come to an end, the next year will hold numerous possibilities. Have we seen the last of the Gayle, De Viliers and Kohli trio? Will Chris Gayle regale us again in Bangalore colours? After a tumultuous season such as this and the 10 year contract of teams being able to retain 4 players coming to an end after this season, we may witness a new look Bangalore team come 2018.

At the beginning of the IPL, there was a lot of excitement in the country when news of Mallya’s arrest percolated over the media waves. It then emerged that he had gotten bail a few minutes later. If only his team could find their way out of jail so easily.

It’s that time of the year when Bangalore is waiting for rain. Half the roads in the city are being dug up and the rains will send everything into a tailspin. But still, it is waiting for rain. Every summer, you think it cannot get worse and then it does. For all these years, we have been staving off getting air conditioning at home, all with the hope that it will get better the next year. But it doesn’t.

In the mean time, there has been a lot of thunder.

On their day, the Royal Challengers batting line-up can bring thunder, lightning and Gayle forces to the fore and wipe aside all opposition. But that was not to be this season.

A few days ago, my wife sent me a message that said it was thundering all afternoon but there was no rain.

She inadvertently surmised the Royal Challengers run in 2017.

 

The night gangnam style became the new redemption song

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Some stories sound too good be true. That’s how the great era of West Indian cricket was passed on to future generations. Through stories.

October 7, 2012: It was as if a curse was lifted. The men from the Caribbean danced with abandon, their spirits running free and wild on a night that was predestined to be forever young. The speakers boomed to the thumping beats of Gangnam Style and Psy must have been proud that his magnum opus had traveled far and wide and landed in the middle of a cricket pitch in Sri Lanka. The attempts at matching his steps notwithstanding, it was a dance that was a long time coming.

It was in 1979 that the West Indies last won a world cup. 33 years. That was more than a generation ago. And a lot had changed since.

The Caribbean is a land given to the good life in all of its splendor. It is a land that conjures up visions of an exotic vacation or a peaceful retirement, and evenings that brim with possibilities as limitless as the freely flowing Caribbean rum. It is where one sways to the seductive beats of Calypso and sets their worries afloat onto the vast expanse of the Caribbean sea, hoping they never return. And in the days of yore, it was this land, where the beat of life transports you to something that resembles paradise, that gave the game of cricket one of its finest and feared teams. Actually, make that one of the best teams in the history of sport.

But their story was anything but a fairy tale.

Subservient to their colonial masters, their self-worth was tied up in knots. Cricket gave them something that had eluded them all along – a voice. Their game mirrored their culture. Known for their brand of ‘Calypso cricket’, they were ordained entertainers, not cut-throat competitors. They played to the galleries, but didn’t play to win.

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From all corners of the Caribbean they converged. Vivian Richards, whose swagger was as imitated as his batting and inspired a generation of batsmen, had bowlers scurrying for cover with his aggression. The bowling unit read like fast bowling royalty – Colin Croft, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts and Malcom Marshall. They were led by their talismanic captain Clive Lloyd, the young tyro who would take them to the promised land – the champions of cricket.

Great teams don’t just win, they create cathedrals. They’re worshiped. They raise the bar until there is nothing left to raise. They cannot be produced with the aid of a formula, nor can they be bought by cold-hard cash. Nor can teams that win always be classified as great. For the non-religious who treat words like miracle as an anathema, it is hard to find a synonym to describe what makes a great team. Great players playing in the same era, for the same team, for a common cause. That’s what the West Indies were. They were a great team that created a cathedral.

How many seminal moments can a lifetime make allowances for? And do seminal moments become legends over time? How much of it gets lost in transition, until all that is left is a magical unicorn, best left to the imagination? And how many seminal moments get passed on to future generations as stories? That’s how I heard of how great the West Indies once were. That batsmen facing them didn’t just fear for their wickets, they feared for their lives. That in their prime, they ruled the cricket world. That was the story we were told.

It was a time when helmets protected the head, not the face. Chest pad and arm guard? You sure you’re here to play cricket, sonny? It was said that teams lost just at the mere sight of those unrelenting pacers. The Calypso boys would make the cricket world dance to their tunes. They won the inaugural cricket world cup in 1975 and followed it up with the second one in 1979. 184 runs separated them a three-peat in 1983, when underdogs from the sub-continent, India, led by Kapil Dev, upstaged them on the grandest stage of all and laid waste to their all-conquering status. Even that seminal moment, when India beat the West Indies at Lord’s, was passed on to my generation in the guise of a story.

Before India won their second World Cup in 2011, the improbable win over the West Indies in 1983 was, and is, still a part of folklore. And every time someone recounted it to us, it painted these indelible images in our minds – the crackle of the radio; images in sepia tones; the crowd rushing onto the field after the final wicket was claimed. India were the world champions. The mighty West Indies had fallen off their ivory tower.

By the time I fell headlong into the game, the West Indies were a far cry from all that was being described to me. Where a great fire once burned and engulfed everything that came in its way, all that remained were the embers of a glorious era. Past glory isn’t a pleasant sight to behold. It’s like a palace that has fallen on hard times, the chandelier coated with mounds of dust. Yes, they had Brian Charles Lara, one of the greatest batsman to ever play the game and a feared bowling pair in Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. But it seemed as if the kings had abdicated  their thrones. I grew up in an era where their greatness was on the wane and at the center of power in the cricketing world had shifted to the sub-continent. Australia was now what the West Indies were at their zenith – the invincibles.

They didn’t fall off the cricket map. Their good days appeared as specks in the wide cricketing ocean. Brian Lara scored 375, the highest score in test cricket, which was eclipsed by Matthew Hayden from Australia in 2003. Not one to sit back when his turf had been infringed upon, he scored 400 against England the very next year- a record that has stood its ground since. In the 1996 World Cup semi-final, they lost 8 wickets for 87 runs in one of the most inexplicable collapses in cricket. In the World Cup they hosted in 2007, they didn’t make it past the group stage and Brian Charles Lara’s time ran out. In his farewell speech, he posed just one question to the tearful crowd that had come to bid him adieu – ‘did I entertain you’? The answer wasn’t lost in the midst of the cheers. The cheers were the answer.

Which brings us back to October 7th, 2012.  Two islands, one still re-configuring its spirit that had been ruptured by years of civil war and another casting a hook in bid to capture old glory. The odds were stacked against the West Indies. Everywhere you turned, a Sri Lankan flag waved proudly. It was a night when every cracker that was waiting to be burst, every prayer that was chanted, every placard that was vying for attention, were all funneled toward the home team, Sri Lanka. Then they imploded. And the West Indies, who had won their last major tournament in 1979, tore Sri Lankan hearts into a million pieces.

That night, a part of the story became real. The West Indies were champions again.

They danced and filled the stadium with their infectious energy. In 2012, the West Indies weren’t the greatest team. They possessed none of the aura of the West Indian team of old. But for that one night, they danced like they were.

That night, they wrote a new story.

P.S – Fire in Babylon, a documentary that documents the best years of West Indian cricket is a must watch.