Finally, the show is on. Players are bulkier, a tad lethargic, and a bit rusty. The stands miss the madness of frenzied fans, and the familiar bewildering melee of sound and colours. Sans the atmospherics, the energy level is low in general. The Indian Premier League this time is a no frills-all purpose affair. No one is complaining though. As distractions during the pandemic go, this one is the most non-toxic, most non-divisive. Hope we get a break from Kangana Ranaut now, and television gets sober.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases in India have shot past five million, and the death toll past 80,000. The lull in cases in some states has proved illusory with a flood of new ones being reported. The virus has dodged scientists successfully and the promised vaccine is nowhere in sight. The good thing, if at all it is reassuring, is the number of tests have gone up significantly. That explains more cases. That also explains the futily of and the foolishness in all the number crunching we had earlier. Similar extensive tests a few months earlier would have thrown up an entirely different picture of the pandemic. Maybe it would have helped make the government’s intervention more effective. But that is in the past.
In the absence of a clear solution, we needed distractions. Actor Sushant Singh’s death was the longest one. The agenda-driven toxicity around it was getting unbearable. The IPL may be a great detox exercise the country was waiting for. On day one, the healing power of cricket was in ample evidence. The discussion in homes, for a change, did not revolve around another unverfiable sensational revelation on television. It was about cricket, and the myriad emotions associated with it.
MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings played their unhurried brand of cricket and made winning business as usual. There’s something clearly intimidating about this unit of ageing war horses. In a game supposed to be about youth, agility, impulsiveness and explosive power, it throws in the contrasts and makes them count. Rohit Sharma’s Mumbai Indians proved again that they are slow to discover that winning rhythm. They were particularly sloppy on the field and wayward in bowling in the crucial phases. Of course, they will make amends.
The best part is the show is on. The glitz and glamour can wait.
MS DHONI, THE ENIGMA
How can someone wear greatness so light? MS remains the no-fuss man he always was. There was no drama as he quit international cricket in the middle of the pandemic in mid-August. The goodbye message was as unpretentious as it could be: ‘…From 1929 hours consider me as retired’. As he led his team to the ground for the IPL showdown with arch rival and reigning champions Mumbai Indians in UAE, it was as if he had never gone away. Marshalling his resources from behind the stumps, typically calm, unperturbed, he looked every inch the old Dhoni.
It’s a face that hardly gives away anything. Sometimes one wonders whether it’s only a mask and the real person remains concealed somewhere beneath. The mask has been so much part of his identity that he cannot afford to let go of it anymore. Does he go mad in anger at times? Does he ever go beyond that measured smile? Does he get into bouts of excited celebration? There’s no way to conclude whether his public persona is the same as his private one. If it is, then he is one of a kind. Great people are always one of a kind.
CELEBRATION WITH SOCIAL DISTANCING
Social distancing and on-field celebration don’t go together. Cricketers must be finding it hard to control their sense of jubilation at the fall of a wicket or a victory. Such collective burst of emotion, according to some, is hardwired into our genetic code ever since our ancients took to big game hunting. The execise required planning, coordination, and entailed grave risks. Loss of lives was common and a kill meant food for many days. Plotting the fall of a wicket may not quite be like game hunting, but the emotions released could be as powerful. So it’s normal that on-field success carries certain intensity, which is expressed through physical action such as hugging, high-fives and impromptu huddles.
In case of someone like South African tweaker Imran Tahir, it could be a sprint to one corner of the ground from the middle. Social distancing is a dampener. It calls for restraint, self-control.Tahir can run though. Others should follow him if they find the post-success celebration inadequate.
THE PRICE OF INDULGENCE
Keiron Pollard, Saurabh Tiwari and Piyush Chawla must explain what they were up to during the period of corona virus-induced inactivity. All of them have added girth to their physiques. Pollard, in particular, carries the look of a senior statesman of world cricket rather than an active player. While his six-hitting ability remains intact — we had a glimpse of it on day one — his ability to bend quickly to gather a ball running to the boundary remains suspect. Both sides were less than smart in the fielding department. One wonders whether it has to something with the food intake and lack of exercise during the period of isolation.