Cricket can be a heartless game. More so when teams you adore hit a losing streak and leave you more disappointed with every fresh outing. Many fans carry unexplained sadness on their faces these days. When they speak about their heroes, you feel faith crumbling. The infallible MS Dhoni is less so now, as is Steven Smith and many other top names. Younger blood has made reputation irrelevant, even redundant, and created serious doubts about old being gold. Teams that were supposed to waltz into the top four are wallowing at the bottom as perennial underachievers have finally reclaimed their place in the sun.
Will redemption follow the fall? Will potential on paper translate into performance on ground? In Twenty20 cricket you never know; it is too fickle for predictions. On his day, one Tewatia can swing the match in his team’s favour; on a bad day nothing will follow the script written at team meetings. Turnarounds could still be round the corner for some teams. With time running out, not many fans are hopeful though.
This friend has not had a good night’s sleep ever since Chennai Super Kings began their disastrous IPL campaign this year. His massive experience in rooftop and gully cricket has not proved enough to explain away the current predicament of the team, and of the other favourite, Rajasthan Royals. To make matters worse, Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals, his wife’s favourite teams, are going great. The kid at home, for whom Pollard and cricket mean the same, is no more a patient recipient of his gyan. His friends have switched loyalties to other teams. He is alone in his grief. Cricket can be cruel.
“First coronavirus, then an IPL like this. This is certainly a terrible year man,” he sighs, sign of exasperation all over. “Earlier they said this is a tournament where teams compete to meet Chennai in the finals, see where they stand now. And with Steve Smith, Jos Buttler and Joffra Archer around, Rajasthan needs a Tewatia to win matches. How sad!”
“Sad indeed,” You concur, and then seek to lighten the mood with “CSK now need a Rajinikanth to turn things around; RR a miracle worker.” It fails to work. Why not back Delhi Capitals or RCB? They are the teams to watch out for along with Mumbai Indians, aren’t they? He gives a look that every fan in love with his team will understand. “It doesn’t work that way. You know that, don’t you? Can’t abandon the team when it’s down on its luck. I can take the disappointment. Next year will be different. Just wait.”
Well, that’s a true fan. He never gives up. He need not be on the winning side all the times.
BRING ON THE REAL DHONI PLEASE
We have to reconcile to the new MS Dhoni. He is no more the power-hitting game-changer he was. It has been painfully obvious to those who have been following him over the last few years. In this version of the IPL, it has become clearer. At point, with him around, 24 runs to win in the 20th over was always in the realm of possibility. If anybody could do it with some consistency over the years, it was Dhoni. Not so anymore.
It puts a question mark on his formidable reputation as a finisher. With him not as he was, it should have led team CSK to recalibrate their strategy. They can no longer afford to take the match deep and finish with a flourish. Dhoni can still seal games, but in a different role. In T20 games, it’s critical to think on one’s feet. Nobody would be aware of it more than skipper Dhoni himself given his brilliant track record in the premier event. A string of defeats brings this sinking feeling that he is failing as a captain too.
One hopes Captain Cool redeems himself in the remaining games. The win against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Tuesday has certainly breathed life into CSK.
T20 ASSUMES A LIFE OF IT OWN
Greatness is no guarantee for success in the shortest format of the game. Watch Australian great Steven Smith, and you realise why. The man who toyed around with a formidable bowling attack on the swinging, pacy wickets of England, finds the going tough on the slow pitches of the UAE. Younger players have outshone him and other shining stars of Test cricket with ease. Among bowlers, South African quick Dale Steyn is a case in point. Pat Cummins may have been a genuine threat to batters in longer formats, but not so here.
Let’s face it. More than a decade on, Twenty20 cricket has assumed a life of its own. It does not need to derive its glitter from the shine of big names in Tests and One-dayers. It has started producing its own heroes.They may sparkle and sizzle for a brief period, and may not even graduate to the higher levels of the game, but they surely relegate bigger names to the shadows when they are in their elements. A few IPLs later, a classy Test genius may turn out to be a rarity in the T20 format.
NO BRAKES ON COVID CASES
IPL has made the pandemic more bearable. It has been a pleasant distraction unlike frenzied witch-hunting on primetime television led by hyperventilating anchors. As cricket lovers — they are in millions — stay at home enjoying the matches, the threat of the spread of the disease is lower too. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases have zoomed past seven million. Death numbers are up too. No respite appears on sight. Thank God, there’s cricket.