The buzz is that your mood is on the mend. So I’ll start off with a ‘joke’. I heard it in Mumbai during the IPL season. Can’t really remember where your team was playing at that time. But I clearly remember the ‘joke’. And it ran thus.
Who would be the happiest people on earth on 2nd June? The list is long.
All the serial producers – Whose evening TRP nosedived, sorry, drowned because of IPL.All film producers – A tournament that could send a Yash Chopra movie crashing obviously had no trouble snuffing out the evening and night show challenges of the rest.
Owners of cricket coaching centers – Every morning the kids had been hounding their coaches to teach those T-20 strokes.
Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly – Counting days and waiting for the accursed time to pass. So that their pride would not take a further beating!
Needless to say that this ‘joke’ had started doing the rounds long before the Bangalore Royal challengers and the Kolkata Knight Riders had completed their IPL journey. Once you and Sourav had finished playing all your fourteen matches, there was no scope left for this kind of persiflage. In the IPL rankings, you stand at eight! Sourav at ten! Taking both batting and bowling into account, Sourav ranks among the top three all-rounder of the Tournament. At the ripe age of 36 you have taken the popular notion by its ears and proved that class reigns supreme! The format of the game comes after that.
Can’t really confirm this. But as far as I know, you, Sachin and Sourav do not consider T-20 to be cricket. In close circles, some of you have laughed at it all saying – look at all the hype around this game. Can this ever be a true test of a cricketer?
Then the question is why are you playing? I could tell you about an interesting conversation that I had with Akash Chopra. Through you personally consider Akash to be a good batsman, yet it is understandable why your Bangalore team did not show interest in him at the auctions. You may laugh. But we, die hard Knight Riders fans have stared believing that with an average of 8 in five matches, Akash must have been sent with a spell cast on him – Ja puttar Shahrukh ko bigar ke wapas aja. For it was not just a matter of an 8 average, it also involved two missed catches and twenty odd runs given away through misfielding. Well, anyway I recently had that talk with Akash.
Question: What suddenly prompted you to play IPL when you do not even play for your Delhi team?
Akash: Yes, I don’t.
Question: Then why this sudden favor to the Knight Riders?
Akash: I’ve scored 1700 runs in Ranji trophy this year. Made three centuries in the one dyer. Not a soul turned up to watch. Today I have been given an unexpected chance in this high profile tournament where even when I make a zero I have fifty thousand people watching from the stands and this kind of media coverage. Why should I miss out on all this?
Well let AKash have his own reasons. But Rahul, I cannot for the world of me figure out what motivated you to play in this tournament. Was it just a desire to be part of a historic first? Or is it the popular perception, moolah! The ever romantic who insists that receiving a Man of the Match trophy or cheque is not his moment of glory. The real thrill lies in that very second when you have just completed a century. Nothing else compares to that moment of cricketing bliss! Everything else after that is like rushing ahead from that moment! Will the same man, just for the lure of money allow himself to be insulted again? Would he again play in IPL? Or would he simply walk away saying look, you wanted to see whether I have what it takes! Now see for yourselves!
Imagine! While playing for India, Sourav is attending a sponsor’s function just four hours before the match- the notion is not only impossible, it’s fictitious. It’s not merely about waiting for King to show up. He also had to put up with the incessant interference of the franchisee managers in matters of batting order and team composition. It is difficult to picture Mukesh Ambani’s right hand man coming up to Sachin and saying, why don’t you try sending Jayasurya at one down!
But you at the Royal Challengers and Sourav at the Knight Riders had to put up with such interference regularly. In your presence, Vijay Mallya had openly announced over the microphone, “Rahul has assured me over the phone that no matter how much friends tease about building a test team, I shouldn’t bother. Because for one who is capable of test cricket, this format of the game is no challenge.” A Personal comment, made strictly in confidence that should never have come out in the open, was made public by Mallya. Had Mallya been a journalist, he would have come under your boycott programme for ever. But he is the team owner after all! So you could say nothing. You were subjected to further humiliation the day your team lost in Kolkata. Mallya’s statement had by then spread all over India, “Rahul and Charu Sharma misled me during the auctions. And now we are stuck with this terrible team.”
Some were certain you would resign that very day. They said that Rahul has never in his life been so insulted. A few days later, the same sets of people were saying, this is Rahul. He has not lost his dignity even in the face of such tremendous provocation. He uttered not a world. Rather, his silence has made a laughing stock out of Mallya himself.
Actually the world that you are used to is far removed from this world dominated by Corporate control. When you play for your country or even state, non–technical people are not allowed any say in technical matters. If just before the Asia cup finals Niranjan Shah were to advise Sachin, “Don’t play the off drive right away. They will have a short cover in place,” the comment would make all hell break loose. But here just about any Tom, Dick or Harry belonging to the franchisee can say what they want. Before the Knight Riders’ match at Kolkata got washed out, someone close to Shahrukh had remarked, “it would be nice to see a new captain on the field today.”
Certain friends of the team owner are said to have advised Sourav, it is better to bat second in the matches at Eden Gardens’ That way our batsmen will not have to go about setting a target.
May be its sound advice. Who says that you have to be a technical guy to come up with valuable input and that the opinions of non-technical people are worthless rubbish! But the problem is, after having been used to a specific kind of cricket culture all these years, at the fag end of your career you are suddenly accosted with a new set of rules. The adjustment chords are no longer easy to find. They are so ancient! Lost in time.
May be this is the way professionals are reinventing themselves the world over. And Cricket cannot afford be an exception and hold out much longer. Even if the management’s policy is not ‘hire and fire’ – it will at least be ’perform or perish’. What is already occurring in the wide world of international club football was bound to find a place in the relatively smaller map of the Cricketing world someday?
Rahul, you discerning mind must have arrived at this satisfactory conclusion. At the same time don’t you somehow feel that both your and Sourav’s plight has become so apparent in the very first year itself mainly because of your respective team owners? Both have a boundless thirst for victory, reluctance to let go of anything and an inherent style of taking centre stage. Vijay Mallya is not just the first or last word in his organization. His decision is paramount! When you board a kingfisher Airline plane it is his image on the screen and hi voice that welcomes you. Then again as owner of Force India team in Formula One it is he who decides how many Italians the team should have or whether the team should continue with its German Driver. In every sense a ‘hands on owner’, whose very mindset is opposed to de-centralization of authority. Like the Sahara group the style of his organization too is owner-centric.
Shahrukh Khan is also like that. Not only does he have the final say in movies made under the Red Chillies banner, he is also known to give creative advice to directors of all other movies that he acts in. No, not quite. He is in fact absolutely used to having his every advice followed to word. You must have seen ‘Chak de’. Try to think of that famous scene when the team, after its final victory celebrates on the field but the coach stands alone on the sidelines, weeping. The sequence was borrowed from an incident at the Olympics when the Yugoslav volleyball team won gold. Shahrukh had seen it in a BBC sports documentary and used it in the film. Farhan Akhtar is its director in name only. The various scenes, the intense drama and even the final twist- where Vijay stuns Piyanka Chopra with, “mujhe jungle billiyan pasand hai”- the closing of the van door, the exact moment of dialogue delivery, were all Shahrukh’s brainchild. Farhan is thinking about ‘Don II’. So is Sharukh . How to add more thrills and bring on new twist to the sequel. You wonder as to who is the real director!
To sum up : Had you Sourav represented a multinational group at the IPL, where de-centralization of power is more than accepted norm, then there was no way this owner captain tussle, this atmosphere of discord could have arisen . Since both the owners are effectively playing captains of their representative concerns, they want to have a similar level of involvement in the IPL too. Compounding the captain’s misery. He may know all the tricks of dealing with the board officials but when it comes to his role as a salaried employee he is clueless about how far he can assert himself or when he is in danger of putting his self respect at stake- the captain is left battered under this onslaught of endless strain. Leading the team takes a back seat.
Another problem with these team owners is that no mater how renowned they may be, they are not quite quipped to deal with such live cricket action and the media pressure that comes with it. Sharukh knows which Bollywood scribe is for him and who is not. It’s easy to proceed keeping that polarity in mind. When he has a flop , all he needs to do is ignore the SMS of a TV journalist. Likewise, Malya knows the grammar of handling business scribes when profiles are at low. But those skills are of no use on a cricket ground. Like in a reality show, you do not know what’s going to happen next. After a disastrous defeat of the Knight Riders, Sharukh must still face the media – in spite of that discomfort within which such defeat must have take some sheen off his status.
Rahul, from where I stand, I see the internal state of both your teams. It seems in the post IPL days; both you and Sourav must sort this out –How far you can push matters and how far the team owners can go. Sourav is not ready to publicly admit that he has had problems leading in Knight Riders, ”My franchisee is superb”. He says. However his tone lacks that conviction with which he states, “its class that matters and not twenty-twenty or any other game format “.
A few days back I had felt that both you and Sourav should voluntarily retire from the next IPL, so what that if it is a three year contract? Its just a few bucks! You could earn as much doing commentary for the tournament. Or perhaps write a column or two. Where is the need sacrifice your cricketing pride by submitting to the directives of the boss’s yes-men?
But now I do not feel that way. Why? It’s a small incident. The other day I went to pick up Sourav from the Eden gardens for a star Ananda function. We got talking about Shoaib Akhtar. Just five minutes back, Shoaib, a new member of dressing room had kicked up a row, refusing to play and all that. Sourav unexpectedly remarked “Shoaib must understand that it is not possible to fend off accusations from outside arena. That is the only place where matters are decided- step on to the field and give a fitting reply”.
The very next day brought that blitzing unbeaten innings of 86 off 53 balls that felled Mohali. Sourav’s words began to ring in my ears like a non-stop playback, “that is the only places where matters are decided –step on to the field and giving a fitting reply”.
Of course! Rahul, why on earth should you consider leaving IPL? You are after all the best batsman of the Royal Challengers with a strike rate of 127. You too have made your point on the field of play after which Sourav’s Kolkata has said “if UB lets go of Rahul, we shall lap him up”. But the question of letting you go does not arise. When Mallya sits down with a scorebook along with his friends, he will see that in terms of average , total runs scored and strike rate , this one man tops at the list. After the end of the first season, there is no way he can be struck off the team. At best he may be relieved of his captaincy.
Yes, its sheer class that prevails. As does a man’s dignity. Neither instigation nor soaring unsolicited ambitions hold water. During the course of this tournament and the month Rahul, you and your friend have proved this eternal truth. Whoever lifts the trophy tomorrow in Mumbai will take back just that for themselves or their team.
The trophy that you and Sourav lifted is invisible. It’s the trophy won on behalf of a generation that stood up and accounted for themselves!
It will remain for as long as the game of cricket survives.