And so, Chennai Super Kings’ romance with Chepauk is over. For the rest of the season.
The much-anticipated return lived up to the hype. The sea of yellow draped the Chidambaram Stadium, the supporters of Kolkata Knight Riders dwarfed if not drowned. Andre Russell threatened to spoil the homecoming party but Chennai found heroes of their own, as they have done since 2008. This time, they answered to names not previously associated with the yellow brigade – Shane Watson. Ambati Rayudu. Sam Billings. Fittingly, one of its favourite sons, Ravindra Jadeja, applied the finishing touches.
It ought to have been a night of celebration. Of only celebration. Instead, it turned out to be a dark night, a night of disappointment if not despair, of anguish if not agony.
The tone had been set in the lead-up to the match. Protests outside the stadium over the vexatious and long-running water-sharing issue with the neighbouring state, the notification of a management board as ordered by the Supreme Court to oversee the process all over again. Politicians and activists and cine stars led the protests against the staging of IPL games in Chennai. The bigger the behemoth, the softer the underbelly. Remember the Titanic?
The police threw their hands up, refusing to promise security to fans making a beeline to the stadium. The authorities all got into a huddle, and once they separated, Chennai’s loss in several senses became Pune’s gain. There was much to be proud about for those that hunted down fans on the streets of the Tamil Nadu capital and ripped off their yellow jersey, those that attacked policemen. There was plenty to rejoice for them that hurled an offending piece of footwear on to the playing arena. Mission accomplished, after all.
The return of Super Kings to their den, therefore, was fleeting. Pulsating, but fleeting. Hair-raising, but fleeting. Electric, but fleeting. Victorious, but fleeting. Well received (for the most part), but fleeting. Fun while it lasted, but fleeting. The wait will continue, for at least another 12 months. Or maybe more, who knows?
What is it about the IPL that makes it an attractive, arresting platform for espousing causes? Is it its immense popularity and its extraordinary reach that gives these causes a larger-than-life projection? Is it the global scale on which it is received that provides the perfect launching pad for recognition and impact? Is it its vulnerability, given that it is invariably associated only with money and wealth?
All of the above, naturally enough.
Two seasons back, the second half of matches scheduled in Maharashtra – Mumbai and Pune – were moved out by the courts on account of the drought in the western state. The outpouring of outrage at (treated) water being lavishly used to maintain cricketing venues carried the day, but little has been chronicled about whether moving the games out of the state eased the situation and offered succour to the severely affected. What the outcome will be of stripping Chennai of hosting status this year remains to be seen. But what of the losses to the multitude of people owing to this late development? Not just the big bad franchise which is often seen as nothing more than a money-shelling and money-making enterprise, but the vendor that has paid a big sum to earn minor catering contracts at the ground, to the guy on the street hoping to make a buck here and three there by selling merchandise? Who will compensate them?
Sport is meant to be a unifying force, not a divisive element. It is entertainment, yes, but not just that. What is entertainment for the audience is a matter of pride for the performer, who puts heart and soul into his pursuit of excellence, if not that elusive perfection. It has often been used as a vehicle of peace, to bring peoples together, to join hands in support and celebration, in awe and wonderment, in respect and admiration.
Maybe that is unfair. Maybe we are expecting too much of professional sportspersons when the responsibility we thrust upon them ought to be carried by leaders and statesmen, but such is their lot that whether they like it or not, they will be held up as role models. They are held to a standard that we spare not just the everyday man but even our elected representatives. We want them to be on their best behaviour even in the searing cauldron of no-holds-barred competition, dissecting their every move and word and action, always looking to pick the slightest hole that we put our finger in to willfully, joyously rip into a gaping gash. They have to be winners on the field, ambassadors of it, do and say the right things while those in more obvious decision-making roles can get away with indiscretions that often cause us to cringe and hang our heads in shame.
This has been quite a week for Indian sport. Our stars are holding their own in Gold Coast at the Commonwealth Games, winning gold medals expected and unexpected, showcasing the versatility and dynamism of the modern-day Indian sportsperson. The rise of Kidambi Srikanth to the No. 1 ranking in men’s singles in badminton is a feat unparalleled, a tribute to the system but also the spirit of both Srikanth and the growing badminton community in the country. The victory of the women’s team in the One-Day International series against formidable England is further vindication of the hope and interest generated in the wake of their majestic march to the World Cup final last year. The wonderful come-from-behind win of the Davis Cup team in China and Leander Paes’s tryst with the record for most doubles wins in the competition set things in motion, and the rest have followed suit in style. They have all been brilliantly received, as they should be. India has gone beyond just a cricket-obsessed nation over the last few years, even if few other sports will generate the same hysteria as the one involving seasoned willow and the tiny 5-1/2 ounce of leather, red or white or pink.
The IPL will come every year with clockwork precision, and invariably bring with it excitement, drama and controversy. It has tried to move beyond glitz and glamour, but the cash-rich sobriquet prefixed to it makes it susceptible proportionate to its popularity and reach. Not ideal, you might say, but then again, did anyone say that we are living in an ideal world?