That sports fans are diehard is a time-worn cliché; that some can even be prescient should be of interest to those who make it their business to study such unusual things.
One of my followers on Twitter (@cricketwallah, in case you didn’t know) took umbrage when I took a potshot at the Chennai Super Kings, or CSK, shortly after their disastrous start to chasing Royal Challengers Bangalore’s daunting 175 on Tuesday night at Wankhede Stadium. “Whistle-podu (the official catchphrase of CSK, meaning blow the whistle) going rapidly silent,” I posted. At 7 for 2 in the second over, with Mr Reliable Mike Hussey and big-hitting Murali Vijay both gone, surely CSK were goners.
“You’ll eat your words and do whistle-podu by the time the match is through,” or words to that effect, wrote back the aforementioned follower. “Chennai will win by at least five wickets, watch out for Raina, Dhoni and Morkel,” he added. As it happens, CSK won the thriller by six wickets, with all these three players playing crucial innings.
Consistent: Chennai have reached the IPL final thrice in four editions. PTI
In many ways, this match was every bit as pulsating as the last league game between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at the Eden Gardens on Sunday, even if CSK had to make only 12 in the last over compared with Mumbai’s 21. How could the CSK diehard, who was also my Twitter follower, have known what would transpire? Was it premonition or a lucky guess?
I’ll leave that to the pundits from other walks of life, like occult sciences and theories of probability, to sort out. It’s a pity though that the Wankhede Stadium was less than half full for one of the finest games in the history of the Indian Premier League (IPL). This is something that should exercise the governing council of the league.
On my part, I did the most honourable thing in the circumstances: I swallowed my words and “whistle-podu-ed” for CSK all the way back home from the ground.
On a more serious note, CSK’s progress into the final—their third in four years—reflects extraordinary consistency in a format that can be infuriatingly topsy-turvy. For instance, the three editions of the T20 World Championships have produced a different winner each time: India in 2007, Pakistan in 2009 and England in 2010.
Also read | Ayaz Memon’s earlier column
There was some discontent among other owners during the IPL players auction in January when CSK were able to retain most of the players who had been with them for three years. Questions were asked about the IPL governing council’s decision to amend the “roll call” of players to be auctioned; some owners alleged this tended to favour the CSK franchise.
There were other counts of chicanery alleged against CSK, notably the last-minute pitch-switch in the match against Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur, which erupted into the only worthwhile controversy in this edition of the IPL.
Whatever the truth, the Chennai team has looked the most settled, as also the most resourceful and resilient in crises. They have been the least demonstrative on the field, and the least newsworthy off it, if you know what I mean. They’ve gone about their business with quiet efficiency.
It has obviously helped that the squad has remained substantially the same, the loss of Muttiah Muralitharan and L. Balaji to other franchises, by all accounts, being deeply regretted in the franchise. But this must be juxtaposed with the fact that most other teams, barring Mumbai Indians and to some extent Rajasthan Royals, actively sought a team overhaul.
Indeed, the play-offs stage pitched not just four teams vying for the title, but also two contrasting theories. Chennai and Mumbai opted to remain loyal to their tried and tested personnel, went for consistency and predictability; Bangalore and Kolkata challenged the status quo and, barring a player or two, went in for new-look teams.
Doubtless, fresh management theories—of sport and business—will emerge, depending on how this Change versus Loyalty story plays out over the next few days.
I write this just hours before Mumbai play KKR to determine who will meet Bangalore in the eliminator to play the final against Chennai. For the benefit of my aggrieved Twitter follower, I am working hard to make my whistle-podu sound as mellifluous as possible on Saturday. All CSK have to do now is win.
Ayaz Memon is a senior journalist who writes on sports and other issues.
Write to Ayaz at email@example.com