Mahendra Singh Dhoni stands on a piece of parched earth. He hits the ground with his bat as one would plant a spear to mark conquered territory. The earth cracks, and shards of hard soil come flying at the camera with faces of Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings teammates etched on them. The Champions League T20 is here, about to start in some days from now.
Shah Rukh Khan sits on a dried tree stump. Massive statues of cricketers rise all around — though it beats me why some of them seem to be flaking off or appear covered with mud. A giant dusty chessboard appears, and these ungainly golems start lumbering around, though they give the impression that their parts are about to fall off. The Champions League T20 is here.
Talk about rubbing salt into wounds.
The moment after you have watched Dhoni get out caught behind in textbook style — fishing at a ball outside the off stump without moving his feet an inch, there he is on your screen, glaring at you with noble murderous determination like a Spartan from the film 300, an uncaged lion in the service of Chennai. The Indian cricket team has just got the worst drubbing of their lives, the dressing room has turned into an infirmary, we have trouble getting eleven unjet-lagged players of some quality onto the ground for the one-dayers, and already we are being swamped with rousing calls to line up for the next episode of the Indian cricket circus. What do they think we are, a nation of patsies?
One can’t blame the sponsors — they’ve sunk in king’s ransoms to own teams, to attach their names to the tournament and to jersey sleeves of players. They can do nothing but to have a real go at it and hope for the best — that the audiences will turn up, that TRPs won’t plummet. But I have severe doubts whether anyone but the hardest of cricket nuts and the seriously idle would pay much attention to cricket so quickly after what has happened in the past some weeks in England.
And please don’t use the term “fickle” this time for the Indian cricket enthusiast. It’s clear that our cricketers have been hiding injuries, postponing treatment, or had been playing so much cricket that they were just asking for physical breakdowns. And all this they have done not to lose out on the T20 cash. (And of course, there’s Gautam Gambhir, who is the first cricketer in history to have hurt himself so bad landing on his head while fielding that he had to drop out of the ODI series. Anyone want to bet on whether he’ll turn out for Kolkata Knight Riders in the Champions League?) It is inconceivable that the BCCI did not know about — or at least anticipate — its cricketers’ physical problems. And just the other day, appearing before a Parliamentary Standing Committee, the BCCI secretary replied to several questions about the mysterious financial dealings in the IPL with a — one can only hope, apologetic — reply: “I have no answer to that, sir.”
The dust-swept wasteland on which Shah Rukh Khan stands along with the creaking mud-caked giant statues of cricketers unintentionally becomes a twisted metaphor for what’s going on in Indian cricket. My TV is certainly going to be switched to some other channel when the great champions meet in battle.