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Preity Zinta’s delight in victory is as extravagant as a child’s. One can imagine her slapping the backs of the players and kissing those macho Australians on the cheek with shrieks of joy and making them blush. Photo: Reuters
Preity Zinta’s delight in victory is as extravagant as a child’s. One can imagine her slapping the backs of the players and kissing those macho Australians on the cheek with shrieks of joy and making them blush. Photo: Reuters

The Kings and their Queen

Could it be that Preity Zinta is the force behind the extraordinary success of Kings XI Punjab?

The UAE leg of IPL 7 is over. For the last two weeks, it has provided nightly entertainment to millions of Indians who may have election news coming out of their ears and wanted a break. This Lok Sabha poll campaign has now been reduced to nothing more than a daily string of personal attacks and general nastiness. No party has distinguished itself by sobriety in its utterances, and the various spokespersons appearing on TV debates are more interested in attacking one another than in addressing any issue of importance. The general tone is as follows: Spokesperson A: “Your leaders aid this! This is hypocritical/ undemocratic/ communal/ anti-national." In reply, Spokesperson B: “In 2008, what did your leader say? Wasn’t that hypocritical/undemocratic/communal/anti-national?" In other words, it’s all about pots and kettles and how black they are.

So it may be relaxing to lay all this aside a bit and reflect on what we’ve seen in the IPL so far.

Why has Kings XI Punjab been so successful? Before the start of the tournament, no one could have predicted that it would win all five of its matches, but the team has done so, with style and attitude. And on star value, KXIP started off hardly as a glittering constellation. Glen Maxwell and David Miller were far from being household names, and only the most fanatical followers of the game would have heard of Sandeep Sharma, who was man of the match in the last two matches (in the first three, it was Maxwell). Cheteshwar Pujara has always been considered unsuitable for anything other than the five-day format, and Sehwag and Balaji are supposed to be has-beens.

In IPL 5 and IPL 6, Maxwell’s teams Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians hardly played him even though they had spent very large sums of money to buy him. In his five previous innings in the IPL—two for Delhi and three for Mumbai—he had scored a mere 42 runs at a strike rate of 110. Hardly something to remember. This time, in five matches, he’s scored 300, with a strike rate of above 200.

So what’s the secret? One, it’s very balanced team, and packed with players who want to prove something to the world: to announce their arrival, or to tell the world they’re not through yet. There seems to be a rare camaraderie between them, under the leadership of George Bailey, who smiles a lot. In fact, KXIP players, in general, smile a lot, even when the team is under pressure. Maxwell can be seen smiling even when he is walking back to the pavilion after being dismissed for a low score.

Could a crucial factor also be Preity Zinta, who carries herself quite differently from the other franchise owners, like she’s one of the boys, and not the one who signs their cheques? She makes no bones about the fact that she does not understand the deep intricacies of the game, but she is curious and free to admit that she’s learnt a lot and is still learning. Her delight in victory is as extravagant as a child’s. One can imagine her slapping the backs of the players and kissing those macho Australians on the cheek with shrieks of joy and making them blush.

Compare this to the other owners. Neeta Ambani sits regally in the stands in glorious isolation, Vijay Mallya broods morosely, and Shah Rukh Khan is either hanging around with sheikhs or entertaining the crowds. For obvious reasons, the Chennai owners are nowhere to be seen, and the owners of the Hyderabad and Delhi franchises too seem to be low-key and distant from the players (that is the impression one gets from watching the matches on TV).

Maybe all these KXIP men are being able to do all these astonishing things on the field because they adore Zinta, and would die rather than let her down? This may be an extraordinarily naïve and romantic view, but what the hell, this is the silly season, and I may be allowed a bit of leeway.

The obvious question then, is: Preity Zinta has been co-owner of Kings XI Punjab right from IPL 1, so why didn’t it perform so well ever? Well, this KXIP is a wholly new team, built from scratch. Only two players were retained from the previous season: Miller and Manan Vohra, who hasn’t played a match yet. These guys are all being exposed to the renownedly effervescent Zinta charm for the first time.

I am good with numbers, and can do excruciatingly deep cricket statistics analysis too, to develop a theory about why Kings XI Punjab is doing so well. But this is a much more fun theory to float. And do excuse me, but I feel like having some fun today.

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