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Riding into the night

The KKR train-wreck isn’t even funny any more

Written by Kunal Pradhan |
May 14, 2009 10:48:27 pm

Once upon a time,in a land not far away,cricket was a simple game of bat and ball. Bowler ran in,leapt,cocked wrist,released; batsman watched,shuffled,moved forward or back,whacked; fielder anticipated,chased,picked up,threw.

Then came small laptops with big memories,armed with elaborate software capable of micro-analysis,coaches,trainers,psychologists,bio-mechanists,and things began to change. Finally,Kolkata Knight Riders arrived on the scene and,with a 18-member support staff telling 24 players what to do,nothing would ever be the same again.

Following KKR over these past few weeks has been like watching someone fall in slow motion. The best way to get a laugh out of your audience is to slip on a banana skin,everybody knows that — The Three Stooges did it successfully for years,and the team’s owner Shah Rukh Khan has not been averse to a spill or two during an illustrious film career. But broken bones don’t induce laughter quite as effectively as a hurriedly dusted trouser seat,and gradually the comedy behind KKR’s demise has disappeared,its place taken by a tragedy that’s neither riveting nor sublime. It was hard to sympathise with them from the start because they’d brought their troubles upon themselves; somehow you can no longer throw your head back and laugh either.

Only a few sarcastic sniggers emanate these days when they step on the field,hold a media conference,or when another controversy explodes in their already serialised dressing-room. For example,when skipper Brendon McCullum said this week that the team needed to be more consistent,the joke was instantly on him. You are already consistent,merciless bloggers pointed out,having lost seven straight matches and looking good for eight,nine,ten and eleven. Number eight was logged the following day against Bangalore.

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It’s been said that failure doesn’t have any fathers,but what’s interesting about this Kolkata story is that there are so many.

Shah Rukh,in his second year as team owner,didn’t understand that sport is different from cinema because it doesn’t follow a script. Both teams are trying to win,and players sometimes need time and trust,rather than constant pressure,to deliver results.

Buchanan,after so many seasons as an international coach,still insisted on reinventing the wheel. The best laid plans on a 14-inch screen amount to nothing without practice,patience and flexibility because a computer can’t go in to bat.

And the think-tank comprising cricket experts of every nature — former players,agents,management gurus — did not select players based on their form and skill-set,so that a proper combination could’ve been out together,but on their ability to enhance the brand.

KKR’s first blunder was in the off-season when they didn’t pick enough Indian batsmen capable of making an impact in the game’s shortest format. Their biggest mistake was siding with Buchanan,even after his four-skipper theory had been laughed away,in a battle for supremacy between him and the team’s skipper.

The captain vs coach debate comes up time and again these days,and the simple answer that the power in cricket — unlike football,hockey and basketball where the workload on an individual player is too much to be burdened with further responsibility — has to be with the captain still hasn’t been accepted as the universal truth despite countless examples in its favour and none against it.

It’s becoming more evident with every passing match that the KKR players are insecure and bitter. New allegations are surfacing within the team every day,dirty linen is being washed in public; and as often happens at such times,the problems are spilling on the cricket field,leading to rash shots,slow full-tosses,and dropped catches. Their biggest problem now,in the last three matches,is that they’re battling the very nature of sport. Losing is a habit. Once you’re caught in a long rut the only way out is a wholesale change — in mindset or personnel — which can only happen next season.

Deccan Chargers experienced it last year,when they finished with only two wins despite having an abundance of riches in their squad. And now Kolkata will probably end up with no more than the three points they already have. For all the technological advances made in cricket,you don’t need a laptop to tell you that its unforgiving nature remains simple as ever.

kunal.pradhan@expressindia.com

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