FOR Indian cricket fans, the colour yellow was always a symbol of dread, conjuring up grim images of marauding Australians crushing their hopes remorselessly while handing out thumping beatdowns to their beloved team. Then in the summer of 2008, MS Dhoni made yellow cool.
He not only got rid of the trepidation surrounding it, the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) skipper made Indian cricket and its fans fall in love with yellow. And as the IPL grew from an experiment to an extravaganza, the image of Dhoni in yellow became its enduring image, and CSK its gold standard.
If Chennai embraced Dhoni as one of its own in the midst of all the Whistle Podus, giving him a cricketing home in India, Jaipur went a step further by providing an Australian icon, a second fling with superstardom. Duly, Shane Warne pulled off a sensational heist with a motley crew donning royal-blue to stop Dhoni’s wave of yellow and put Rajasthan on the cricket map.
In the following half-a-dozen years, many other teams would lay claim to the IPL crown, but in many ways Rajasthan Royals (RR) remained the original trend-setters. They remained the original fairytale.
While the IPL world perennially looked at CSK with awe as Dhoni led his star-studded outfit to final after final — they made six in eight editions — the Royals left them in awe as their rag-tag outfit kept upsetting the apple-cart season after season. Despite adopting distinctly contrasting cricketing ideologies in their approach, CSK and RR were the defining benchmarks of excellence. And it is rather unfortunate that they should owe their ignominious exits to the nefarious activities indulged in by their owners off the field. Their sudden egress is sure to tear the IPL asunder.
For, even while those running their affairs from the plush owners’ boxes were flouting the IPL’s code of conduct, RR embodied the tournament’s motto of marrying talent and opportunity on the field. Theirs was forever the most enthralling table in the auction room, and it wasn’t just because Shilpa Shetty was in attendance, glamming up the scene. But instead it was to see who they were going to pick out of the blue and turn into a star. Like they did with a 42-year-old maidaan leg-spinner from suburban Mumbai, who had long given up hope of playing at any level above club cricket. Pravin Tambe though was only one of the many mavericks that adorned RR colours over the years. In contrast to CSK, who were always looking to procure a full pack of trump cards, the Royals were keenly in pursuit of the joker in the pack. Age was never a bar.
Their non-conformist eccentricities weren’t restricted to their choice of personnel. It also showed in their on-field tactics, be it their horses for courses selections or reliance on bowlers of the unorthodox kind. But throughout, they kept IPL audiences on the edge of their seats.
CSK, on the other hand, were the ultimate touchstones in terms of how a sporting franchise should be run. They had level-headed men at the helm running the show with clockwork precision, an inspirational skipper and a seasoned bunch of players following a tried-and-test success plan. And they kept winning matches. They epitomized consistency. They were the only team to make it to the final leg of the tournament in every edition.
CSK was also the finishing school for Dhoni the finisher. With CSK, he began redefining the way targets could be chased down — without fuss or stress. It’s in yellow that Dhoni really became the cold-blooded assassin of hapless teams trying to defend totals.
CSK and RR were two teams that every franchise league could do with. CSK, ala Manchester United, the team to beat every season, and Rajasthan, the IPL’s Everton, the underdog that everyone rooted for. But on Tuesday, CSK’s ‘whistles’ and Rajasthan’s ‘Halla Bols’ were silenced once and for all. And as RM Lodha delivered his judgement in black and white, the bright yellow and royal blue faded away, leaving the IPL shrouded in gloomy, grimy grey.