What Mallya’s team says about Mallya’s mind

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Of the many cheap thrills that I have been getting from the Indian Premier League since the day of the auction, nothing beats the rare window it has provided me on the minds of India’s superrich, the creme de la creme of Indian business and cinema.

Otherwise so very secretive about how they spend their crores, here they are making decisions in the full glare of competitors and throwing their cash in public. And here they are loading their shopping carts and showing how their brains tick. In most cases, most buyers have conformed to the buy-it-if-you-have-it philosophy.

But is any team owner’s choices as perplexing and mystifying as Vijay Mallya‘s?

As he comes across in the media, the liquor baron is a walking, talking, shouting advertisement of the Kingfisher slogan in real life: King of good times.

Mallya doesn’t hesitate making brave at times foolish decisions, even at the risk of being proved wrong. He loves being seen with the bold and beautiful at race courses and cat walks, and he loves being the centre of attraction and being talked about. In a studio discussion, his is always the loudest voice. He spends money like beer shooting calendars every year-end. When he launches an airline, he hands out headphones and pens and other knickknacks to get passengers hooked. When he gets into Formula One racing….

In short, Mallya is loud, flashy, gaudy, adventurous, flamboyant—and extravagant. And decidedly upperclass.
In contrast, Mallya’s Bangalore IPL team is the exact opposite of his personality: better safe than sorry, colourless, lowkey and very very VFM (value for money).

Seeing dead-slow coaches like Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer, Jacques Kallis and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and ageing warhorses like Anil Kumble and Sunil Joshi in the same squad, you have to ask two questions:

One, has Mallya formed a team for a five-day Test match or a mad Twenty20 scramble?

And two, is Mallya playing it smart by playing it safe, or does he know more than other owners?

Make no mistake. This is just a commentary on the team owner’s choices, not team’s chances. Despite the stunning middleclassness about it, Bangalore could still make it; cricket is that sort of a game. It is far different on turf than on paper.

Still, you have to wonder what drove Mallya into going in for the kind of team he has “bought” after paying Rs 446 crore for the Bangalore franchise.

The buzz at the KSCA club house in Bangalore is that Dravid played a key role in the team selection. Apparently, the captain asked the owner if he wanted stars or performers. When Mallya expressed his inclination in favour of the latter, the die was cast in favour of Kallis, Jaffer, Joshi & Co.

Both Dravid and Charu Sharma, the CEO designate of the Bangalore team, have said that they badly wanted Robin Utthappa. Just Utthappa?

Look at Hyderabad with Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Herschelle Gibbs, and Shahid Afridi in the ranks. Or look at Madras with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Matthew Hayden, and Jacob Oram.

Has Bangalore missed a beat in going in for solidity against effervescence?

And, knowing what we do about Mallya’s personality, has he deprived himself of something to crow about at his parties?

On the other hand, they say the IPL is more than just about cricket. They say it is about building a City’s loyalty to the team, about creating buzz around the sponsor’s products, about using the stars as brand ambassadors. Etc. If so, Mallya seems to have gone in for a bunch of would-be pensioners to represent a City once known as pensioner’s paradise.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

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