Finally, a cricket team is only as good as its City

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: With the Yuvi team trouncing the UB® team in the Indian Premier League last night, there is one more reason for Vijay Mallya to get smashed tonight and tell his accountants to “stop payment” on the cheques of the players.

The poor little rich boy¤ can blame the horses, he can blame the jockey, he can blame the trainer, he can even blame the vaastu of the cheer girls. But, here’s a point to ponder: is the Bangalore team’s revival beyond Rahul Dravid, beyond Charu Sharma, beyond the players, beyond the redskins, beyond Mallya?

In short, to take a fatalistic view, is the pathetic performance of “Team Bangalore” just a reflection of the pathetic condition of “Brand Bangalore”?

Is it beyond cricket?

One of my pet theories is that the success of a City spurs success on other fronts and in other spheres, which then gets reflected in countless other ways. And to me, the plight of the Royal Challengers is only the most outward sporting manifestation of all that is wrong with the City they seemingly represent.

The late 1990s was what journalists (and only journalists!) call the halcyon period of Karnataka cricket which is really Bangalore cricket.

There were six, sometimes seven, players in the Indian team: Dravid and Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad regularly, and Sunil Joshi, Dodda Ganesh, Sujith Somasunder, David Johnson, Vijay Bharadwaj off and on.

The Karnataka team itself was top of the heap in the Ranji Trophy, and other domestic tournaments. Brijesh Patel was chief selector before a heart condition felled him. Talents like Yere Gowd couldn’t get in, so they had to go to Railways to chase their fortune. Dharmichand had to flee to Singapore.

There was, it seems, nothing that Karnataka could do wrong on the cricket field at the time.

Almost a decade later, they seem to do so twice a week.

The point I am trying to make—hypothetical as it is—is that Karnataka’s cricketing success was a small speck in a larger success story involving the State if not the City-State of Bangalore.

For starters, this was roughly the time the City was making “I” and “T” the two most important letters of the Indian alphabet. This was the time H.D. Deve Gowda was shedding his farming humility to become prime minister. This was the time Amitabh Bachchan was putting up the “Miss World” show. This was the time S.M. Krishna was coming in and jumbled up letters like BATF seemed like a manna from Mavalli.

Ergo: in the late ’90s, there was a buzz about Bangalore, a positive buzz which the team seemed to carry on to the cricket field. There was spunk in the Bangalore air, and a spring in everybody’s toes.

Swing into 2008 and the contrast is obvious.

When Mallya complains that he was constantly told that the practice facilities for the IPL team were bad, it seems like an echo of the general infrastructure complaint that is on everybody’s lips in Bangalore!

Of course, this is a debatable point but that is the whole point of this piece: debate.

You could run this theory to other cities and States too with some luck. When a delicate saboteur called V.V. S. Laxman was setting fire to the turf, Chandrababu Naidu was “hot”. Pullela Gopichand was winning the all-England tournament. Sania Mirza was breaking on to the scene.

When Tinu Yohanan was making his debut, Kerala was just coming off a high of Arundhati Roy winning a Booker prize, of K.R. Narayanan becoming the first Dalit president, of the State marketing itself as “God’s Own Country”, prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was taking a holiday there.

Cut to Calcutta, and when Saurav Ganguly was looking skywards and imperiously gesturing to the planets to move squarer, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was the in-thing in the small universe that is bhadralok.

Etcetera.

The short point is, when cities, states and City-States do well, there seems to be a sudden burst of creative output, sporting, literary, political, intellectual, etc. It is a massively osmotic process: everybody feeds off each other’s success/ image.

The afterglow is collective.

But when things go wrong, like ring a ring o’ roses, all fall down.

Of course, there are hundreds of other examples which can be offered to establish just the exact opposite. That’s why there’s a “Comment” button below! So, fire.

Photograph: courtesy Vijay Padiyar