A blow to Bangalore fans

Kevin Pietersen.

Bangalore lost its right to host the IPL semi-finals because of two crude bomb explosions at Gates 8 and 12 in the Chinnaswamy Stadium, minutes before the game between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians. By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

A sinister surprise was in store at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium on April 17, minutes before the IPL game between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians. Half an hour before the toss, a loud sound was heard from near the venue and the unease increased when police commissioner Shankar Bidari said that the explosion was not accidental and cell phones buzzed with anxious calls.

In the press box, word spread about the two crude bomb explosions at Gates 8 and 12.

Exactly six months ago, a Champions League game at the same venue was delayed after the police allegedly found traces of residual explosive material in the bag of Jammu and Kashmir player Parvez Rasool, who was in town to play in the Col. C.K. Nayudu under-22 tournament. The player was picked up for enquiry and subsequently released as there was no conclusive evidence and Rasool poignantly said: “I am a cricketer not a terrorist.”

The latest terror tactics delayed the game by an hour and after the host lost to Sachin Tendulkar's men, Royal Challengers' skipper Anil Kumble said: “This (bombs) has become a part of life. It could happen outside the stadium, it could happen outside your home.” And with two more explosives traced on the next day, Bangalore lost its right to host the semi-finals while the police officials grappled with their obvious security-lapse.

All in the game

In the heat of the moment, cricketers do exchange acerbic words and at times even team-mates are not spared. Kevin Pietersen is no exception to this rule. The dapper England batsman was busy guiding Royal Challengers Bangalore to a victory over Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur when he was stranded on 66.

Walking back after being run-out, Pietersen gesticulated to his partner Virat Kohli and seemed to suggest that his junior should have sacrificed his wicket. Pietersen said: “The new man should sacrifice his wicket and Virat should have allowed me to finish off the game in the next over. It took us two or three more overs to finish that game and run rate is important. That was the way I looked at it. I kept an arm around him (later) and said this is the reason why I shouted at you a little too loudly. And he said it was fine. Probably Virat and I are tightest of friends in the team and so I could afford to be honest with him.”

The two do share an easy vibe and during a subsequent match at Bangalore, a television camera focused on the Royal Challengers dug-out. The flare-up at Jaipur was still fresh in public memory and on cue Pietersen and Kohli flickered on the giant screen as applause rang out aloud amidst the stands. And in an impish moment, just to embarrass his pal, Pietersen gave a peck on Kohli's cheek and the two burst out laughing.

The brand will survive

Harbhajan Singh.

As the whirlpool of ministers, cricket administrators, lost bid documents, twitter remarks and diverted flights, to name a few, pushes the league from the sports pages to page one, life seems to have come a full circle for Lalit Modi.

The face of the IPL may not remember the derisive boos that unfortunately greeted him when he walked up to the dais on the inaugural day of the tournament's first edition at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in 2008. A section of the crowd enthused by the presence of cricketing stardust ranging from Sachin Tendulkar to Shane Warne, obviously could not relate to a board official who in fact was the brain behind the tournament.

Subsequently as Modi became the larger than life, dispensing quotes and tweets and literally had a camera trailing him at each stadium, the crowd lost its unexplained antagonism. Now with him and the league's backroom administration going through a purge, a few doubts have cropped up about the tournament's survival.

However the cricketers, both former and present, believe that the intensity of the matches will help the brand survive. Javagal Srinath in his syndicated column, has stressed that the competitive level has increased in the tournament over three years. Similarly Tendulkar said that people, be it cricketers or fans, want to see a competitive match and as long as that is ensured, the game and its latest avatar will survive.

Pitching it right

The pitch at the Chinnaswamy Stadium has drawn wide attention ever since Sunil Gavaskar played a masterly 96 in a lost cause against Pakistan in his last Test in 1987. The centre square, then referred to as a mine-field, has evolved over the years and has witnessed some gripping contests like the 1996 World Cup quarter-final in which India defeated Pakistan and Venkatesh Prasad gave an angry send-off to Aamir Sohail.

As it became slow, the wicket had many a transplant operation in recent years. Soil from Anantapur and Mandya, has been part of the sub-layers while experts from New Zealand's Turf Institute had a brief tilt at supervising the pitch. And during those times when surface turgidity became a permanent question, curator Narayan Raju would speak about excess cricket marring pitch preparation.

However good tidings were in store as the IPL caravan made its regular stop-over at Bangalore and the well-prepared pitch with its visible bounce and good carry earned rave reviews from players and commentators. Narayan, like aggrieved wicket-keepers and umpires who believe that they never gain a kind word, said: “When the pitch is not up to expectation, all of you write about it but when it is good, no one seems to mention a word.”

Narayan and former Karnataka player Fazal Khaleel, who assisted him, can now breathe easy and perhaps swell their hearts with pride. The inaugural IPL awards ceremony in Mumbai bestowed the honour of the 'best ground' on Bangalore's favourite cricket venue and it was due recognition for the sweat, toil and patience of the duo assisted by the hard-working ground staff.

Moment of delight

Cricket throws up a range of characters, be it a reticent Ambati Rayudu or the ebullient Murali Vijay. Rayudu played a smart hand in Mumbai Indians' victory over Royal Challengers at Bangalore on a day when the word ‘bomb' was whispered with fear.

However Rayudu was a picture of serenity and smiles on a cynical day. “We were focussed on the game,” was all that he would say and when asked about the transition from the Indian Cricket League to the IPL, all he would say was: “I like playing for Mumbai Indians in the IPL.”

Murali Vijay on the other hand exudes a charm and a naughty streak that might have well earned him poster-space inside the hostels of eminent colleges for women in Chennai.

Recently, after pouching a skier in the deep, he broke into an impromptu jig but the cameras' wavering attention was cut short by the commercial break.

Harbhajan Singh, another man who revels in the limelight, dispensed a hug and heartily lifted team owner Nita Ambani as Mumbai Indians raced to the final stretch. Commentators let out a collective gasp at the temerity of the spinner while dealing with one of the richest individuals in the world. But that is the way Harbhajan is and he is not going to change his spots.