Chennai is my home town. Virtually everything I learned about cricket as a kid in the 80’s was from being around knowledgeable Chennaites. I have an almost familial attachment to the city and the sport. In the Indian Premier League (IPL) I hence root for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK). While the ties between the players who wear the yellow jerseys brandishing the alphabets on the front and the city are fairly loose, the team has actually commanded and earned my support and fandom with their consistency and excellence thru five seasons.They have been ably lead and coached. They have signed players up intelligently and have represented the city very well. The organization also does social media well (as evident by the videos below), has many interesting characters and most importantly wins way more games than it loses.
But rooting for the team in season 6 of the IPL in 2013 is going to feel very different and much more difficult. Politics and sport are constantly intertwined in India but the decision by the IPL governing council to placate the ruling Tamil Nadu government and rule out players of Sri Lankan descent from games in Chennai reeks of a stench heretofore unheard of in sport. The rule disregards the competitive checks and balances in place and forces teams to play Chennai in Chennai (an already intimidating task) with one hand tied behind their backs for no fault of theirs. The rule is a meek surrender to a powerful political entity. The rule embraces fear and engenders it even more. The IPL and CSK are very proud of how professional they are. Nothing could be less professional than skewing the balance of 11% of the games on the words of a state politician.
I am not naive to underestimate the influence, clout and words of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. But there are ways to deal with a diktat like that so as to not compromise on competitive balance. Ideally the IPL governing council should have polled the eight other teams on their willingness to play in Chennai without their Lankan players. Those teams that did not view this as a competitive disadvantage should have been asked to play their games in Chennai as planned and those teams that expressed an issue should have had their games moved to a neutral venue of the governing council’s choice. The only people who would have been hurt by this would be fans and players of CSK who could have then expressed their frustration to the Chief Minister of their state. The feedback loop would have been apt, ethical and fair. The chief minister would have been asked to explain to her constituents why she felt it was unsafe for Sri Lankan players to play in Chennai. At least by following this process, the league would hold accountable those that need to be held accountable and not punish the innocents.
Instead the governing council has chosen the easy way out. Losing home games at the M A Chidambaram stadium is a big no-no to the CSK ownership group and the President of the BCCI. So they have forced eight other teams to bite the bullet. This is unfair and irks me as someone who roots for the city of Chennai and the cricket team. There is no doubt that their home wins this year deserve to be asterisked. Would the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have paid $625,00 for Senanayake if they knew ahead of time that they couldn’t use him versus the team that pushed them to the brink last year? Are the Mumbai Indians and the Ambani family going to be compensated for not being able to use their spearhead in one of their two opening games?
And what a bad precedent this is for the future? Could a chief minister of a different state not ban Chris Gayle or Dale Steyn or Dirk Nannes on account of the all-encompassing ‘security reasons’?
I love my hometown and love the concept of a franchise-based professional league in India. I like a salary-cap league that entertains millions of people night-after-night. I like the Chennai Super Kings. I will still root for them because that’s what fans do. If it were easy to switch loyalties, sports would be covered on the same page of the newspaper as the stock market. We’d always root for the bulls and abandon the bears.
I will watch the games this year. I will wear my yellow jersey. I will take strategic bathroom timeouts and text my friends during the games. I will see my sleep affected and will mutter Whistle Podu as I walk past people in parking lots and buses. I will spend an insane amount of time to calculate the complex permutations that will need to transpire for CSK to make the playoffs.
In the midst of all this, I will know that the team’s home games are asterisked and are a sham this year. There’s just no way to WHISTLE past it……