"Dekho Dekho Dekho Kya Hai Mumbai..."
"Rukti Na Yeh Chalte Jaaye Mumbai..."
"Haare Naa Yeh Jeete Meri Mumbai..."
"Lakhon Ko Yeh Paale Aisi Mumbai..."
"Bharat Ki Yeh Shaan Meri Mumbai..."
This is usually how my day begins, with Taufiq Qureishi's drums and Vijay Prakash's soothing vocals taking over the lyrics. And, if you ask me how it ends these days, "Oh man ! Mumbai is a crap team, when we have Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra, how the hell are we going to win matches ?". Thats not all, there is a burning desire to just take the next flight from Delhi, land into the newly-furnished Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport and drive straight to the Wankhede Stadium, don the blues and take the field. Even as I am writing this post, and Gilchrist is doing a Barry Bonds by smacking a home run every delivery, there is a resigned fate on the face of the Mumbai "Indians" (as much as anyone, I do not approve of this name). But, its now been four times in a row now and for a team that fetched the highest amount in the franchise auction, I must admit, it is turning out to be an investment in vain.
Having said that, is there a connect between the city and the team ? How can it be, when eleven of your local stars are plying their trade elsewhere - for example, a Mumbai-fan has to take efforts to know who Siddharth Chitnis is, as it appears, nothing more than a rookie offie who hasn't done much to show. Compare that with the more experienced Ramesh Powar, who is with Mohali these days, unfamiliar territory indeed for someone who's grown up on the docile wickets of Khar Gymkhana. Similarly, Ajit Agarkar - who might well be SRK's best budget buy, and Rohit Sharma, who was himself flummoxed when he was supposed to don the shade of light brown instead of the blues. And who do we have instead ? People, who have no association to Mumbai, do not know the city's cricketing culture and even, the spirit of the city. Harbhajan Singh, who seems like Tendulkar's best-mate after the great man saved his backside following the Symonds issue, and what do Mumbaikars get from the temperamental offie ? A slap. Robin Uthappa, a Bangalorean is still okay. You then have an Ashish Nehra, who is still remembered for that one spell and his endless list of injuries. It was a big risk to take, especially on someone who hardly played any cricket all season.
Harbhajan Singh's slap on Sreesanth is not just a slap on Indian cricket, but a bigger slap on the city he's representing. Sachin Tendulkar, despite being provoked time and again over his career span, prefers to raise his bat and time it down the ground for that illustration we prefer watching over and over again. Cricketers in Mumbai, might have their eardrums filled with "Bat and pad close together", but never with "Haathala Uthavun Kanakhaali De". In the past, Mumbai cricketers and captains have always felt proud to wear the lion-crest, but this time the sudarshan chakra is flying where it is not supposed to. They ensured that with power and position, came a responsibility, a big one. Harbhajan, with his innocuous past carries no credibility in captaining this team. But when you're Sachin's best crony - things become a lot easier.
To blame this team for the depths of insipidity they have achieved would be a little too unfair, but even before things began on the cricket field, the auction room was where the mind-games were won. And to pick a team which consisted largely of Sachin loyalists wasn’t surprising but given that every team in this competition would have picked a winning combine – Mumbai lagged far behind on that front. They seemed adept in extending that large pampered family within the national set up, and at the same time picking some strange have-been choices in Sanath Jayasuriya and Shaun Pollock. The affluenza did not begin or end with Sachin Tendulkar, but almost seemed like an epidemic, when Harbhajan did not shy away from bringing down his buddies in Dominic Thornley (team-mates at Surrey) and Nehra. In many ways than once, it was a doomed strategy – one that lacked conviction and smelt of mediocrity at best.
On the leadership front, Mumbai were found wanting again. Tendulkar’s groin injury has not helped their cause, but it is his smart way of dealing with the situation that has. When Niranjan Shah, the BCCI Secretary, proudly announced that Sachin will not be fit for the Kanpur Test, but will play in the IPL – the buzz-birds had their final say. But, with four games in, Tendulkar has defied the worst conspiracy theorists. It was the moment for him to come out, and battle hard, but he chose to stay away to prevent further damage. If not now, then when ? If Mumbai are out of title contention by mid-May, will we be in a position to put up with the “He was preserving himself for the international commitments” crap ? MS Dhoni, displayed immaculate leadership when he chose to keep wickets to Murali and Jacob Oram despite a bruised finger. He meant business.
At the end of it all, Mukesh Ambani must realize that money cannot win you trophies. Money could have done something only if he invested it in the right players. Let’s admit, Mukesbhai, you were wrong this time. No one will remember if Mumbai or the then Bombay won 37 Ranji Titles, for it fails to match the aura of the IPL. Mumbai fans will ultimately come to terms with the fact that, their team was not built for winning, but to keep two men satiated.