“You know what? It feels great that CSK is not playing this year,” said Nikhil. It was late in the evening and we were wrapping up work, and he said it almost absent-minded looking at the TV, which was flashing an IPL ad.
had known that he supported RCB, and that he was one of the devout. “Fine,” I said not wanting to get into banter so late into the day. But he continued. “We have lost to them so many times, it's not even funny. Once we even lost to them in the playoffs, blasted our way through other teams to reach the final, and then lost to them again. That was EPIC FAIL,” he said. “But somehow this year feels different. Gayle is back from a World Cup win. Kohli is in the form of his life. May be this is our year,” he went on. It slowly dawned on me – while it was, in part, the repeated losses to the neighbor that rankled, this was one more way of rekindling that hope one more time.
I knew it and I felt almost guilty - intruding his melancholic dream, like picking at the scabs of a wound that refuses to heal. Nevertheless, I urged him on and invited myself in.
“Back when the IPL began in 2008, no one had any clue that it will become what it is today. We just supported whoever we felt like – I rooted for KKR because Bazz was playing. And that season went horribly wrong for RCB, I remember. They bought draft horses and expected them to win a derby race, and obviously they ended the season miserably.”
“In the second season, we bought Pietersen. While he did not do much, he brought something very important – intent. We suddenly were much better, and had youngsters like Manish Pandey – he scored that century in the last league match. Then there was this ever-sweet victory against CSK in the semis, and then we went into the final. We had to chase an 'okay' target and we fluffed it. That was the first of our chokes,” he said.
I remembered that match in Johannesburg where RCB had lost wickets in almost arithmetic progression, but that was no choke. They never were in the game at any point to have choked.
“Ohh, then you should watch this,” Nikhil said and played for me that 2013 IPL match when RCB lost to, not surprisingly, CSK. After making 165 at the Chepauk, RCB have Chennai on the mat with the home side needing 41 off 18 balls, and then Dhoni gets out leaving CSK with 29 needed off 11 balls. With 16 needed off the last over from RP Singh, Jadeja cracks a six and a four off the first two balls. It's CSK's to lose, and they inexplicably manage exactly that – after four runs in the next three balls, Jadeja edges the ball to third man going for a slog off the last ball – and RCB have managed to win. Kohli runs in animated and screaming, and then wait! RP Singh has bowled a no-ball, and CSK have won!
© Official FB - RCB
Rewind a year back to 2014. April 24th. It was KKR this time at Sharjah. Kohli and Yuvraj are at the crease at 122/2 and RCB need 29 off 26 balls. And then Narine sneaks one through that glances off Kohli's pads before just taking the left bail off. It still was not anywhere close to dire as Yuvraj and ABD are at the crease. 10 off 9 balls, and Yuvi holes out at deep point. 9 off 6 and Vinay Kumar bowls the last over, and ABD and Albie are out there. That should have been easy. And then in one almighty choke, they let it all go. As Lynn pulled off that inhuman catch at the ropes to send back ABD, the tag had already stuck - “Chokers!”. de Villiers would be as used to it as being called de Villiers by now.
But the funny part was it was not really “choking-choking”. Yes they did. But these were in the league stages and everybody does it every once in a while. This was not Lance Klusener playing into Aussie hands after carrying them through an entire World Cup; this was not miscalculating the D/L rate by one run and getting out of the World Cup; this was not even letting away a 36-year old one-time Kiwi wonder in a WC semis. None of RCB's losses were worthy of a place in the hall of fame for choking.
It was more a 'wooden leg'. How else could a team with the most-talented batsman of our times, the best batsman of our times, and the most-destructive T20 batsman of all time fail? There has to be a more logical explanation to hold on to – choking. It is almost as if they yearn for the tag. How else could a fan flog his hopes back to life year after year in the face of unending disappointment?
One other way has been to place hopes on every new addition into the team, the missing magic who will finally bring this world-beating team to life, the daring knight who will don the red and gold cloak and then beat back the horde of evil orcs who descend upon the Chinnaswamy from the East. It was ABD at first, and soon after that Chris Gayle, then Yuvraj Singh who has not laid hands on a single piece of IPL silverware. When the batsmen did not work, all hopes were pinned on Mitchell Starc. And then there was this chubby fearless kid named Sarfaraz – he still tweets in high-school English, but no second thoughts were given before he was anointed the next 'One'. This time, it's Watson.
It's not easy being a sportsfan. Your fortunes ebb and fall with your team, and they are as capricious as a lover's moods – and not unlike the latter, there is little you can do about it. Even little can you do about who you support – you do not choose your team, the team chooses you, unless you are one of those blockheads who supports the 'other team' just to get in the face of your friends. It's especially not easy when you have not tasted success, when you get shot down every time you proclaim your loyalties to the group.
It's not easy being an RCB fan. The others have their trophies; they have only their hopes. But year after year, they return. They return to paint the Chinnaswamy red. It's a small arena, and when the crowds go "RRRR CCCC BBB" at the top of their lungs, the stadium does reverberate to its roots. With the crowd behind, any target is chase-able on a given day at the small grounds, you are not out even if it's a 200+ target – it's indeed the stadium of hope!
Hopefully, this will finally be their year! If not, well there is always the next year.