Virat Kohli is the single greatest cricketer in the world right now. Kohli has even eclipsed Sachin Tendulkar in limited overs cricket. Kohli will break all records. Kohli is God, Kohli is superman. Right? Wrong.
Yes, Virat Kohli is a great batsman, and yes he is in surreal form, but to take those numbers on face value would be foolhardy. The reason? Chinnaswamy.
'Chinna' quite literally means small in some of the local dialects around the place. The stadium is small, the boundaries are smaller—pretty much like the memories of all fans visiting it. Why else would they believe Kohli is the second coming of Tendulkar, or even better than him for that matter?
The Chinnaswamy stadium is probably the biggest insult to the bowling community, to fast bowlers and spinners alike. Sixes fly this way and that way without fail and with not much effort, and the crowd catches the ball more than the fielders do.
The first taste of all this happened when Brendon McCullum started off the IPL in 2008 with a plundering 158. 'Wow', 'what a joy to watch', 'what an exhibition'. But of course that raises the question - an exhibition of what?
It surely cannot be the length of the boundaries, because almost half of the 13 sixes Baz hit on the opening night of the IPL barely cleared the boundary ropes. At the WACA, in Perth, some of those would have been caught at short fine leg. But that is the standard the BCCI wanted to set. If the boundaries were not already small enough, the ropes are pushed in a further 5-6 meters from the fence. Safety first approach. For the fielders, not the bowlers. The fans applauded and danced, the cricket fan inside me died.
What is cricket if not a contest between bat and ball? Why would I even watch a match if a batsman can score a century in a rain enforced 15-over a side game? No disrespect to the batsmen, in this case the indomitable Virat Kohli, who can obviously only punish what they face. But one must agree that as a bowler, it is demoralizing and even futile to play such a game.
Sachin Tendulkar said that the bats are getting wider, and the batsmen now have the luxury to swing at any and everything. Top edges and mis-hit shots have crossed the boundaries before, so why not try it again. If McCullum’s innings wasn’t enough of a testimony to Chinnaswamy, a certain West Indian made sure the ground was never to be taken seriously ever after.
(At the Chinnaswamy stadium)
Chris Gayle, all to his credit, played a breathtakingly boring 175-run knock against some mediocre bowlers, and one soon-to-be-mediocre Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and without a second thought he obliterated them all. Even more humiliatingly than how Daenarys vaporized the Dothrakis khals. Gayle’s carnage was so monotonous that it became cringeworthy after a point. How do you even make a pitch as flat as that? The pitch curator was surely just out of a job from one of those swanky pancake places near MG road and was probably auditioning for a job at improving the pot-holed strets widespread across the city.
To add to the insult, the only bowlers to pick 2 or more wickets in that match were Ravi Rampaul, Ashok Dinda and Jaidev Unadkat. I mean wow! Those bowlers won’t pick a wicket even in England’s cloudy conditions and swing-friendly pitches, and they can pick 2 at Chinnaswamy? The fraud of a pitch that Chinnaswamy is, could not have a bigger exposé.
Coming back to Gayle, fans thought the joke was on the Golden State Pune Warriors, while in fact it was always on the Chinnaswamy Stadium. A stadium that has made even the un-battable bat.
Not so long back, Chinnaswamy also became the Melisandre to Yuvraj Singh’s Jon Snow of an IPL career. Yuvraj Singh is probably the biggest big-name flop in the IPL, not just one season, but year after year. Then it should come as no surprise that Yuvraj Singh’s only half decent contribution in any IPL season, came when he was brought to life, and bought by, the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Talking about jokes, this season has taken it to another level. Virat Kohli has scored 865 runs in 13 innings, scored 4 centuries, become the highest run-scorer in IPL history, become the first batsman to score 4000 IPL runs, has scored the maximum sixes, participated in the highest partnerships, picked up the most wickets, holds the purple cap, etc. It’s crazy isn’t it? None of us, the post-Bradman era fans, have seen anything like this ever before.
But what takes the gloss away from these superhuman-esque numbers is the fact that most of those have happened at the Chinnaswamy. 3 of the 4 centuries Kohli has scored have been at Bangalore at a strike rate of 190+. The only century he scored elsewhere took him 63 balls at a strike rate of 158. The difference is stark.
Nobody can take anything away from Kohli though - the batsman is a genius, and it’s a delight to watch him play. But as a cricket fan, I would rather watch him play in England or Australia or New Zealand than in that claustrophobic ground in Bangalore. Kohli, much like de Villiers, deserves to play on better pitches and tame not just the bowlers but also the conditions, unlike Chinnaswamy, where the pitch itself tames the bowlers, and the batsmen thereafter exploit the poor, already chastened labourers.
It’s nauseating to see the ball sail past the ropes more times in an innings than you would see it sail past the batsman's willow in the entire match. It’s just painful to watch, and tiresome to dance to. For the cheerleaders even.
Yes, the second innings is also played on the same pitch, but when a team scores 200+ runs in the first innings, the chasing team is always under the conch. That is where Vijay Mallya is a smart businessman. Evasion aside, he also accumulated some of the biggest hitters in world cricket and ensured that the RCB team is batting heavy at the top. First there was Dilshan, then Gayle, then Yuvraj, then de Villiers, then Watson. Even KL Rahul has come in and gone bonkers.
In the recently concluded WorldT20, Andre Fletcher hit an unbeaten 84 with 5 sixes. In case the point was not established already, it is difficult to get out at the Chinnaswamy. And RCB cash in on that. Buy useless bowlers, extraordinary batsmen, and you’re set. Who cares about cricket strategy or balance for that matter? Cricket is probably the only sport where you can skew home conditions so much to bias the outcome in your favour. In any other sport, it’s always the home crowd and the natural conditions pertaining that play the biggest part.
Kohli, of course, has come from Delhi to Bangalore and stayed through, establishing himself as the mainstay of the side. But unfortunately staying in Bangalore could only hinder his legacy over time. Imagine Kohli doing this insane stuff consistently at pitches like that of the Eden or the Kotla.
The reduction in overs and compression of cricket as a whole has not left a lot of room for bowlers to manoeuvre, which is why the least the curators can do is give the fans a more even contest to spectate. Or else before long, cricket could be walking on its last legs, and Chinnaswamy would have played a huge part in the evaporation of the sport in general, and extinction of the species known as bowlers.
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