Chennai Super Kings are the Manchester United of IPL, for more reasons than one. It’s not just a superlative record across the five years that the league has been in existence for that fosters favorable comparisons. There is also the small matter of the undisguised hate that their success has spawned.
Wherever one goes, people – rabid followers, casual viewers, disinterested passersby – are dismissive, even openly venomous, of the consistency that has been Chennai's hallmark since 2008, the year the IPL was unleashed upon the Indian consciousness.
In a format that thrives on unpredictability, in which regular success is illusory and reliability rare, the Super Kings have made four finals and a semifinal in five seasons. They have lifted the IPL trophy twice, in succession, and a hat-trick of wins may well have resulted on Sunday night were it not for Manvinder Bisla’s freakish knock and the unfortunate no-ball that Ben Hilfenhaus bowled.
In contrast, there are at least three franchises that have never reached the final in five seasons and would consider even a last-four finish – were it to somehow materialize - as commendable. It comes as a surprise then that a record as unimpeachable as Chennai’s is not given its due by most and is met with frank illogic from detractors.
Those who do not swear by the march-marigold yellow that unites Super Kings’ legion of fans usually recourse to hackneyed responses, which allude to a doctoring of results in the IPL. By virtue of being owned by the Big Daddy of Indian cricket – N. Srinivasan – Chennai, they also claim, is assisted by predetermined outcomes, favorable scheduling and basically favoritism in all things IPL.
This season too, after being only barely in the reckoning to make the play-offs, Super Kings were lent a hand by a succession of results in matches that didn’t involve them but that required a specific consequence for them to progress. As it happened, all three games went the way Super Kings stood to benefit most from, and once again tongues started to wag.
What this perpetually acerbic lot did not realize was that the 17 points and superior run-rate (speaking relatively to Royal Challengers Bangalore’s) that Chennai found themselves with at the end of their league matches was all gained on their own steam. On at least two occasions they won close games that would have gone the other way were it not for a blinding performance down the order – again, outcomes that can be straightaway attributed to ‘fixing’ so far as critics are concerned.
But really, despite the ‘sting’ operation by the honorable India TV (a channel that has earlier ‘broken’ stories such as the existence of a ‘Stairway to heaven’ and ‘Alien attacks in the Middle East’) is fixing matches involving a plethora of international and national stars really feasible? Even, for a moment, accepting the heinous possibility that matches were and are tampered with, what prevents other dollar-heavy franchises to follow suit and bend results their way? Would not the league benefit most if wins and losses were equally disbursed to further the image of a highly competitive event?
It doesn’t help that the subliminal hardwiring and structures of power that provide the IPL its sustenance are too mangled and intertwined to allow for any transparent process of assessment to be put in place. That apart, besmirching what Chennai has done over the past five years appears to be a case of sour grapes. It’s common knowledge that the team is the only one which has retained its core since the inaugural season. Yes, they have been lucky, but no more than any other team; you cannot really blame an outfit for peaking at the right time, which Super Kings have made a habit of.
In this edition too, the damage that Chennai’s batting inflicted upon the opposition in their last few matches – after being patchy for the most of the initial stages – was astounding. Was it all engineered by Srinivasan, pre-decided by the IPL council in a boardroom, or chanced upon by a draw of lots? I think not. So, vicious disbeliever, pause for a moment and give credit where it’s due – doff your hat to Super Kings, the IPL monsters who refused to relent until KKR beat them at their own game on Sunday night.