Fake IPL player spins web of intrigue

An anonymous blogger's revelations are causing the biggest stir at the Indian Premier League

Kevin Pietersen bowling to Andrew Flintoff. Match-winning innings from Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Game-turning spells from Anil Kumble and Muttiah Muralitharan. Embarrassment for those who thought South Africa would be no country for old men. But less than a week into season two of the Indian Premier League, the biggest splash, despite Lalit Modi's bombast at the opening ceremony, has been created by an anonymous blogger. Fake IPL Player professes to play for the Kolkata Knight Riders and his missives from southern Africa have the potential to be cricket's answer to One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed.

The official response has been revealing. The team's website referred to it as "poison pen writing of the dirtiest variety, but far too many factual errors". But according to our man, there are frenetic attempts to smoke him out. In an entry headlined When the Going Gets Tough on Tuesday evening, after a rain-interrupted victory against Kings XI Punjab, the impostor says: "In Cape Town. Laptops hv bn banned. I'net removed fm rooms. But posts wl continue thru SMS, relayed by my bro in India." Not exactly William from Stratford-upon-Avon, but you get the gist.

If anything, it's the vehemence of the denial that makes you almost certain he exists. Mind you, it's not just the Knight Riders who are keen to have him outed. The mystery man has spared no one. Tendulkar is the Little Monster, Shane Warne the Sheik of Tweak with a penchant for Mammary Land. Yuvraj (means crown prince in Hindi) is Prince Charles of Patiala, while Sourav Ganguly is Lordie (surely a reference to the Lord Snooty tag thought up by Michael Henderson).

And like Roland Fishman's Calypso Cricket, which caused such a ruckus in the Australian cricket fraternity when it was published, it gives unappealing impressions of nocturnal jaunts. Clearly, "big boys play at night" didn't die with World Series Cricket.

It's also fairly obvious that the correspondent feels hard done by the system. I don't believe that he's a reserve-on-permanent-vacation as he claims, but the chips on the shoulder can easily be glimpsed between the lines. That's particularly true in his withering assessment of certain players who wouldn't win any popularity contests on the domestic circuit. Delhi's Virat Kohli (who plays for Pietersen's Royal Challengers) and Sreesanth have been painted in the most unflattering colours.

The most malice, though, has been reserved for Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood icon and team owner, and there are scathing comments about John Buchanan "I think he wants to send his laptop in to bat the next time, given the amount of time he spends with it. Maybe if he spent half that time with us players, we may win a match or two."

The one man to get some degree of sympathy is Ganguly, if only for the manner in which he has got on with things after being unceremoniously dumped from the captaincy. In that regard, the fake player's feelings are shared by millions of Indians, especially those in Bengal. While taking part in a discussion on Cricinfo a couple of days ago, I could sense the anger against the team management over the treatment of Ganguly, with some saying they would support other teams.

To understand why Lordie means so much to those in the city of joy, you just have to look at the history of Bengal. It's the state that gave India its first Nobel Laureate (Rabindranath Tagore), its most recent one (Amartya Sen, the economist) and also the greatest movie director the country has seen (Satyajit Ray). Add in countless freedom fighters and illustrious names from the fields of art, music and politics, and it's easy to see why some Bengalis see themselves as being a cut above the rest.

The world of sport wasn't really an exception, either. For years, Bengal and the Kolkata clubs ruled Indian football, producing players like Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee and Krishanu Dey, Ganguly's childhood hero. Cricket? Zilch. Big fat zero. And that's where Ganguly came in.

For a state that boasted the country's most atmospheric stadium, the Eden Gardens, it was a matter of shame that Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore produced almost all of Indian cricket's most cherished names. Bengalis like Pankaj Roy and adopted sons like Arun Lal had worn the India cap, but not even the most parochial follower would have dared compare them to a Sunil Gavaskar or a Vijay Merchant.

With his century on debut at Lord's in 1996 after his election for the tour had been rubbished elsewhere in the country Ganguly set about changing that. Even if he had never captained India, he would have been one of the biggest objects of Kolkata's affection. But when you factor in 21 wins in 49 Tests and a run to the World Cup final in 2003, it's not hard to see why the icon became something of a demigod.

By marginalising him with poppycock multiple-captain theories, Shah Rukh and Buchanan have taken a serious risk. There may be no burning effigies in Cape Town and Durban, but the locals in Kolkata will remember the slight even 12 months down the line. And to be honest, the more you listen to Buchanan, the more you find yourself agreeing with Warne's views on the man. Cricket, like Bill Shankly said of football, is a simple game, and men like Buchanan have carved out a niche for themselves by conning people into thinking that it's some kind of rocket science.

For the moment, though, the intrigue in the camp is perfect grist for the fake player's mill. The brilliant Peter Carey wrote My Life as a Fake a few years ago, and the IPL's version of it has proved just as gripping so far. In the counterfeit world of DLF Maximum Sixes and Citi Moments of Success, more power to his keyboard.

From the Sportblog of Guardian, UK

BACK to the Main Page