How Not to Fail at the IPL Fantasy League: A Twelfth Man’s Confession

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How Not to Fail at the IPL Fantasy League: A Twelfth Man’s Confession

Illustration: Juergen D'souza

I

n cricket, numbers rule everything. Five balls. One run to win. One wicket remaining.

This wasn’t a tense final before a packed stadium, but a regular game of gully cricket for an audience of four. Much to the dismay of the spectators, a typical number 11 walked in to bat. Shouts of “Kooda! Kooda!” emanated from across the boundary.

“Kooda”, in East Delhi parlance is a good-for-nothing nobody who merely makes up the number in a team. He’s literally the last to be picked and the first to be made to pay up for lost balls. He’s the one who shines his shoes every day to field at fine leg and is resigned to the fact that he’s never going to have a Jerry Maguire who can resurrect his “tatti” tennis ball cricket career. Koodas have to work twice as hard because they are half as talented as the others.

Our Kooda sheepishly took guard at the crease. The bowler let out what Geoffrey Boycott would call a “roobish delivery”, but even rubbish deliveries get the better of Kooda on most days. There were no surprises or heroic Lagaan-like twists. He got clean bowled and walked off to loud boos, trying very hard to evade any sort of eye contact with the fuming captain.

This was me at 15. If you think I shared this story so that we can look back on how far I’ve come since then, you’re wrong. This is not an underdog story. Staging miracles have always been beyond a Kooda’s capacity.

“Shit, that’s easy,” I thought to myself while I wondered why the other rookies didn’t gobble up their substitutions like I did.

The Legend of Kooda only grew as time went by, and I blamed my failures on external factors like the heat, the growing income inequality, and the rise of the alt-right. Deflections aside, I knew that the only way I could command any form of respect among my peers from the Kooda days, was to either go back and beat them at their game (which as we know, was impossible for me), or beat them in an intellectual playing field.

Almost a decade later, I got that opportunity.

So last year, I gathered some courage and joined their WhatsApp group, thumped my chest in pride while still avoiding eye contact, and challenged them to the gauntlet that is the IPL Fantasy League.

Once a year, our cinema’s overbearing drama collides with the constant spectacle of cricket in an arranged marriage, officiated by the corrupt uncles at the BCCI, while everybody else naagin dances their way to the bank to the tune of “Jio Dhan Dhana Dhan”. Over the years, the IPL has also come to offer Koodas like me a shot at redemption. With the Fantasy League, I was a revenge machine, charged like Thanos and raging like Durga.

The basic premise of most fantasy leagues revolves around picking a sturdy team, usually about 11 players, under a decent budget and making minor tweaks to the team as games fly by. Howzzat? Not as easy it sounds.

The first creative roadblock is the nerve-wracking task of naming your team. Then comes the team logo and a team slogan. In my arrogance I thought I could easily do better than the actual IPL team owners, who also clearly had a “roobish” time naming their teams. WTF is a Mumbai Indians?

But after several fruitless hours combing my creative depths, I settled for the “LazyMotherfakirs”, as if my team were a Paharganj rip-off of a Swet Shop Boys album. A testosterone-dripping bull was my team logo, and the slogan to go with it? “Chal Hawa Aane De”. (Little did I know that that’s pretty much how I’d be feeling when the whole thing finally came to an end.) After reining in my inner Vijay Mallya, I got down to the actual work. I listened to or read almost every cricket pundit on my radar, so much so that Harsha Bhogle’s restored hairline began haunting my desk at work.

The LazyMotherfakirs were ready, but was the rest of the fantasy universe?

Sadly, my experiences mirrored the classic trajectory of any relationship. The honeymoon phase was beautiful. The illusion of control was so blinding that I’d almost started believing those Dream XI ads they play on TV that said everybody had an inner Dhoni. No matter how much you channel your inner Dhoni, if your spirit animal is Kooda, then things will seldom go your way.

I understood the intricacies of the Fantasy League much later in the game. Just like BDSM, this thing actually required a lot of “shiddat” and preparation. But I was hardly prepared to go the whole hog. I would sledge like the Aussies when it came to getting back at my mates whose beginner’s luck allowed them to climb over me in the rankings, but I could see myself going the Kooda way yet again. I realised that my friends were great at this for a certain reason. They had the league mapped out like the back of their hands. There was this one guy who recalled stats just like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. Memories of gully cricket came rushing back and I realised if I couldn’t go after the stats guy or the Harsha Bhogle type, I would climb my way from the bottom of the ladder by going all out with the limited number of substitutions I was allowed.

“Shit, that’s easy,” I thought to myself while I wondered why the other rookies didn’t gobble up their substitutions like I did. There was obviously, a reason why they were miserly: Running out of substitutions would mean that I had to fend off the rest of the league with a rigid eleven that would cause my probability of success to plummet.

Three-quarters into the league, I’d run out of substitutions, and I realised I was screwed. In a fit of rage, I lashed out at the ICC, the BCCI, and the integrity of fantasy leagues the world over on the WhatsApp group.

I don’t recall how the league ended and who won, but as fate would have it, I ended up with a fresh set of new Kooda jokes. Yet another shit-laced feather in my Kooda cap.

Perhaps the only silver lining is the fact that I have now resigned to being a good-for-nothing twelfth man. There is comfort in knowing your place in the world, and the words of Socrates have never applied to anyone more than they do to a Kooda player: “All I know is that I know nothing.”

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