Amid the blood and the darkness of the Jaipur blasts, Eden stood out tonight — a Pakistani was the hero for 70,000 wildly-cheering Indians, showing how far sports can take people from the politics of hate.
Minutes after handing Shoaib Akhtar the golden helmet for winning the Kolkata Knight Riders a do-or-die match, team owner Shah Rukh Khan was hanging from his shoulders. It was the moment of the match — a jubilant SRK wouldn’t let go of the “younger brother” even as he tried to climb his broad structure.
In the stands, the crowd was erupting. For the first time, someone had taken the field at Eden Gardens who could match the popularity of King Khan himself. Shoaib had his “home crowd” going berserk with just his third ball, which got rid of Delhi Daredevils captain Virender Sehwag. Thereafter, every delivery hurled down by Shoaib was preceded by a thunderous and co-ordinated applause, right from his run-up from the High Court End to the ball thudding in the keeper’s gloves.
By the time the Rawalpindi — or should it be Eden now? — Express dismissed Gautam Gambhir, the entire stadium was doing the Dard-e-disco with Shah Rukh, who was standing by the ropes beside the team’s dugout. He might have been removing two of India’s best batsmen, but at the Eden on Tuesday, Shoaib was a Kolkata Knight Rider and not a Pakistani pacer.
In Jaipur, the blasts that killed 60 were blamed on a “foreign hand”. Although no one pointed a finger at Pakistan, it is the norm for each country to blame the other for any violence on its soil. By the time news came in, the match had already kicked off at the Eden.
Shah Rukh had dreamt of Shoaib playing the first IPL match and getting a hat-trick from his first three deliveries. That didn’t happen. Eight matches later, though, the Pakistani bowler made a dream debut in the tournament — picking up four top-order wickets for a measly 11 runs. The win keeps the Knight Riders in the hunt for the semi-final.
Being his superstitious self, Shah Rukh was in and out of the dressing room below the Club House. He would watch the game from within and every time Shoaib delivered, he would rush out for a quick jig with the KKR support staff. And then back inside again, hoping for another scalp.
The Shoaib effect was quite a contrast to the rather dull first inning. If in the match against Bangalore Royal Challengers last Thursday, SRK had taken it upon himself to rouse the crowds for the last 18 balls, against the Delhi Daredevils he tried to egg his batsmen in the middle to rise to the occasion.
Not that it had much effect, with Hussey, Shukla, Saha and Taibu struggling to tonk the McGraths and Maharoofs around the park.
The Knight Riders boss looked relaxed, though, cheering every boundary with his trademark Statue of Liberty pose — pumping his clenched fist in the air. Friends Arjun and Meher Jessia Rampal and wife Gauri were by his side but kids Aryan and Suhana had to miss out because of school.
As soon as Laxmi Ratan Shukla castled the last Delhi batsman Mahesh, he snatched his cap from the umpire and sprinted straight to the dugout. Before he could reach the ropes, Shah Rukh was there giving the all-rounder a huge hug. But the warmest and longest hug was reserved for Shoaib. Then, the team, their cheerleaders and Khan did the now-famous victory lap around the Eden.
Later, the Knight Riders’ owner briefly spoke to The Telegraph.
Shah Rukh, incidentally, will be back in Mumbai early on Wednesday to continue with his TV show shoots and prepare for a new film.
The following are excerpts from the one-on-one:
The following are excerpts
On the Knight Riders’ superb win on Tuesday
(Laughs) We’ve been having some tough games and they’re making the team tougher! At the end of the match, John (Buchanan, coach) asked ‘how did we do it?’ Indeed… We bowled beautifully and fielded so well… The two run outs made the difference.
Having got very emotional
Because the boys played so well and because the Eden crowd has been supporting us in such a big way… That’s why I bow to the crowd after each match… It’s my way of thanking them…
His remarkable connect with the fans here
They probably like me because I’m humble… At the Eden, I’m Shah Rukh Khan… I’m not putting on an act.
MoM Shoaib Akhtar’s performance
I’d been very disappointed when Shoaib wasn’t allowed to play till last week… He’d been our first buy at the February 20 IPL auction and was probably the first buy for any team… I don’t want to get into the rules but I’d been extremely disappointed… I’d been very keen to have a photograph taken at the Eden with everybody in it… Ricky Ponting, Brendon McCullum, Chris Gayle, Shoaib… That didn’t work out…
His dream of Shoaib taking three wickets in his first over remaining unfulfilled
But I amended that to three in his first three… Shoaib, in fact, did better… Four in the first three! As I’ve said, I’m very happy as he’s become the most liked player around… People would say he’s a budtameez and so on, but he’s not that… He’s shown what he’s capable of.
Whether Shoaib’s comeback script would match anything from the world of films
Reality is always different…
Shoaib opening with Ishant Sharma
(Smiles) That’s one dream which has been realised… I wanted them to bowl together… That has happened at the Eden.
Finally, whether captain Sourav Ganguly should again be considered for the ODIs
Look, my involvement with cricket starts and ends with the Knight Riders… I really don’t know much about other things and wouldn’t like to comment.