"They (Kings XI Punjab) have had enough jhappis and prasad from Preity Zinta. It is high time they got some slaps from her." The SMS joke had started doing the rounds in Punjab circles even before the Mohali team in the Indian Premier League (IPL) crashed to its sixth loss in seven outings in the 2010 edition of the tournament.
Except for a high in the first edition of IPL in 2008 when the US$76 million Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) reached the semi-final stage, the team owned by industrialist Ness Wadia, scion of the Bombay Dyeing textile group, his ex-girlfriend and Bollywood actor Zinta and two other businessmen (Karan Paul-Apeejay group and Mohit Burman-Dabur group) has been forced to bite the dust in the IPL-3.
In fact, so bad and disjointed have been the Kings XI Punjab performances that at the near full-house attendance at the magnificent Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium here, 10 km from Chandigarh and the home ground of the team, fans have been rooting for other teams and players.
The team has lost all its three matches on the home ground this season.
The Mohali team has managed to win only one match, against Chennai Super Kings, that too through sheer luck in the super eliminator over March 21. Their last loss was to Mumbai Indians in Mumbai Tuesday.
Team co-owner Zinta had her pictures splashed in the print and electronic media for her now-famous jhappis (affectionate hugs) to her players, especially former KXIP captain and Chandigarh boy Yuvraj Singh. The 'jhappis' and jumping around from Zinta was commonplace in the first two editions, 2008 in India and 2009 in South Africa.
This time, though, the hugs are all but gone and Zinta has literally started banking on the gods by distributing prasad (holy offering) to team players before matches. But the heavenly intervention has not come so far given the below-par performances of team players, especially Yuvraj Singh.
The southpaw was removed as the KXIP captain for this season, replaced by Sri Lankan cricket captain Kumara Sangakkara. Though the players and team management see nothing amiss in this, the team is clearly putting up disjointed directionless performances - a fallout of the captaincy issue. Yuvraj, who hit six sixes in one over in the T20 world cup in South Africa in 2008, himself has failed to put up any sterling performance.
Even with the presence of big names like Aussie fast-bowler Brett Lee, Ravi Bopara, Mahela Jayawardane, Irfan Pathan, S. Sreesanth, Shaun Marsh and others in the KXIP line-up, the team is on a losing spree.
To add salt to the injury, the loss-prone team has been slapped with penalty running into nearly $400,000 (Rs.1.8 crore) for slow over-rate.
The KXIP has been a controversy-ridden team too.
Rumours of the KXIP team being divided into the Wadia and Zinta camps have also been doing the rounds even though both have denied these. But the two who broke their relationship last year have not been seen together at any of the team outings even though they have been around at the ground and at post-match parties.
The team and its owners face summons from a Chandigarh court for using the pictures of national martyrs like Bhagat Singh in team advertisements. The summons were issued this month.
Earlier, the team was caught in a controversy after two black cheerleaders complained of racism in 2008, saying they were sent back by the KXIP management because of the colour of their skin.
Wadia had a run-in with the Mohali district police chief in 2008 over payment for security at the PCA stadium. Wadia even accused the Punjab police of stealing KXIP goodies, including liquor and merchandise.
The team also had its 'slapgate' controversy when off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who incidentally belongs to Punjab but plays for Mumbai Indians, slapped fast bowler and Indian cricket teammate S. Sreesanth in the ground here after Bhajji's team lost to KXIP.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)