<= IPL is cricket in a blender =>
Sports columnist Rohit Brijnath reflects on the successful first season of the Indian Premier League, the multi-million dollar cricket tournament which promises to change the game.
I’m trying to like the Indian Premier League (IPL). Seriously.
No one wants to be an old fart, a yesterday’s man, a wheezing traditionalist, which is the friendliest thing bloggers will find to say of you if you don’t embrace this sport.
I don’t much care for rap. I find chick-lit dull. And I don’t wear my jeans at my knees. But I want to like the IPL, because it’s all anyone talks of and I don’t even live in India.
Warne ka jawaab nahi, dude (Warne is something else) comes with the evening’s first whisky. You have to engage, sound enthused, else it’s like going to a party in the old days and someone saying they didn’t care for Sachin Tendulkar. Silence. Stares. Excommunication.
IPL is impressive because most sports are so immoveable, so averse to the slightest change
Old-fashioned is like being cursed. This is new cricket, bhai (brother), I am told, and it certainly has been.
It’s so quick, in-your-face, intense. It’s not quite a Hindi movie, it’s more like hero and villain going dishum-dishum (what fisticuffs sound like in a Hindi film) the entire three hours with the odd dialogue thrown in.
It’s impressive because most sports are so immoveable, so averse to the slightest change (some of golf’s rules are absurd), that it is almost unreal, and fascinating, to watch cricket being put in a blender and the switch turned to the maximum.
So IPL chief Lalit Modi is at least worth the admiration we would accord anyone who relentlessly pursues an idea. But is he Moses, as somebody wrote? Maybe not.
The IPL, a trifle over-oiled with praise by the Indian media, is not English Premier League football.
Cricket’s new league should remain a short-term business (not even twice a year), or else its sameness will grate, but it’s worth its own tiny season.
In all sports, we look forward to months because of events, June is when Wimbledon calls, and April will belong to the IPL. Test cricket must arrange itself around it, and countries who deny their players, as England did, are myopic. Money will always win.
The IPL works also because cricketers like it. All of them. Bits and fellows like Yusuf Pathan fit perfectly, domestic nobodies get to slash their way out of anonymity, established players want to prove this watered-down art is not beyond them, and retired folk have enough energy left for a quickie.
Cricketers are also not averse to cheerleaders, their names being chanted, text messages from Bollywood stars, private jets to send them back to their nations, and none of the accountability (so far) of playing for your country. Foreign players especially, who’ve never been painted onto billboards, will love this taste of India.
Yusuf Pathan was one of the stars of the tournament
The IPL works also because the money is irresistible (Indian money is suddenly not quite that dirty now, is it mate?) in a sport whose members never make Forbes’ rich athlete list.
The IPL works because this irresistible money, for now at least, has turned players into well-paid sheep. It’s a hoot, really. Cricketers are always griping but not here, not a cheep or a chirrup.
Already cricketers are arriving home just 48 hours before important Test series, and the next cricketer who complains about burnout, or that it takes time to adjust to conditions, gets to spend a month working for Vijay Mallaya.
I liked the IPL enough to switch on the television every evening even for four overs. And four overs can contain enough of what Peter Roebuck insisted to me was the “human drama” of the IPL.
Edge of insanity
Test cricket can get too sober, too absent of emotion, but the IPL is always brimming at the edge of insanity. I would say it’s better for young hearts, except my 70-plus year-old aunt apparently sprang out of bed with a “yippee” recently and, when asked why, said it was semi-final day.
Some pictures of the IPL have been beautiful. The plotting of a South African batsman’s downfall by an Indian, Lankan and Australian. Bowlers responding manfully to a game designed for batsmen. A new textbook on strokeplay and footwork being invented every contest, and while it is not a stylish game it has its own particular pomp, a sport unimpressed by the classical but brimming with the astonishing.
Here, cricket’s philosophy is powerfully altered: in Tests, men are taught to prize their wicket, here they must put a cheaper price on it and embrace risk.
It is also, fundamentally, a team game. Over many matches, one man will rarely stand out as is possible in a Test series, so men must make small, fast, telling contributions in 19 balls faced or 12 balls bowled.
But there is a flipside.
One might say that four sixes, five fours, 18 balls makes a spectacle but hardly a story. This is a gunfight without the necessary preamble.
Sharda Ugra of India Today pointed out that nets didn’t have the tension that stalks preparation prior to the day of a Test match. No sense of athletes tuning themselves, of tense faces wondering whether they would be picked, of batting orders being dissected.
The batting is brazen, but absent of form. There are no pretty lines to Twenty20 batting, it is an inelegant dance and conversely in this shorter form it is not that there is no room for mistakes but a lot.
Celebrity has powered the IPL, and why not. A colleague muttered that a frown-wearing Preity Zinta was complaining about Punjab’s catching. A cricketer’s friend on utilising a free ticket gushed not about the game but about sitting in aura-touching distance of Akshay Kumar. Shah Rukh Khan brought energy, famous friends, strange text messages and was in more cricket stories than Sachin.
And this is fun, it’s fine. But the IPL has to be careful about everything being fine, about machine-gunning every sporting sacred cow.
Like Shah Rukh Khan in the dugout. It’s not about anti-corruption, it’s about tradition. Undoubtedly some conventions pass their use-by date (like bowing to royalty at Wimbledon), but some things should remain precious. Dugouts are only for athletes, coaches, physios. This place, the ground, laps of honour, belong to them. It’s their place of work, their performance theatre.
It’s a small thing but much of the media doesn’t care to comment, they’re busy cheerleading, right alongside many of the commentators who are playing salesmen. That’s when it becomes hard to take the IPL seriously as a sport.
But, I am told, the whole point is not to take the IPL seriously. It’s a tamasha, it’s crickentainment, it’s time-pass, bhai. Maybe next April I’ll do what my daughter occasionally suggests. Take that strange thing called the chill pill.