Porcupyn's Blog

April 7, 2010

IPL – Boon or bane?

Filed under: Cricket — Porcupyn @ 11:18 pm

Unlike this severely prejudiced article, I would vote boon, and here is why:

The IPL, however, has compressed each game into three-and-a-half hours, and it has stuffed 60 of these capsules into 45 days. The tournament, played between eight Indian city clubs, features cheerleaders and perpetually hysterical commentators and torrential hitting.

The above reeks of an unhealthy dose of bias. Granted, even I was biased against T20 in general and the IPL in particular during IPL’s First Edition (2008), but I have now come around to it as necessary (and it is definitely not all evil either) – so I ain’t no saint either, but …

First, let me pick on the point of hysterical commentators. Just over two decades ago, I landed in the USA. Yes, I knew that basketball was a game; I knew how it was played; I knew I was no good at it; I also knew that the Indian team was no good (at the highest level). But what I did not know was that one could slice and dice the game to smithereens [Ask Indians (who has not left India) who are older than, say, 50 and I bet you that concepts such as assists, blocked shots and steals have no meaning to the majority of them]. Immediately, a simple game of shooting a ball into the net, for me morphed into a very lovable sport and I was transformed into a captive spectator until Michael Jordan retired … the second time (granted, he was partly instrumental in galvanizing my love for the game in the first place).

That said, the smorgasbord of statistics – and the very enthusiastic commentators such as Dick Vitale (“Yeah Baby”), Perv (pardon me, I really meant Merv) Albert (“Yes … and it counts”) egged my interest in the game when it flagged during Scottie Pippen’s migraines or Michael Jordan’s retirement (Episode 1). Against that backdrop, I see no reason to dislike the fact that cricket is being commercialized to a level never seen before.

Yes, I didn’t like the concept of cheerleaders for cricket (in IPL 2008) … but reading the blog of the fellow Floridian RCB cheerleader (sorry, I forget her name and face!) from South Africa gave me a wholly new perspective, from someone who previously had no clue of the game!

What is wrong with torrential hitting? All that has happened with T20 is that your proverbial cheese has been moved. Where once an economy rate of under 2 runs per over (Bapu Nadkarni, Bishen Singh Bedi, Derek Underwood at their wiliest primes in Test matches) was considered the pinnacle of economy and buying wickets was key to prising out your opposing batsmen, now a bowler’s skills are based on whether or not he went for under or over 6 runs per over OR took a key wicket or two while going for more than 10 runs an over. The point being that while the bowling skills are now being quantified differently – that is not to say that a good bowler in Test cricket cannot be a good bowler in T20 – I give you Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dan Vettori and our own Anil Kumble as examples.

While the batsmen might not be playing the same classical strokes of yore, what is the issue if they hit out with gay abandon instead? Now that the playing field has been moulded to their benefit, it is still incumbent upon them to outbat the opposition while preserving their wickets for the duration of the innings. I leave you with just one example to prove that T20 does NOT have to be all reckless aerial strokemaking: Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.

This isn’t your grandmother’s cricket; in truth, this isn’t even your elder sister’s cricket.

This analogy appears to be written solely as a politically correct statement. I doubt very much that grandmothers – on an average – were as interested in cricket (of their generation) as grandfathers were. Ditto for elder sisters. In my opinion, a closer to the ideal – though maybe not politically correct – analogy would be:

Test cricket : Grandpa’s cricket
One Day Internationals: Father’s cricket
T20s: Today’s cricket

Last month, one gentleman with an ebbing hairline and bottomless gumption scored a hundred runs off 37 balls; the effect is somewhat like a crate of firecrackers going off right under your nose. Even a relatively run-of-the-mill game is almost cartoonishly crammed with action, sure to contain many instances of the atavistic thrill of watching a man hit a ball really, really hard.

A parallel article that is critical of Baseball would probably sully the physical appearance of, say, Sammy Sosa or Mark McGuire. While I might probably still consider that article to be above the belt given that the physiques of these gentlemen were likely the result of steroid overdoses, on the other hand I would definitely consider the quoted portion as stooping low for a below the belt hit on a player’s physique in an attempt to drive home a personal bias or two. What’s wrong if a dude’s hairline is where it is? What is wrong with getting a thrill of watching a man hit a ball really, really hard? What would you rather watch? Paint drying on a cricket bat while a Test match is going on? Personally, I would suggest concentrating on a batsman’s mongoose than his porcupiney hair (or lack thereof).

But while the IPL is faster and more incendiary than the sport has ever been, it’s also more commercial than the sport has ever been. During live telecasts, there is quite literally not a single second where there isn’t an advertisement of some sort on the screen. Like a master dowser, the IPL’s impresario, Lalit Modi, has found deep wells of revenue where none previously existed.

Now… what is wrong with commercialization? Would you rather watch the camera panning at the pretty ladies in the audience (like Channel 9 used to during the 1985 Benson and Hedges World Series) or the advertisement that takes up the same amount of time? OK, I confess, I would probably go with the former too (though my name does not rhyme with “ananda”), but on the other hand, seriously speaking, what cricketing moment would I be missing if we were to cut away for the ad? Tennis, Golf, Cricket, Baseball and American Football are definitely games of the start and stop variety where it definitely is feasible to cut away and still not miss any of the action unlike, say, Hockey (any variety), Football (Soccer for the Americanized folks) – I admit that I would not be a popular head honcho if I were to cut away from a shot of Tiger Woods and his caddy sizing up a putt to a quick commercial break even if we were to return before Woods dropped his ball into the hole (this is a clean blog – any pun is strictly unintentional).

Now we come to the genius that is Modi. I say the man is brilliant, though maybe autocratic and an egomaniac. The first I remember learning about Modi was when I was sick and tired of the nexus between Dalmiya and Ganguly. Modi, if I recall correctly, represented the opposition – my single important recollection is of Modi coming up with some kind of a powerpoint presentation (or some such) about building a stadium in Jaipur and his desire to get cricket out of the major cities and into tier2 and tier 3 cities/towns of India (not that I am implying that Jaipur is a small town). I think he is well on his way to achieving that.

The Indian cricket board – the owner of the IPL, and now the richest, most powerful board in the world – has been able to bend the international cricket calendar around its own priorities, like a black hole warping the fabric of space-time.

If MCC had paid this dude to write this, he would not have written something different from the above! This shows the typical mentality of a loser (the English cricket board). That the balance of power has shifted from the erstwhile empire where the sun never set to a country of a billion, would obviously not go down well with those who are suddenly not as important as they were a few decades ago. The fact that the Indian board now has the power to wield its influence and go to bat for the team obviously has not sat well.

Three Four incidents spring to mind: South Africa when Sehwag was banned for a game for excessive appealing; the Australian tour a couple of seasons ago where it took some major arm twisting (I would say this was justifiable based on the fact that the umpiring was biased against India in the previous game) and now contrast that to the poor Bangladeshis who had not saviour to turn to when they were repeatedly let down by biased umpiring in the recent Test against England, and don’t forget the treatment meted out to Sunil Gavaskar by Dennis Lillee when he (Gavaskar) expressed his justifiable dissatisfaction at an incorrect lbw decision (Melbourne 1980-81).

The bottom line is a) why is it wrong to have influence and b) to use it for backing the truth? In fact, I would absolutely love it if Stuart Broad were to be banned for excessive appealing by a “neutral” Indian match referee when England plays Australia or South Africa next.

A couple of weeks ago, an Indian corporation paid $370 million to buy a newly created franchise – and it has to spend still more to fill its team with cricketers; in 2003, by comparison, the Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, a leading, century-old soccer club in the English Premier League, for $233 million. The IPL is brash and young. It is in constant motion. It demands to be watched.

I just have one two questions: Why the slave mentality? Why should a club in the English Premier League be the benchmark for what an IPL team should be worth? India by itself probably has eyeballs that are an order of magnitude greater than in all of Great Britain. Capitalism is all about supply and demand. The worth of a good is its demand and supply today. Yes, there is always a chance that the $370 million today might drop to $100 million in a couple of years. But that is why investors don’t win all the time, and not everyone is an investor (they probably don’t have money left anymore!), right? You cannot exclusively blame capitalism for the fact that Florida condos sell today for a third of what they sold for five years ago. Basic human emotions are to blame as well.

Not because the IPL is a symbol of capitalism – far be it for me, a willing beneficiary of India’s adventures in money-making, to complain about that – but because it’s a symbol of capitalism gone horrifically wrong. The IPL purports to be a free market but is in fact controlled by one man: Lalit Modi, whose power and stature have grown so Rabelaisian in merely three years that Bollywood has already asked to mine his life for subject material. (One player, Ravindra Jadeja, dared to try negotiating a new contract for himself this year. He was promptly banned for the remainder of the season.)

I still don’t see anything majorly wrong with the above scenario, except, well, I do feel sorry for Jadeja. But did he not try to circumvent the rules? Would not a similar – if not exact – fate befall a professional sportsman in the USA? Sure it would. Ask Brett Favre of a couple of seasons ago. Granted, it was not the commish who gave him grief … but my point is that you gotta follow the rules; else you get censured.

So what if Modi has grown powerful? Being powerful is not the issue here – being powerful and making dumb decisions like pulling up a captain (Gambhir) for a very honest assessment of his opponents is definitely one, but the author of the above piece fails to make that point. But don’t grudge the man his power, he deserves it – though I do agree that it would be nice if he were to share it among the team owners. That said, what I really did not appreciate was the IPL’s opposition of the ICL. This was/is a big ocean, big enough for big fish, medium fish, small fish etc. I bet IPL and ICL could have co-existed and even fed off of each other. IPL would be the premier league with established stars and the cream of the younger crop, where ICL would be the equivalent of the minor leagues in Baseball (disclaimer: I am not that knowledgeable as to how Major League Baseball and the minor leagues are related).

The IPL pursues revenues at the expense of other valuable resources: Test cricket, but also domestic cricket, the inevitable breeding grounds for young talent. In its grubbing for money, in fact, the IPL is dismissive of anything old-fashioned, anything aesthetic; even the four seconds between one ball and the next, held sacrosanct through more than a century of cricket, have been sold for inconsequential advertisements. Meanwhile, owners buy teams for staggering quantities of money and with the fuzziest possibilities of recovering their investment; they desire only to dice up the risk and sell it in parts to sponsors and other companies, a practice that should surely sound familiar to us today.

Nothing is horribly wrong with all this, except having an advertisement after every ball, but it has not come to that yet, or has it? In other words, I am OK with having ads within an over, as long as they are not shown literally after every ball – it would be nice to watch replays of and listen to commentators discuss a great shot or a poor one.

Maybe it will not thrive, but Test cricket will still continue to survive and co-exist, if not for another Century, then for the foreseeable future at least. Has the interest in India diminished all that much since 1983, when India won the ODI World Cup, for instance? None of the professional cricketers in India today will begrudge the so-called “money grubbing” – in fact, I say that we need to inculcate a greater love for sports among schoolkids in India along the lines of Michelle Obama’s initiative for kids in the USA to be physically fit and active. The money in cricket is a step in the right direction, though I do believe it would be nice if this money were to trickle down at a faster pace (my point in reference to the ICL was along these lines) and also trickle over to other sports such as Hockey and Football, to name a couple!

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: