Tuesday 1 May 2012

Me, Myself and the IPL...

Until recently the Indian Premier League had been to me what protecting Gotham City has been to Batman for the past 73 years; fun on occasion, but swiftly becoming tedious and largely irrelevant. Where the Dark Knight had to contend with new, increasingly cunning and malevolent super-villains shortly after deposing his previous arch-enemy, I’ve had to deal with the excessively excitable IPL commentary team augment amplified exaggeration and hysteria in to their appraisal of the action as each season passed. It’s debatable as to who has had the tougher assignment.

When the concept of the Indian Premier League was first announced it appeared, to this sceptical purist at least, little more than a glorified domestic Twenty20 tournament utilising the vast cricketing resources of the Indian sub-continent to create the greatest money-spinner the sport has ever witnessed. The pioneers behind the competition have certainly achieved that. I was wrong to underestimate its significance.

I remain very much a traditionalist when choosing cricket à la carte. Where Twenty20 provides a tasty starter to whet the appetite, Test cricket is the main course. One Day International’s are very much for dessert; a painful addition to the meal that you don’t really need when you’ve already reached saturation, but ultimately indulge regardless. It is no surprise, then, that I have cared little for the incessant stream of cringe-worthy advertising emanating from India ahead of each and every IPL season.

MS Dhoni's forward defensive
Yet, strangely, I might just have been won over. Perhaps those annoyingly histrionic adverts reminding me that the IPL is the 21st century’s very own Roman gladiatorial games are effective at gaining viewers as well as inducing involuntary vomit in one’s mouth, after all, and like a vessel heeding the call of a particularly mischievous siren I’ve been lured in; whether in to rocky waters or new lands ripe for exploration only time will tell. Thus far, progress has been satisfyingly serene.

The turning point, it would seem, has been the rather agreeable sight of a selection of the world’s finest Test match performers wreaking havoc in the competition, proving that the cream does indeed always rise to the top. We have heard the term “Twenty20 specialist” banded about aplenty, but the fifth edition of the IPL has witnessed these ‘mercenaries’, as I tend to call them, convincingly eclipsed.

It has been a joyous sight indeed to watch cricketers of unsurpassed ability, Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn in particular, unfurl their full array of talents in an environment where innovation and daring is applauded rather than admonished. Such is the awe in which I have observed their genius that I’ve even begun to develop an immunity to those highly irritable phrases in the mould of “and there’s another DLF maximum for Kevin Pietersen”. Really, Mr Shastri? However you endeavour to accentuate the shot and lace it with frills it remains a six, but never mind, I have access to an IPL television viewer’s greatest companion – the mute button. It’s no bother.

In addition to the child in a sweetshop demeanour of the commentary team, I still cast many an aspersion at the IPL, let that be clear. Cheerleaders at a cricket match? What next, popcorn vendors and shoe shiners? Whilst those good women are undoubtedly talented in their dedicated field, and provide an arm-chair letch like myself with many an eye-opener, some might argue it pales in comparison to the majesty of a Kallis on-drive. And players being wired up to the studio enabling a mid-innings chat – shouldn’t their undivided attention be on fielding in the one format of the game where each and every run is so often critical to the outcome? The world’s finest Twenty20 cricketers have a duty to entertain the cricket loving viewers, not impress them with previously unbeknownst oratory skills. I'm also against English cricketers playing in the IPL when their county is in action back home, though money is of course king in cricket, as it is with every profession.

I digress slightly. The above are, after all, only minor gripes. I’ve followed IPL season 5 in a greater capacity than I have afforded any of the previous seasons. Consistent displays of extremely high quality cricket – admittedly more from the big name Indians and overseas stars than the younger cricketers that the tournament is supposed to benefit – have made for compelling viewing. I thought I had borne witness to every cricket shot and delivery in the book. I hadn’t. Nothing that these players do on a cricket field surprises me anymore, such is the rapid rate of innovation in Twenty20 cricket, and the infectious atmosphere and adulation given to the competitors by a rabid Indian crowd at each and every venue only adds to the enjoyment.

Despite putting up admirable resistance, I’ve finally succumbed to the IPL bug. What’s not to like about it?


  1. Nice piece. When the marketing is moved to one side the IPL is a good watch and regardless of one's point of view it has provided some fantastic cricket. DLF Maximums, strategic timeouts and the DDs aside I have enjoyed much of what I have seen.

    That the cream of the cricketing crop is rising to the top which was always due to happen at some stage. It has been great for me to see the ascension of Morkel as well - with luck it may provide a turning point in his career.

    Unfortunately the early game is played here at 1030pm and the late one at 230am so I don't see quite as much as I like. Oh, and if you find the Shastri histrionics a little much spare a thought for Kiwis who have Danny Morrison as their representative...

  2. I can here Shashtri even when my TV is on the mute.

  3. Haha! Brilliant.

    A cricketing buddha, thank you. You raise one point I forgot about that annoys me immensely - those ruddy strategic timeouts. Bloody ridiculous in a Twenty20 cricket match.

    Morkel is a nice addition to the list of top Test players I had mentioned. He has impressed me no end in this IPL, and appears to have added a greater degree of control to his bowling to compliment the pace and natural bounce that has always been there.

  4. Hello Andy, Got to say that your fresh perspective, from a non-Indian point of view favouring the IPL is more balanced than some of the surprisingly biased IPL articles from seasoned Indian cricket analysts like Sanjay Manjrekar and Harsha Bhogle (whose impartial, sensible articles I generally swear by). But I guess that the fact they are contracted IPL commentators doesn't help.

    Look Andy, I don't mean to be rude but it's easy for you to ask what is not there to like about the IPL is at the end of your article when a cricketer from England - Stuart Broad refuses the temptation of a lucrative IPL contract because he doesn't want to obtain an injury that prevents him from playing in the Ashes. In short he's got his priorities absolutely spot on. Imagine the barrage of profanities Kevin Pietersen will face if he is plagued with fatigue and injury during the upcoming WI series as a result of playing in the IPL. By your own admission, you'd rather the English players play in county cricket than the IPL. So can you imagine the disgust of an Indian fan like me when the BCCI with all its money chooses to promote a shallow and inconsequential carnival of foolery (stretching over 2 months?! Dear God!!) rather than improving the standards of the Indian national team. The 2011 England tour was embarrassing enough but the whitewash versus the Aussies just plain H-U-R-T. It was painful to watch the remarkably inspiring Dhoni look so jaded while discharging his captaincy duties. I know I represent a small and unpopular section of Indian sentiment when I say that almost everything is wrong with the IPL.

    I also find the premise of your starting to like the IPL a little shaky. You attribute it to the domination of 'test stars'. When were Pietersen, Sehwag, de Villiers exclusively test stars? They were always brilliant and successful in the limited overs format of the game as well. That is why the franchises just lapped them up otherwise the team owners wouldn't have even given them a second look. Even in the last 4 seasons it's been the overseas and some big name Indian players who have dominated the tournament. Lastly, assuming that you support the Delhi Daredevils because of KP and enjoy watching him perform.....do you still care whether DD wins or loses now that he is returning from India for England duties?

    Amidst all the ridicule, I actually admire Danny Morrison for bringing the place down in excitement for mundane incidents like if a cockroach enters the cricket field because he tries his best to inject some forced enthusiasm in a meaningless game. Of course light even brainless entertainment is needed in life but to convince a mighty pissed off Indian fan like me that IPL and the Indian team's performance are independent of each other is like inviting a raging bull to tea!

  5. Aditi, a very comprehensive post, thank you. I'll address each of your points in turn.

    1) Stuart Broad was actually all set to play in the IPL this season, as he was last season, but both times has had to withdraw from his contract through injury. It isn't ideal for English players to be playing in the IPL ahead of some big Test series, but it will surely help in preparation for the T20 world cup which we are due to make our defence of in Sri Lanka. In terms of importance this ranks lower on the scale than Tests, for me personally, but is of importance nevertheless. The IPL is too long, much too long, and you're absolutely spot on with that. As I was discussing with one of my Twitter followers yesterday, any Twenty20 tournament should run over a maximum of say three weeks.

    2) Your point about India's embarrassing defeats in the Test arena of late is spot on. It'd be nice if the BCCI money men stopped caring about lining their pockets so much and started to think about India regaining credibility at the pinnacle of the sport - Test cricket. I see and share your frustration, and I'm not even Indian. It is far from ideal.

    3)The likes of Sehwag, Pietersen and AB de Villiers aren't solely Test stars, they are magnificent performers in each and every format they choose to play in, such is their talent. However, they are most recognised for their exploits at Test level because that is the most difficult format of the game and the one that takes the most quality to succeed in. From my point of view it is just hugely enjoyable to watch those same players that I love to see performing in the Test arena do the same thing in the IPL.

    4)You're probably right, I won't take as much interest in the Delhi Daredevils now that KP has left. When he is in full flow he is unmatched in world cricket, so his absence will obviously show, but I'll still watch fixtures that are on TV when I have spare time, for sure. In honest I don't have a huge attachment to any IPL team, though I do of course prefer those sides that contain my favoured players.

    I believe you're right in your last paragraph; of course the two are related. There is far too much emphasis on the IPL within India, when in reality it should be a short, sharp, enjoyable tournament that comes and goes before the serious business of first class and Test cricket resumes and is given precedence. Alas, I struggle to envisage it changing. O tempora! O mores!

    In short, the IPL is probably more about the players than the tournament for me, and that is why I've enjoyed it.

    1. After reading your response I realized that I sure did let out a lot of steam!Just to clarify about Stuart Broad - the incident I was referring to was during this England tour of SA where he said that he puporsely declined an IPL contract fearing injury. I don't think that the BCCI would appreciate an Indian player doing the same. Love your point that T20 tournaments shouldn't be more than 3 weeks. The truth is that this tournament has been shoved down our throats by the BCCI and whether I like it or not, people have taken to it and the IPL is here to stay. Your line "O tempora! O mores!" sums up the whole thing very well.