Sunday, May 11, 2008

Death, or a new dawn?

As we reach the halfway stage of the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League, the reactions have been mixed. In the world which I follow, Mukul Kesavan has hated the cricket, and Ramachandra Guha has shrilled against the cheer-leading. Ian Chappell does not really know what to make out of it. Harsha Bhogle accepts it as a change in tastes. And Peter Roebuck, continuing with his recent unintentional stance of siding with Indian public sensibilities, gives it a thumbs up.

I caught the first match, between Kolkata Knight Riders and Bangalore Royal challengers, slightly late. By then, Brendon McCullum, egged on by superstar Shahrukh Khan, had inflicted sufficient damage to kill the game. Yet, as I realised, the IPL could not have asked for a more rollicking start - an innings of unparalleled cricketing brilliance in any form of the game, with the visual spectacle provided by India's leading entertainer. The scantily clad (and rather old) cheerleaders from Washington Redskins paled in comparison. Doubting naysayers (like me) had eggs on their face when the tournament achieved television ratings better than almost any programming in the last couple of years.

Needless to specify, I am a connoisseur. The Border-Gavaskar trophy still remains the ultimate cricketing contest for me. Yet, I am all for the IPL. It is supposedly driven by money (what is the harm?), but the quality of cricket has been acceptably high. More importantly, the contest has been intense, and one cannot necessarily say the same about International cricket these days. Just remember a series which happened just before the IPL (and which no one actually wanted) - the Future Cup between India and South Africa. The results not withstanding, none of the matches had an element of needle in the contest.

Another reason I accept the IPL is that it shows the way forward for professionalising the game in India. The franchises have corporatised the cricketing world, and while Charu Sharma's sudden sacking showed this might not be the best thing to happen, it still is far more acceptable than retaining Sehwag in ODIs and dropping him in Tests.

In the amateur world of India's largest entertainment industry, it is high time a degree of professionalism was introduced. IPL has created jobs across strata - for players, coaches, administrators, and marketing & media professionals. After all, if an investment-driven Hollywood could continue supporting a Martin Scorcese, why cannot an IPL throw up a Gony or a Swapnil. Maybe Badrinath and Rohit Sharma should jump ahead of Yuvraj and Kaif for a Test berth.

IPL is easily one of the biggest corporate risk taken in India (and hats off to Subhash Chandra, who might be bleeding with ICL, but was the driving force behind the IPL). While TATA's acquisition of Corus was rooted in some real numbers, IPL set out to create a multi-billion dollar economy out of nowhere. To make it simpler, Bengal is possible the only market in India which had an exposure to this sort of club fervour (in football), yet the immense passion there could never be really exploited commercially.

The local support for the clubs still remains suspect. In fact, I do not like the fact that each club has such anglicised branding; the PHL with a Chennai Veeran and Sher-e-Jalandhar is far more rooted in Indian ethos. Besides, apart from say a KKR (where blind loyalty to Ganguly and SRK's stardom also help) or to an extent CSK, there is no real genuine city support in India. The other teams are either too abstract (Mumbai Indians anyone?), or the masses could not care a hoot as long as they see the batting action. Yet, the classical cricketing beliefs have been reaffirmed by this most bastardised version of the game.

Shane Warne, by making Rajasthan Royals the team to root for, proved that mobile telephony (SMS in particular) killed our generation's Ian Chappell and Imran Khan. Ganguly's travails with KKR establishes how he was so often bailed out by great individual performances. Sreesanth and Harbhajan proved themselves to be idiots beyond any nationalistic feelings. McGrath and Pollock establish how bowlers win you matches in all forms of the game. And Bangalore just shows how Rahul Dravid has totally lost it.

After last year's extremely successful ICC T20 World Cup, IPL again has jeopardised the future of ODIs. If the obvious motive is to keep Test cricket alive, I see the 8-hour and often meaningless ODI doing nothing for it. In fact, I do not mind watching 3 months of IPL, APL, SAPL, PPL, SLPL,WIPL and EPL, culminating in the Champions's League, as long as for the remaining 6 months, India plays competitive 5 Test matches series against Australia, England, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and hopefully a resurrected West Indies.


Itinerant said...

True, you get it right. I did not have much marketing awareness to go by, but I have enjoyed following it. And yes, the best thing has been the turning of the cricket management professional, I do not see how sacking of Charu Sharma was a negative, if he is so good, some other franchisee will pick him up.

Secondly, I think its terrific watching all these stars battle it out together, I wonder what the dressing room conversation is like.

It also gives us a chance to get away from the nationalist shit that was constantly being driven around by the media and effectively a good excuse by the team.

Now, who is the better captain, figure it out, Ganguly versus Tendulkar/ Dhoni versus Yuvraj/Gilchrist versus Warne.

Rajasthan Royals have caught my eye balls too and in a exaggerated manner, am so excited by that less than 3 stars team's showing that, I have wished I was in Warne's team.

I think it was the best thing to happen to cricket. So far being reduced to a 'national' team watching these different guys come together is awe inspiring (Tendulkar and Jayasuriya). I would even like it, if these guys played test cricket too.

Also I guess you jumped the gun on Rahul Dravid with his last two performances being exemplary. I have not watched much matches but his last two scores makes me salute him for performing under pressure and coming out not to bad even in this game. How does he manage it?

Lastly, IPL just adds to the growing corporate backed Indian soft power. I wonder how many Pakistani players will want to go to war with India. I wonder how the Bangaldeshis feel being left out.

Another thing, I think they need to get some ICL players into the IPL, Lara and Cains come to mind first. If egos do not remain sensitive, ICL could work as a 2nd division league ala English Premier League with two teams from each season coming into the 1st division, IPL. And the last two teams getting back and so on, I guess you know this better.

Abhilasha said...

Your Thumbs Up to IPL is very beautifully penned

Disha Desai said...

IPL fantasy cricket has the potential to get very real, very fast! This excitement is sure to keep fans keenly interested