Friday, May 25, 2012

IPL bashing continues..

The IPL 5 counts down to its final days, with a possibility of a third successive victory for the Men in Yellow from down South. But over the past few days, it is the action off the field that has garnered most of the headlines. First, it was the spot-fixing allegations, then the infamous altercation between SRK and the MCA officials, a molestation scandal involving an international player and a couple of players found at a rave party in suburban Mumbai. Unfortunately, these have taken the colour off what has been, in my opinion, a very good edition of the IPL. The crowds have supported it to the hilt (witness the packed Chinnaswamy stadium for the neutral Eliminator match the other day), the cricket has been of a high standard, teams have been more equally balanced and much more competitive (which is the main reason why I support DD or KKR – CSK have simply not been the best side in the tournament) and the many last-over finishes have been kept everyone engrossed. But predictably, the off-field action has triggered a volley of articles and comments in the media by many lambasting the IPL and many of the ills that come bundled with it. Kirti Azad has also gone on a ‘token 3-hr fast’ against the IPL, maybe feeling bad deep down why IPL was not around during his time !. To the list of such articles, Ramchandra Guha’s article in the Hindu today provides one addition.

Before I move onto the article, let me say that I am a keen reader and admirer of Mr. Guha’s writings. His books are well-researched and a pleasure to read. ‘India after Gandhi’ was excellent and I am waiting to read his essays on the ‘Makers of Modern India’. But, while partly agreeing with the core of what Mr. Guha has to say regarding the IPL, I found some of his arguments too far-fetched and a bit odd too. Some of my comments regarding his points are as follows:

a. He talks about how the state has control of key resources like land, minerals and the airwaves and, because of this, how this has prompted all sorts of nepotism and corruption in our country. Thus, he says, creative capitalism and given way to crony capitalism and the IPL is just another example. My take: Fair enough, so how is the IPL bad for Indian capitalism ? The degradation had set in before 2008, and IPL is just the off-shoot of that. I do agree with the point he brings in regarding the obvious conflict of interest involved when one IPL team is owned by the Board president. This will always remain an albatross around the IPL’s neck and the sooner the BCCI addresses it, the better.

b. He then talks about how the IPL has created a divide between the affluent, big cities and the rest of India, representative of the fact is that UP, MP etc. do not have a single franchisee based therein. My reply is that : why blame IPL ? Ask this question to the franchisee owners who put in the money and who decided (in my knowledge) where their teams would be based at, presumably on commercial interests (even the Sahara group selected Pune over Lucknow). And talking about UP, while their Ranji team has performed extremely well on the field, where is the infrastructure and facilities off it ? Kanpur used to be a test venue till the 1980s, now, even One-day internationals are not held there.

c. It seems odd to me that the presence of titles like ‘Royal’ and ‘Kings’ now strike Mr. Guha as elitist after 5 years now. This is a fantastic insight, one that never struck me all these years. I doubt if anyone else thought that way. Anyways, with all the airline woes, I doubt if Mr. Mallya is feeling like a royal anymore !! J
d. He says that people go to watch IPL more to be in the same space with Nita Ambani and SRK than for the cricket. I have now gone for 2 IPL games and have never cared which celebrity is present there. Anyways, sitting in the Tendulkar stand at Wankhede doesn’t exactly mean you are rubbing shoulders with Mukesh Ambani !!

e. He feels that only the upper strata of society follows IPL games. I travel in Mumbai locals to work and the other day, I could overhear conversations on how Bhajji tactically failed in the game against Chennai and the general despondency that Mumbai Indians were out of the competition. Surely, it will never match the euphoria (or sadness) of an Indian victory (or loss) but to think that people below the elite do not care for the IPL is again far-fetched. As far as the villages are concerned, it’s a different matter but then would be interesting to know how many of them follow Test cricket as well. Also how does one explain the full houses for IPL games at centers like Dharamsala and Cuttack ?
f. Then, there is the done-to-death argument on how the IPL 2011 was the chief culprit in the 0-4 thrashings thereafter. I have spoken about this earlier and stand by it. The real problem was in our refusal to initiate a proper transition between the batting stalwarts of the 90s to Gen-Next rather than having the IPL immediately after the World Cup. And while IPL-related injuries can be used as an excuse for the England tour, but to say that ‘the weariness and exhaustion carried over to the Australian series’ sounds a bit silly to me. Anyways, this will get answered this year as the Indian team gets more than a month off after the IPL and with return series scheduled against the same opponents.
This has been a long post, and I will just summarize it thus: The IPL is far from perfect. It has flaws (and some very serious) that cannot be ignored and need to be fixed urgently if it has to gain wider acceptance. But to blame all the ills of the cricketing world (and beyond) on the IPL does not address the core issue either. Specially coming as it does from an eminent personality like Ramchandra Guha, this piece is quite off the mark in some respects.


PS: Note that his piece was written before the start of DD vs CSK game. The way the game is turning out (and the fishy air surrounding it) might negate some of what I have to say, but still I go ahead and post this anyways..

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