Saturday, May 25, 2013
What the IPL means to me...
It is a sense of deja vu all over again. Another IPL season, another rotten scandal to have hit the carnival. But this time though, the spot fixing crisis threatens to strike at the very existence of the IPL itself. One team's future is now in question, and there is no way of knowing who else will get engulfed in this tide (which hopefully, will wash away much of the muck associated with IPL and Indian cricket). But if a section of the media and some former players are to be believed, then the best solution is to scrap the IPL together. This view, of course, is not new. The IPL has for long been the one-stop punching bag for everything that is wrong with Indian cricket. India lose 0-4 in England and Australia ? Blame the IPL. Youngsters looking to take the easy way to success and compromising their values ? Of course, the IPL is responsible. So I thought I would just pen down some thoughts as to what the IPL means for me.
Firstly, I think I ought to clarify something about 'me'. I love my cricket and am aware (more than the average fan, I would like to think) and proud of its history and heritage. I love five-day test cricket and unquestionably regard that as the purest form of the game and the ultimate test for any cricketer, with bat or ball. Now, to me, what is the IPL ? It is a form of the game (T20) that is, without a shadow of a doubt, overly commercialized for its own good. But still a part of the game of cricket at the end of the day. Do I have a favorite team ? Yes, of course, I back the Mumbai Indians. But for the most part, that is because the name of that team has the name of my city in it (and I back whatever goes by my city's name). Besides that, there is nothing for me (except 2-3 guys who are part of the playing XI), as a Mumbaikar, to identify with Mukesh Ambani's team. I am sure the same would be the rationale for many of the supporters of other franchises as well. I have been to 3 IPL games at the ground now, and each time, it has been a wonderful experience, to match the experience that I have had of all the Tests and ODIs at the Wankhede over the years. The highlight for me, was the way the North stand and Tendulkar stand got behind Mitchell Johnson as he steamed in to deliver the hat-trick ball against CSK earlier this month. To see a stadium in Mumbai pumping up an Aussie paceman bowling to two Indians was something out of this world. And thanks to the melting pot that is IPL, this has become possible. The world-cup winning T20 captain from West Indies is now taking instructions from an Australian who is not even a regular in his own national squad (and a Sri Lankan before that !!), while two of the very best T20 batsmen in the world (Gayle and ABD) are playing under a young, and often brash, Indian star. And of course, two fine players that were part of the Sydney drama a few years back now share a dressing room together. We would do well to acknowledge this spectacle that leagues like the IPL give us.
But more importantly, I watch cricket (and by extension, the IPL) for... errr... the cricket ! That is to say, a contest between the bat and ball. And from the time Brett Lee bowled that lovely outswinger at pace to castle young Unmukt Chand on April 3rd, the cricket has been undeniably of a high order (except a few instances where towels have been used for signal something fishy to the outside world). And it is the skill on display that makes me happy watching the IPL. Remember, it takes skill for a Kieron Pollard to exactly time his jump at long-on and hold on to the catch off Shaun Marsh. It takes even greater skill (and courage) for a Dishant Yagnik to stand virtually besides the stump and convert a Malinga toe-crusher into a half-volley (imagine how silly he would have looked had he been bowled !!). There have been several other moments that have made your jaw drop in awe just thinking 'how does this guy manage to do this ?'. And as to what the players think about the IPL, one can only look at the example of a 41-year old who turned down financially lucrative commentary assignments to train hard and prepare his team for this season (and look at the rewards he has reaped !!). It is the commitment that players like Rahul Dravid show to this tournament that makes me happy watching the IPL. There is, of course, that odd moment of apprehension when you suddenly sense that the goings-on are just not right (as when Pollard drops three in a row). But for me, the joys of watching the top players in the world parade their skills have far outweighed these negative moments. And that is good enough for me as a lover of the game of cricket. If a few money-minded individuals have disgraced the game of cricket by their sorry acts, I say bring them to book as soon as possible and get on with the game.
The issue with the IPL is not with the game itself, it is with the way it is run. Far from perfect. For starters, it is about a couple of weeks too long. The blatantly opaque rules have ensured that a group of haves and have-nots has been created amongst the franchises. And the famous conflict-of-interest position that one of the franchise owners occupies was always going to be exposed one day (especially since his franchise happens to be the most successful). It is surely time to clean up the way IPL is conducted, and freeing it from the clutches of the BCCI is probably the right way to go about it. Maybe the Government should step in and hand over the management of the IPL to a new listed corporate entity, complete with a player-CEO and a governing Board of Directors drawn from the very best of Indian industry. This will ensure accountability of the people running the show. It will not, of course, stop betting and spot-fixing. These will remain as long as greed remains a part of the human psyche, but, as fans, if I am assured from within that what I am seeing is devoid of any large-scale wrong-doing and the people in charge are of near-impeccable integrity, then the actions of a Sreesanth or a Meiyappan would hardly bother me. It is time that the millions of cricket fans all over the world are given that assurance. Hopefully, the current crises takes us some what closer to that nirvana.
To try and sum up a long post in one sentence: If the IPL were to die, as some people want it to be, I would not grieve its demise, but would certainly miss it and remember it as a good product gone horribly wrong.