By Sandeep Sahu
There is cricket. And then there is IPL. The two are worlds apart. Any resemblance between the two is – as the disclaimer at the beginning of every second Bollywood film never fails to remind us – ‘purely coincidental’. And yet, IPL has become the centre of the cricketing universe in the last few years – and not just for Indian cricketers.
Cricketers these days are not at all apologetic about skipping ‘inconsequential’ Test series to make sure they don’t miss out on the fun at the tournament that has been dubbed – not without justification – the Indian Paisa League. When push comes to shove, some cricketers even retire from one or more forms of the game to give themselves a shot at the showpiece event for a year or two more. Young cricketers grow up dreaming about playing for an IPL team – not the national team – some day. For the first year or two, a place in the Test squad or the one-day team was a passport to IPL country. Now, it is the other way round. Cricket boards across the world – wary of losing some of their top guns – conveniently time overseas tours to ensure that they don’t clash with the 90-day ‘window’ left ajar for the IPL.
The good old virtues of dogged defence and judicious shot making in case of batsmen and line, length and subtle variations in case of bowlers go through the window in the IPL variety of the game. It is all about smashing the living daylights out of the bowler – as Ben Stokes did the other day – if you are a batsman and saving runs if you happen to be a bowler. No wonder a technically sound batsman like Cheteswar Pujara, who was the highest scorer in the Test series against Australia just before the IPL, goes ‘unsold’ while Stokes fetches upwards of Rs 10 crores!
As for the spectators, it is hard to make out which team are they rooting for. They would go into raptures as the ball soars over the long on fence, cry themselves hoarse every time a wicket falls, do an impromptu jig as an alert fielder sends the stumps at the non-striker’s end cart-wheeling – all without backing any team in particular. There are no glum faces around as one often sees during Tests or even ODIs when a wicket falls because there are no ‘home’ teams. In the unique brand of cricket called IPL, everything – the fall of a wicket or a century scored – is meant to be celebrated by everyone, nothing is meant to be mourned. It is all good, clean fun that continues late into the night – often powered by a can or two of chilled beer.
While I have no problems with how people choose to spend their summer evenings, I certainly have a huge problem with the disproportionately huge space that IPL is given in the media. For the duration of the tournament, the sports pages of newspapers effectively turn into IPL pages, other sports news quietly relegated to the margins. If there is something spectacular like a David Warner century or something juicy like an on-field tiff between two celebrity cricketers, it even spills over into the front page. TV news channels have – apart from constant running updates – have dedicated slots where some ex cricketers who missed out on the fun of raking in the IPL moolah make up for the loss somewhat by pontificating on the ‘nuances’ of the game. Not to be left out, most news portals have windows with running scorecards, besides frequent updates on the match situation. It is not difficult to see why the media, which misses out on countless issues of life and death, lavishes such unwavering attention on a game of slam-bang cricket. As they say “He who pays the Piper calls the tune.”
Readers may have noticed that I have so far limited myself into what is visible and have refrained from straying into the dark underbelly of IPL where shady bookies are ready with wads of cash and ‘honey traps’ to snare gullible – or fallible – cricketers. If the fans of IPL think fixing – and ‘spot fixing’, its offshoot – is now a thing of the past with the ouster of N Srinivasan and the virtual taking over of the BCCI by a group of Supreme Court appointed administrators, they are living in a fool’s paradise. IPL and fixing are made for each other and never shall the twain part. Meanwhile, IPL betting is a multi-thousand crore industry that no ‘system’ has the wherewithal to dismantle.
Just about the only positive to have come out of the IPL is an improvement in the fielding standards of the average cricketer. But for the connoisseurs of cricket, it has done infinitely more harm to the beautiful game than good.
[I know I am in serious danger of being lynched by the diehard IPL fans for this piece. But as a diehard fan of the game for over four decades, I think I have impeccable credentials to speak on the issue, even if it riles a few readers. For those who may care, I have pulled off the seemingly incredible feat of not watching – or reading about – a single game of IPL since its inaugural edition in 2007!]