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IPL is cricket in a blender

Sports columnist Rohit Brijnath reflects on the successful first season of the Indian Premier League, the multi-million dollar cricket tournament which promises to change the game.

The victorious Rajasthan team after winning the IPL final
The first season was an unqualified hit (Photos: Indian Express)

I'm trying to like the Indian Premier League (IPL). Seriously.

No one wants to be an old fart, a yesterday's man, a wheezing traditionalist, which is the friendliest thing bloggers will find to say of you if you don't embrace this sport.

I don't much care for rap. I find chick-lit dull. And I don't wear my jeans at my knees. But I want to like the IPL, because it's all anyone talks of and I don't even live in India.

Warne ka jawaab nahi, dude (Warne is something else) comes with the evening's first whisky. You have to engage, sound enthused, else it's like going to a party in the old days and someone saying they didn't care for Sachin Tendulkar. Silence. Stares. Excommunication.

IPL is impressive because most sports are so immoveable, so averse to the slightest change


Old-fashioned is like being cursed. This is new cricket, bhai (brother), I am told, and it certainly has been.

It's so quick, in-your-face, intense. It's not quite a Hindi movie, it's more like hero and villain going dishum-dishum (what fisticuffs sound like in a Hindi film) the entire three hours with the odd dialogue thrown in.

It's impressive because most sports are so immoveable, so averse to the slightest change (some of golf's rules are absurd), that it is almost unreal, and fascinating, to watch cricket being put in a blender and the switch turned to the maximum.

Shah Rukh Khan during an IPL match
Shah Rukh Khan owns one of the high profile teams

So IPL chief Lalit Modi is at least worth the admiration we would accord anyone who relentlessly pursues an idea. But is he Moses, as somebody wrote? Maybe not.

The IPL, a trifle over-oiled with praise by the Indian media, is not English Premier League football.

Cricket's new league should remain a short-term business (not even twice a year), or else its sameness will grate, but it's worth its own tiny season.

In all sports, we look forward to months because of events, June is when Wimbledon calls, and April will belong to the IPL. Test cricket must arrange itself around it, and countries who deny their players, as England did, are myopic. Money will always win.

The IPL works also because cricketers like it. All of them. Bits and fellows like Yusuf Pathan fit perfectly, domestic nobodies get to slash their way out of anonymity, established players want to prove this watered-down art is not beyond them, and retired folk have enough energy left for a quickie.

Irresistible money

Cricketers are also not averse to cheerleaders, their names being chanted, text messages from Bollywood stars, private jets to send them back to their nations, and none of the accountability (so far) of playing for your country. Foreign players especially, who've never been painted onto billboards, will love this taste of India.

Yusuf Pathan
Yusuf Pathan was one of the stars of the tournament
The IPL works also because the money is irresistible (Indian money is suddenly not quite that dirty now, is it mate?) in a sport whose members never make Forbes' rich athlete list.

The IPL works because this irresistible money, for now at least, has turned players into well-paid sheep. It's a hoot, really. Cricketers are always griping but not here, not a cheep or a chirrup.

Already cricketers are arriving home just 48 hours before important Test series, and the next cricketer who complains about burnout, or that it takes time to adjust to conditions, gets to spend a month working for Vijay Mallaya.

I liked the IPL enough to switch on the television every evening even for four overs. And four overs can contain enough of what Peter Roebuck insisted to me was the "human drama" of the IPL.

Edge of insanity

Test cricket can get too sober, too absent of emotion, but the IPL is always brimming at the edge of insanity. I would say it's better for young hearts, except my 70-plus year-old aunt apparently sprang out of bed with a "yippee" recently and, when asked why, said it was semi-final day.

Some pictures of the IPL have been beautiful. The plotting of a South African batsman's downfall by an Indian, Lankan and Australian. Bowlers responding manfully to a game designed for batsmen. A new textbook on strokeplay and footwork being invented every contest, and while it is not a stylish game it has its own particular pomp, a sport unimpressed by the classical but brimming with the astonishing.

Here, cricket's philosophy is powerfully altered: in Tests, men are taught to prize their wicket, here they must put a cheaper price on it and embrace risk.

It is also, fundamentally, a team game. Over many matches, one man will rarely stand out as is possible in a Test series, so men must make small, fast, telling contributions in 19 balls faced or 12 balls bowled.

Crowd at an IPL match
Most of the matches saw packed stadiums

But there is a flipside.

One might say that four sixes, five fours, 18 balls makes a spectacle but hardly a story. This is a gunfight without the necessary preamble.

Sharda Ugra of India Today pointed out that nets didn't have the tension that stalks preparation prior to the day of a Test match. No sense of athletes tuning themselves, of tense faces wondering whether they would be picked, of batting orders being dissected.

Brazen

The batting is brazen, but absent of form. There are no pretty lines to Twenty20 batting, it is an inelegant dance and conversely in this shorter form it is not that there is no room for mistakes but a lot.

Celebrity has powered the IPL, and why not. A colleague muttered that a frown-wearing Preity Zinta was complaining about Punjab's catching. A cricketer's friend on utilising a free ticket gushed not about the game but about sitting in aura-touching distance of Akshay Kumar. Shah Rukh Khan brought energy, famous friends, strange text messages and was in more cricket stories than Sachin.

Fireworks during the final of the IPL
There was plenty of spectacular onfield entertainment

And this is fun, it's fine. But the IPL has to be careful about everything being fine, about machine-gunning every sporting sacred cow.

Like Shah Rukh Khan in the dugout. It's not about anti-corruption, it's about tradition. Undoubtedly some conventions pass their use-by date (like bowing to royalty at Wimbledon), but some things should remain precious. Dugouts are only for athletes, coaches, physios. This place, the ground, laps of honour, belong to them. It's their place of work, their performance theatre.

It's a small thing but much of the media doesn't care to comment, they're busy cheerleading, right alongside many of the commentators who are playing salesmen. That's when it becomes hard to take the IPL seriously as a sport.

But, I am told, the whole point is not to take the IPL seriously. It's a tamasha, it's crickentainment, it's time-pass, bhai. Maybe next April I'll do what my daughter occasionally suggests. Take that strange thing called the chill pill.


This is a selection of readers' comments

Get used to IPL, it's an Indian version of NBA and NFL. It's combo package of cricket with Bollywood. Get used to it for there going to be more drama in future
Ram Kumar, USA

Thanks Mr Brijnath, for finally putting the Shah Rukh Khan in the dugout episode in perspective. Of all the voices raised on that issue, you were the only one who mentioned the sanctity of the field as a reason.
Krishna Vemuri, India

One thing is for sure: cricket has been changed by IPL to the core. Even if South Asian teams do not perform well in the World Cups, the masses here have a lot to cheer about even after the World Cups. So now we can enjoy cricket at its best. This is cosmopolitan cricket, where no matter from where you come, you have fans that really love you. I think now cricket boards will find it increasingly difficult to fix dates for matches for their national sides.
Jalal Aslam, Pakistan

If IPL was tamasha then it was a tamasha of the best kind. It was the best reality show, short and sweet and I think cricket was the eventual winner in the whole IPL series.
Reema Puri, USA

Rohit, you should listen to your daughter. Maybe surprising to you, but a lot of people I know detest cricket out here, me included. But what do you know, I caught almost every match, same with the others too. That it doesn't have tradition is not a valid complaint. We'll develop it. Maybe it's time for you to retire, we have too many nay-sayers in this country anyway. Cricket, roads, power - whatever the topic be, too many people to gripe in India. They forget that transformation isn't always magically instantaneous, but we are getting there.
Robin, India

I do not agree with any of the comments made by Rohit Brijnath. It is time that people look at 20/20 as a different format to test cricket. It is silly to constantly compare the two and to do so reeks of bitter traditionalist. My 70 year-old father who is a massive fan of cricket rarely missed a game of the IPL, and he is very much a traditionalist by nature. Test cricket has become unpopular in recent years because people just do not have the time to watch batsmen plod around aimlessly and graft centuries. The purpose of sport is to entertain the public, as well as test the skills of a player. In that sense, 20/20 accomplishes all that in three hours what test cricket may take in five days. It is also a great learning curve for youngsters to develop. India is too big a country to have 'international cricket' as its only form of sport entertainment. What about players like Asnodkar and Y Pathan who have now got a chance to prove themselves. These players will be better off now and it is good that they were given the chance. IPL for me was fantastic and went beyond 'crickentainment' as Brijnath mentioned. The IPL was, for me, the best test of a cricketer's ability under pressure. After all, any batsmen can score centuries in Test cricket now, eg Kumble or Gillespie, but not every batsmen can score centuries in 20/20, which requires more skill and power.
Michael Jackson, USA

I watched T20 initially becasue of the hype, and also because I enjoyed the Twenty20 World Cup. I thought the level of cricket was high and it was simply fascinating to watch the best of the world's talent fight it out. Contrary to my expectations, none of the games looked anything like farcical on the lines of what Mr Brijnath would like us all to believe. While I agree Test cricket will remain the ultimate measure of a cricketer's skills and talents, I am sick of such 'intellectual' bores going on about 'cheap and vulgar' T20 cricket. Get a life Mr Brijnath! The rest of the world has moved on!
Cricket Fan, UK

I think the IPL will become a recognised event all over the world and put Indian cricket on the map in big way. In the long run it will possibly lead to decline of the national team and effect the performance of its players.
Bharat Patel, London England

Lets be honest-IPL is to cricket is what singing and dancing at peoples weddings is to Bollywood stars. While it may be entertaining, it certainly is void of substance except as a cynical money making exercise by the BCCI. Does anyone seriously think this is going to breed quality players who can represent their country well in the tournaments and matches that mean something to real cricketers.
Ashwin K Sethi, New York, USA

Brijnath is right - Twenty20 is not cricket any more than cabaret is dance. It may excite some, but there is no elegance, no class. Gone are the white uniforms, and definitely absent is rational and strategic playing. The masses seem to never fail to corrupt all that is holy and beautiful..
Michael Ross, USA

I, unlike most of the others here, actually agree with the sentiments of the article. Ever since I was three years old (so its been 21 years for me) I've been playing, following and loving cricket. I've embraced every change in the game (15 over limitation, Hawkeye and so forth) but T20 cricket is one of those things that I wouldn't miss if it gets lost in the coming years. Sure it gives opportunities to the younger players or perhaps induces friendship among bitter rivals, but the game suffers so much in return. Batting technique gets thrown out the window and bowling gets geared more towards saving runs than taking wickets. There is so much beauty lost in the mental aspect of the game as well. Its totally different to be under pressure for 4-10 overs when batting & 2-4 overs while bowling when compared to what players have to face in a 50 over game (the best is of course a tense Test match). I don't mind watching it on occasion, but anymore than once a year and cricket will turn into mindless slogging. The glossy finish that IPL claims to bring to cricket fades away into cheap parlour tricks if you look close enough. Actors, cheerleaders, entertainers might make the stadiums full, but it ends up giving you fans of the show and not the sport. All I can end up hoping for is that T20 cricket doesn't end up influencing the more challenging formats of the game.
Harnit, USA

Twenty20 is entertainment, like going cinema. I hope this will continue. I fear Test matches may fade away or may not be that interesting. I agree with Rohit on many points
Ansaruddin Rahimi, The Bahamas

Mr Brijnath's article comes across as one of many border line criticisms of the IPL. The underlying defensive tone is what bothers me in such efforts. For example the comment about IPL not being the English Premier League football. Though I agree with Mr Brjnath, my question is who said that it was? The comparison is the biggest block that one has to get past....whether it is with English Premier League, or with Test cricket. I think people need to see IPL, and more importantly, Twenty20 cricket in its own light. The 'insane' batting is on show even in one day cricket, and IPL wasn't short on the class from players like Shaun Marsh and Sangakkara scripting beautiful innings. Lack of time brings out some interesting captain-skills that you would otherwise not see. So why not appreciate IPL for what it gives, and not criticise it while comparing it with English Premier League or Test cricket. They all have their own unique qualities and things to offer. Lets enjoy them, without pitting them against each other.
Anuj Pandey, USA

I agree with your daughter Rohit! You should take that chill pill more often! Nobody talks about track and field events, instead everyone's interested in horses racing in Kentucky Derby, or cars racing in NASCAR (or F1 for all of you rest-of-the-world folks). Do you know why? Some sports have become so commercial that they don't seem to appear that way anymore (Ex: Football, NBA, Golf etc). I think cricket is evolving still! It needs time before a professional management takes hold of this sport and makes it viable and competitive. Is it IPL? Maybe, maybe not, but definitely a good idea.
Narasimha, USA

Living in the UK there has not been much coverage of the IPL but I for one am definitely for it as it shows the world that India and Indians are capable of such a sporting feat, the only downside I feel is that cricket may become trivialised and the fact that these Bollywood 'actors' seem to think they can do no wrong just because they own teams.
Dharmesh Agravat, UK

Let them be ... time has come to chill-out Rohit bhai!
Leila Singh, Guyana/US

Much as I appreciate Mr Brijnath's wry comment on IPL and his apprehensions as to where it might take the game of cricket, he must perhaps reflect a little more on the opportunities it affords to younger less experienced players. Players who would otherwise have languished in that quicksand called domestic Indian cricket now get to share nets, observations and more with some of the greatest players of our generation. The money that is obviously being made must perhaps be studied in the context of changing attitudes toward the idea of selling skills, space and time to the highest bidder. Like it or leave it, T20 is here to stay. I don't remember the last time I sat through an entire ODI or test match and I sure as hell can't sit through 6 months of T20. The answer lies as always in meeting the ball with the middle.
Prashant Rajan, USA

You are one of sport's golden writers. You have a special gift. I actually search for your pieces. This piece on the IPL however is not one of those that make you read and re-read again. I understand your reluctance to allow this circus (IPL) to be as popular as it is with the others. I too was sceptical before the event. But somehow, the event grows on you. For many this was about Shane Warne but for me the defining moment was MS Dhoni rallying his team around for a circular chat just after the last ball loss in the final. It was about leadership and character which you so often spot and write in your pieces. The other highlight was Ponting offering advice to Ishant Sharma just after the acrimonious Australia tour. Yes the pace of the IPL was frenetic but the usual plots and sub-plots were there too. And it was not tiring to watch match after match day after day. Something I would never had said at the beginning of the even! And yes I am looking forward to seeing it again. I will always look forward to reading your pieces. If I sound like I am complaining about this piece don't blame me - you have spoilt us with your exceptional gift for writing.
Sachin Talwar, India

I always enjoy Mr Brijnath's articles. However, he like many others ( purists, pundits, second guessers), cannot appreciate that 20/20 is a particular format of cricket. Each of them, Tests, four dayers, three dayers, two dayers, one dayers, have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. But they are all versions of the same game. There is too much paralysis by analysis. Let's enjoy each version for what it is, warts and all, and stop navel gazing.
M Harvie, Canada.

Rohit Brijnath and co were watching something else and everybody else was watching something. He says: "Bits and pieces fellows like Yusuf Pathan fit perfectly" Has he been following domestic cricket and India A matches recently or sipping red wine somewhere?
Chandra, India




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