Watching Sanath Jayasuriya demolish the Chennai attack in yesterday’s IPL Cricket Tournament was a one-off thrill that brought into focus some thoughts on this format of the game. I have friends who are ‘purists’ as far as cricket goes, and for them, even the fifty-over game is a bastard they could clearly do without, so one could well imagine their collective reaction to the twenty-over game, which they regard as a ploy by the organizers to commercialize the game even more than they did with the fifty-over version, corrupting it to an even greater extent.
All right then, let’s look at the implications for all concerned and try to figure out if the IPL format is ‘good’ for cricket, or, as the purists would have it, a bunch of crap, not to be confused with the pristine form.
Judging from the comments of the players I have seen on television so far, and this includes the international players, every one of them have had only positive remarks about the format. I heard Kumar Sangakkara opine that this would add a whole new dimension to cricket and he was of the view that test cricket would also be positively influenced by it and predicted that run-rates would increase.
Another aspect that drew very positive comments was the combining of the international players with the lesser known Indian cricketers. I heard many players remark on how much they appreciated the exchange of information – particularly the young Indians who had the chance to partner greats like Glen McGrath, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Santh Jayasuriya, Adam Gilchrist and Shawn Pollock and to receive tips and hints on how to improve their performances. Although the relatively simple matter of being on the same team as their heroes was more than enough for the youngsters, the added dimension of the interactions between them all made for the experiences of a lifetime.
Then there is the new-found camaraderie between old rivals who sledged each other and appeared to hate each others guts in the not too distant past, now seen embracing and cheering each other on – a new found spirit that will surely hold the game in good stead in the future. This also enabled us to get to know many of the cricketers better. For instance, I always thought Graham Smith to be a bit of an asshole, however, from some exposure to his personality it seems I was wrong and he is a more than okay guy with a great sense of humour to boot.
The commercial aspect is another part of this phenomenon that can not be overlooked, as the cash the cricketers earn is not to be sneezed at and will, in all probability, kill off English County Cricket sooner than later. And what timing for blokes like McGrath, Warne, Jayasuriya and Pollock – all of them, for all intents and purposes nearly over the hill, but reappearing to accolades deserving of their performances and rising to the occasion more often than not. The format is perfect for them as the bowlers need to put out for only four overs a game and the cash they earn post-retirement is like so much icing on the cake, who can blame them for loving the format?
Indian cricket will, no doubt, reap rich dividends from the concept – not only from the experience and practice the cricketers get, but also from the huge income the tournament has generated through ticket sales, sponsorships, advertising and television. And of course the income generated from the betting must be reaching astronomical proportions.
The Bollywood slant is another brilliant idea, as the production and hoopla has attracted a whole slew of new fans – most of them ladies. Sharukh Khan and Preethi Zinta are not only bringing in a lot of attention, they are also reaping the rewards of their association with the teams. The ‘family’ is another important element for, as Sachin commented, the format, being short-lived entertainment full of action and surprises, is perfect for a family’s evening’s entertainment and he proceeded to exemplify this with the fact that his wife and children were together at the game for the first time, and probably for not the last.
Judging from the matches that I have managed to watch, I found the standards of fielding to be very high and the cricket, in general, to be extremely entertaining. Okay, so there may not be the classic strokes played with the monotonous regularity that we see in test cricket that the purists among us go ga-ga about, but Sanath’s innings last night had nary a false move in there, with his brilliance being enhanced by really super cricket strokes.
And so it seems that everyone is happy – the players, the organizers, the owners, the advertisers, the vendors, the fans – both old and new, the BCCI, and perhaps even the ICC, who may have picked up a trick or two from the BCCI.
Ooops, I nearly forgot about the purists – muttering under their breath about the bastardization of their holy grail and refusing to be part of the experience. Too bad for them, for if they love the game of cricket, what’s there to bitch about? After all, nothing is static and evolution is part of the natural process – for cricket too, as it is for everything else.