Five things I like (and don’t) about IPL (so far)

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: As an early sceptic of the Indian Premier League, I thought IPL was going to be a reality show for the rich, but three days into Cricket ka Karmyudh, I am willing to eat one number small crow and unsubscribe to the purists’ rant about Twenty20 being a witches’ brew to kill the real thing. Looking at the crowds, the TV audiences, and the entertainment on offer, it’s clear the centre of the game is shifting—from Lord’s to the commoners.

What do I like about IPL, so far?

1) I like the fact it is not a distasteful display of the tricolour: The flags, the tee-shirts, the hairdos, and the stickers on the cheeks in saffron, white and green were getting on my very sensitive nerves. Thankfully, there is very little of this bogus nationalism on the field, as if only one country (India) was destined to win. Our cities seem to be slaying Norman Tebbit‘s demon of nation and identity every night.

2) I like the fact there are so many nationalities on show: I had had enough of spectators and audiences who learnt cricket by watching television, who thought only Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were ordained to perform on Earth. It’s delightful to see them being stumped and surprised by a Brendon McCullum or a David Hussey or a Mark Boucher night after night.

3) I like the fact that there is something very unpredictable about the matches: When countries are playing each other, you know what is coming. You know who is fielding at point, who will come two-down, who will carry the drinks, etc. But it’s truly beautiful to be surprised at every stage of the IPL by friends, foes, and foes-turned-friends. To see Sanath Jayasuriya and Harbhajan Singh and Shaun Pollock put their heads together to haul Bombay out of the coals is a sight for the Gods.

4) I like the fact that it provides such a learning experience for young Indian cricketers: The gap between Indian domestic cricket and international cricket is huge. With our Test players away most of the time, there is no chance to learn for the young. But it is magnificent to see a promising Vinay Kumar being advised by Boucher. Or to see an Abhishek Nayar pull off a stunner under pressure.

5) And I like the fact that in the first few days, it’s the foreign players who have brought most of the value: At a time of great xenophobia and pseudo-patriotism, when the local versus outsider debate is raging, McCullum and Hussey for Calcutta, Boucher and Kallis for Bangalore, Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds for Hyderabad, Jayasuriya and Robin Uthappa for Bombay, et al, seem to have carried the day.

What do I not like about the IPL, so far?

1) I dislike the fact that it is really, all said and done, a reality show for the rich: The sight of the camera repeatedly panning on to grown-up actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Priety Zinta, businessmen like Vijay Mallya and Mukesh Ambani, and celebrities Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi leaves you wondering if the ghost of Mark Mascarenhas is back. Yes, they own the teams at great cost, but should we pay obeisance so often?

2) I dislike the fact that even if cricket changes, its commentators remain the same: Remember Sunil Gavaskar scored 36 not out in a 60-over World Cup match. Remember Ravi Shastri could never get adrenaline going if he didn’t hear “Hai, hai” from the crowds. To see the same slow coaches belting the same cliches (“The Indians will want a wicket now”) about fast cricket is, well, depressing.

3) I dislike the TV cameras hunting for the ball so often: Under the night sky, the cameraman seem to be finding it difficult to spot the ball. I hate that, and I hate the advertisements doing a balle-balle while the commentary is on, or the commercials slicing into an over or a commentator being chopped off mid-sentence. DD doing it was bad, but why should SET Max?

4) I dislike the fact that it seems to go on so late into the night: When last night’s Bangalore match ended, the milk truck had already arrived to unload the crates for the booth in front of my home! Seriously. I know that IPL is supposed to compete with the soaps but should the second match on the weekends start so late that we might as well soap, shampoo and leave for work on Mondays after the match ends?

5) And finally I dislike the fact that competition is just a relentless torrent: Five matches in three days and I can’t even remember anything from day one, except McCullum’s sixes. After a few days I will forget that too. I dislike the fact that it doesn’t leave you to savour a great spell of bowling or a fine catch. It’s all here and now. It’s not instant gratification, it’s instantaneous. If only victory and defeat are all that matter, only statisticians will worry about statistics at this rate.

So what do you like or not like about the IPL?