This January, I had the good opportunity of interviewing one of the country's finest cricket writers - Suresh Menon - when he came down to Kolkata for the city launch of his book Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket.
We talked on a lot of issues but I vividly remember his particular observation on IPL and T20 cricket: "I think T20 is a very democratic form of cricket, because it sort of reduces the level of the differences in terms of talent, interests and nationalities as well. But I’m not a great fan of such democracy."
The IPL has reduced boundaries, not only in terms of the grounds, but also in terms of player relations. The exemplary camaraderie and friendship among international cricketers these days has been born and brought up by the Indian Premier League. But the not so exemplary Slapgates and Sweargates have also been created by the IPL.
Watching Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli walk arms in arms is a regular and normal sight these days, although an ecstatic Harbhajan Singh jumping all over a Ricky Ponting is still fresh and surprising enough to garner a few thousand hits on YouTube.
But Gautam Gambhir celebrating with Jacques Kallis or Yuvraj Singh hugging Angelo Mathews - these would have been rare sights, had there not been an IPL.
The Indian Premier League, the 'divisive force', the Slytherin beast that was supposed to rip the cricket brotherhood apart (if there ever was one), has in fact lit the torch of friendship. I wonder what Mickey Arthur would have to say if David Warner shared a few pre-Ashes PPTs with Kevin Pietersen.
The IPL has also helped players understand and get accustomed to foreign cultures and foreign approaches to sport. It has, in fact, made for strange buddies, playing its part in eradicating mistrust developed over years.
After India won the World Cup in 2011, Virat Kohli won billions of hearts when he carried Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulders across the ground and said, "He has carried the team for 21 years. It is our turn to carry him."
While his action was applauded, he failed to catch the more significant point. If last week's incident is anything to go by, he has failed to learn from the master how he carried himself over the last 20 odd years. And Virat is not alone. His state, national and corporate (ONGC) team mate Gambhir gives him company.
Sharing the dressing room with the likes of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and VVS Laxman hasn't made the southpaw any wiser. It seems that the IPL has divided the land, however temporarily, between team-mates representing the same country but turning out for different franchises.
If Slapgate grabbed eyeballs in the first season of IPL, then 'Sweargate' has become the latest TRP gatherer featuring Kohli and Gambhir — excitable Delhi lads for whom expletives mark the degree of superiority.
The KKR captain says that cricket is a man’s game and not played by the boys. So, do we now measure a sportsman's manliness based on his expletive index? Well Gautam, you should probably skip a few training sessions, and watch DVDs of Colin Croft and co. touring apartheid-stricken South Africa. That might give you a better idea of how sportsmen act. As for Virat, I dare not point a 'finger' at you.
While Gambhir and Kohli’s spat was uncouth and uncalled for, it perhaps ended up raising the TRP of IPL — a tournament that survives and thrives on the sights and sounds surrounding such condensed cricket.
So, more than Ponting holding onto that spectacular catch, it was the post-wicket celebration of Bhajji and Punter, which grabbed more attention of the paying public.
"Is it the greater stakes involved in the corporatised tournament that makes these players stoop to such boorish behaviour?" asked Sunil Gavaskar — the man who backed Kohli for captaincy after the home series against England.
The tournament is the closest cricket has ever come to reality TV, which attracts mass eyeballs. So, in that way, the Kohli-Gambhir spat, a showcase of expletives, must have given the full value for their money. The brand value of the Mumbai Indians lies in the frame which captures Tendulkar and Ponting opening the innings or Bhajji hugging Punter.
I have a colleague, who admits that she goes to every home KKR match only to do the ridiculous jhumping jhapaks and thumping thapaks. Now, that is the ideal IPL crowd.
But, even if a Kohli or a Gambhir denies to bear the responsibility of a role model, they need to understand that there are actually millions in the stands ready to emulate them at the drop of a hat. And if anyone perceives that sensationalizing can actually increase the sport's audience, then we need to think again.
This is what LA Times had to say after the Slapgate incident in 2008 - "Violence between players? Scantily clad cheerleaders? Toss in a rant by Charles Barkley and three minutes of commercials for every 45 seconds of actual game time and cricket may finally be ready for a mainstream American audience."
First Published On : Apr 16, 2013 15:55 IST