The sixth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) will be underway soon. There will be song, dance and fireworks. And there will be cricket. Fun, watchable cricket in small doses that even the non-fanatic will queue up to see. After years of staying clear of the stadiums as a matter of principle (this just wasn’t cricket, was it?), I might be buying my first IPL game ticket too.
For many who have followed and enjoyed Test cricket, it is like a ‘coming out’ moment, admitting to appreciating the IPL. While I had no such compunction, I had other reservations, a larger problem with the concept of T20 itself. The fear of the shortened version taking over the world is a common one among passionate Test cricket lovers. Add to that the dancing girls and the glitter of gold and I was a shoo-out for the tournament.
But while not much has changed and the image of the IPL continues to be that of a fat cat licking its well-manicured paws, I’ve started to see it differently. Sure, it is well-fed but it is also scrappy, a quality often ignored but one that has earned the event its place in the cricket calendar.
Here’s the thing. The IPL has long been projected, particularly in the English and Australian media, as evil. A creature that sucks all propriety out of the game even as it maintains a façade of nourishing players’ time-sensitive earnings. It needed no sympathy.
I’ve been a long-time cynic too. A fan of the classic version of the game, I found the commercial overtones of this format crass and not in consonance with my idea of the sport. I agreed with the purists as they slammed the BCCI for creating the monster that would eventually destroy cricket and all that the gentleman’s game stood for. With so much noise being made against it and the men who ran the show, it was pretty easy to hate the IPL.
Six years on, it is pretty difficult to not admire it.
I’m only giving the devil its due. You cannot overlook the sharp survivor skills displayed by the league in the face of a rollercoaster ride that outsiders were convinced, and some hopeful, would end in irreparable disrepute.
Each edition has come with its own parcel of problems. Countries withholding permission for player participation, Lalit Modi, serious national security concerns, Lalit Modi, high-profile corruption charges, Lalit Modi and, now, the Chennai-Sri Lanka tangle. It has also suffered from nightmarish PR as other cricket boards, unable to swallow the grandeur of a third-world success, continued to create roadblocks. But whether it was in the right note the first edition set or the high-profile private sector interest in the continued success of the league, it hardly even stumbled, let alone tripped.
The world, including India, is united in its criticism of the BCCI but even its shenanigans can’t seem to unravel the IPL.
It has found ratification in the copy-cat leagues mushrooming across the cricket playing nations. It has found cause to be smug as international players fought for their right to play the IPL. It has served a purpose in unearthing domestic talent – players like Ravindra Jadeja – who are now claiming their place in the Test team. And finally, for people like me, it has proven to be mostly about the cricket.
But the nature of the beast is such that it can never please all nor can it stop blundering.
As such, it will continue to face pointed criticism and barbs but they are just words that barely prick the thick hide the IPL has developed. There will also be scandals but that is now par for the course. The skeptics aren’t going anywhere either. But there can never be self-doubt. It has survived too much and come too far for that.
The author writes on popular culture, cricket and whatever else takes her fancy.