Nothing means more to the success of cricket’s future than the Indian Premier League (IPL). From the vast amounts of money involved to the stratospherically improved profile it has gifted the game to the innovation it has mothered in the way strokes are played and balls bowled, it’s a winner.
To be part of a crowd at an IPL match — particularly in the less expensive seats — is to celebrate being alive; viscerally so. Should aliens choose to invade earth by landing on the outfield at, say, M Chinnaswamy Stadium while Royal Challengers Bangalore are playing Chennai Super Kings, they would soon have Scotty beam them up to the mothership again: these humans are passionate, focussed, serious creatures who are not to be messed with. To watch an IPL game on television, even if you’re in the other hemisphere, is to know that you are in the presence of production perfection, albeit electronically.
Cricket would still be cricket without the IPL, but it would be a smaller, lesser version of what it has been growing into since 2008. Anyone who believes differently is either too old for this world or wouldn’t know a good thing if slapped upside the head.
And yet some people do believe differently. They probably also hanker for pristine pickets around the ground and no fours before lunch, and they value tradition because… well, it’s the tradition. What other reason could you possibly need?
But cricket is changing irrevocably right under their greying moustaches and there’s nothing they can do about it. Many of them have yet to notice this and those who have are reduced to shrill bleating about how things ain’t how they used to be and isn’t that terrible.
If this sounds too much like something that would get short shrift from a sociology professor, here are two words of hard evidence to bulletproof the argument: Kagiso Rabada.
Right now, Rabada is far more likely to be described as South Africa’s opening bowler than what he actually is: a paid professional whose services are available to the highest bidder.
Does anyone engineer for England? Account for Australia? Invent for India? Nurse for New Zealand? No. That would be absurd. So how is the notion of playing for Pakistan any less crazy?
Alas, cricket-minded people have drunk so deeply of this flavour of Kool-Aid that they conflate the game with war: MS Dhoni’s militarily crested wicketkeeping gloves, Sheldon Cottrell’s stiff salute and solemnly sung national anthems have no place on a cricket ground.
Similarly, the theory that Rabada somehow represents South Africa, and therefore South Africans, is plainly daft. But when he bowls like a champion at the IPL and far below his capabilities at the World Cup, South Africans feel betrayed.
It doesn’t help that the players fuel this wrongheaded idea of patriotism by paying it lip service. That Rabada decided to play in the IPL this year, World Cup or no World Cup, tells its own story. So does the fact that he talked all around the question when he was asked directly on Sunday whether skipping the IPL in a World Cup year wouldn’t have been a good idea.
Far better that the players admit they play cricket mostly for money, not so much for love, and that performing for franchise teams is a far higher priority for them than doing well for some notionally “national” side. If playing for their countries’ teams earned them no money, would they still put in the hours and the effort to do so? The closest you’re going to get to a straight answer to that question is that players are professionals and are thus deserving of payment for their services.
Exactly. The concern shouldn’t be that Rabada has lost his zip by playing in tournaments like the IPL — where he sent down 282 legal deliveries this year — but that he is being overworked by South Africa — in whose colours he has bowled 1536 balls in 2019. That’s almost five-and-a-half times as many as in the IPL.
Parth Jindal and Kiran Kumar Grandhi, the owners of Delhi Capitals, Rabada’s IPL franchise, should demand to know who exactly South Africa’s team think they are to clutter their expensive investment’s schedule with all this so-called international cricket. Instead, it’s the other way round.
But not for long. T20 is eating the international game alive. In not many years from now, all the latter will be is a feeder system for the former, but only until market leaders like the IPL establish their own player pipeline. Major League Baseball, for instance, doesn’t draw its talent from Team USA but from the ranks of minor league clubs, which are owned and controlled by the big boys.
This will be an unpopular view in the cricket media, which is heavily invested in covering the international game not dissimilarly to how it reports on war. But the proof is in the proofreading. How many times do words like “battle”, “stand and deliver”, “tracer bullet” and “death” feature in coverage, and what other purpose does it serve to broadcast the grim dirge of those solemnly sung national anthems but to whoop the watching masses into a frenzy of fake patriotism?
Arise, then, the IPL, which is far closer to the spirit intended by cricket’s founders than the Nuremberg nationalist nonsense the ersatz international game could easily become.
Happily, then, the IPL is rising, fast. Nothing can stop it. Nothing will stop it. And nothing should try to stop it. You know it, I know it. Most pertinently, players like Rabada know it.