IPL 2017: How entertainment-heavy league can revamp itself to focus on serious cricket

Nearly a decade has passed since the first-ever Indian Premier League (IPL) match was played, since Brendon McCullum destroyed the Royal Challengers Bangalore bowling attack on his way to a scintillating century — an innings that gave the tournament a dream start. Since that moment on, the players, teams and fans have never looked back.

PTI image

File image of an IPL opening ceremony. PTI

Now, it's that time of the year again. The 10th edition of the great Indian cricket carnival begins. And as always, we'll be glued to the TV even as we lament about too much cricket being played.

While the IPL has become a staple of the Indian summers, it hasn’t exactly been an easy ride. With great money, comes great controversy. From Lalit Modi’s ouster, to the match-fixing scandal, to teams being banned for financial irregularities, there were several occasions where the future of the tournament was under real threat. But each time, the IPL survived. Because whether anybody likes it or not, the IPL has become one of the most important cricket events of the year, especially for the players.

But despite all the things it has going in its favour, the IPL is one of the most schizophrenic sporting events in the world.

On one hand, we have everything that makes it worth watching — cricket at its finest. The best players in the world take centrestage as we are enthralled with last-ball finishes, explosive batting, near-magical fielding and inspired spells of bowling. Every year, we are introduced to young, exciting talent; the world has discovered players like Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Sarfaraz Khan and many more international stars who were relative unknowns before they signed up for the IPL.

But on the other hand, we have the evil twin that makes the viewing experience insufferable — ‘entertainment’.

Let’s start with the opening ceremony. Bringing in a token ‘international star’ will not make people care about a meaningless, barely-planned stage show that goes on for what seems like eternity. To make matters even worse, IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla has announced that there will be eight (yes, EIGHT) separate opening ceremonies this year, one for each city and team. Oh, the horror.

But to be fair, you can choose to ignore the opening ceremony. So let’s do that. Let us instead talk about Extraaa Innings —  the ‘hilarious variety show’ that can induce the kind of trauma usually reserved for the most hardened of criminals.

I mean, what is the point of this? Do I really want to watch ageing, has-been cricketers and clueless hosts engage in unintelligible garble under the guise of banter and humour? Add to that the torturous song-and-dance routine that makes you wonder if the people on screen are having a seizure, and you have the perfect recipe to ruin the night of anyone who wants to enjoy a good, competitive game of cricket.

Let us now move on to the in-game commentary. It is so divorced from the action on the field, it'll will make you question if the cold drink you’re sipping on has been spiked with a psychotropic substance. It’s bad enough in English, but if you prefer Hindi commentary like a majority of the country, good luck trying to make any sense of the bewildering audio-visual dissonance that you are sure to be subjected to.

Another major problem with the IPL is the latent (and sometimes blatant) sexism. How are cheerleaders still a thing? Aren't we done with an outdated practice that adds absolutely no value to the game?

And why are all the on-ground hosts pretty women with skimpy clothes who have zero knowledge about cricket? I can almost imagine the job requirements — ‘Need a woman. Must be good looking. Must wear short clothes. Cricket knowledge optional’.

Isn’t the IPL big enough to sustain itself without having to objectify women? For a tournament that reaches hundreds of millions of people, it’s time for the IPL to be more responsible about the content they put out.

I understand all of this may have been necessary when the tournament started in 2008. Nobody knew what to expect, a lot of sponsors had been roped it, and the organisers needed eyeballs to keep everyone happy. It made sense to give it the ‘entertainment’ tag. But that was almost a decade ago.

Now, it’s time for the IPL to revamp itself. People aren’t watching the tournament for cheerleaders or the ‘humour’ of its variety show. The pretty women aren’t pulling crowds all by themselves, the cricket is.

There are wholesale changes to be made. For starters, bring in quality commentators who care more about on-field action rather than those who have been falsely led to believe that they’re stand-up (sit-down, in this case) comedians. Speaking of quality commentators, did anyone say Harsha Bhogle?

Extraaa Innings needs to die a quick death, at least in its current form. It is probably the single worst ‘cricket’ show that exists. There is more entertainment value in watching paint dry.

Fire the current hosts, who are more interested in building their CV for the next edition of Bigg Boss instead of focusing on the cricket. Please, God, get rid of the absolutely painful panel of ‘experts’ who are more interested in dancing with cheerleaders, rather than analysing the game at hand. Do away with the band and dancers and keep it simple.

There is no question that more women need to be included. But they don’t have to be cheerleaders or pretty faces who smile and preen for the camera. There are many competent female presenters out there who understand and love the game, and they are the ones who will add value to the dugout interviews and to the post-match shows.

The IPL managing committee needs to have faith in the game. They need to understand that the long-term future of the tournament depends on the fans, who deserve a much better viewing experience than the current tosh that is being served to them. Because after all the opening ceremonies, Extraaa innings and skin shows end, people always remember the cricket.

Updated Date: Apr 05, 2017 17:39 PM

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