Roopank Chaudhury’s take on the great Indian IPL circus
IPL is to the game of cricket what Chetan Bhagat is to fiction writing in English. Blasphemy to the purist. In its crudest form, both are an outcome of commercial commoditization of virtues which in the innocent world of connoisseurs, were enjoyed by a few, and rightfully so. But for the larger world, both are a form of entertainment that have swelled the coffers of the promoters, and created a new segment for marketers to capitalize on. But for the traditionalist, it is a sad state of affairs indeed. Being a classicist for both the literature and the game, I have reason to complain. But for the time being, I will direct my ire only at the sport (or lack of it, in its unsullied form) given that we are in the midst of the great Indian IPL circus.
I am happy that conformist sports channels like Star Cricket and ESPN have steered clear of this entertainment soap opera that unfolds like a ludicrous reality show each evening. Rightfully so, it is beamed from Sony which is the favored bastion of all saasbahu serials and other comedy circuses; atleast their positioning is consistent. But then, IPL was never about the cricket or the game – it was about leveraging the craze of a sport that was revered by millions in the second most populous country in the world, a brilliant commercial venture that was only going one way – northwards. Due credit to Lalit Modi for having that foresight (must say that since his unceremonious exit, IPL is not the same in its own glitz and sheen).But for the cricket enthusiast who travels to the mecca of the game like the Oval and the MCG to enjoy the symphony of a test match, this is as irreverent as playing DJ remixed holy bhajans in a temple!
Many comparisons were made with the EPL but none of those stand today. And that is sad because IPL could have still been loyal to the sport which made it famous and yet made the money that the game produces, given its fanatic fan following. It was always a dream to see star players of different countries play together (even though the Pondulkar Jodi has flattered to deceive thus far). But the irony is that with only 4 foreign players allowed in the team, you pretty much have a bink-and-miss viewing of the international talent at play. Most of the time many countries are unable to send their best talent because of international commitments. And whatever said and done, most of us would have loved to see Indian and Pakistani players come together, but unfortunately that has and perhaps won’t ever translate into reality. So all you get is a few international stars (many of them past their prime) in intermittent displays of individual brilliance and just too many games each day to even make sense of what is going around. Too much of anything is bad for the system, and cricket is no exception. And then to top it all, we have pretty young things scampering around the field trying to give expert opinion on the game (sacrilege, really), impish silver screen actors prancing around the studio as they ‘analyze’ the quality of cricket and then expert commentators (respected cricketers in their time) doing ridiculous jigs along with random looking cheerleaders. And to think this is what we call cricket?
It’s interesting to understand the implications for the Indian cricketer. The story was very different last year when the team had returned from the mauling they had received down under to add to their dismal, disastrous outing in England. There was enough criticism piled onto Dhoni and his men that they saved their best for IPL and that money came way ahead of national pride (I was one of their biggest critics). And that they had no right to be bought for obnoxious sums when they had let down their country so consistently and so blatantly. Things are clearly in their favor this year as the team is flush from its conquest of the Aussies who they decimated rather effortlessly, and the spoils of the IPL seem justified. Can’t argue with that but what one needs to ponder on (and hopefully someone in the BCCI would be) is that the grueling schedule, the stakes and the inherent intensity of the IPL will do no favors to the preparation of a team that zips off to England for the Champions trophy after the tournament, followed by Zimbabwe, a visit by the sure-to-be-seething Aussies (no guesses to how they would prepare for the tour), and challenging tours to South Africa and New Zealand. Going by past record, there would be little time to prepare for such tours and there is a strong possibility of a repeat performance of 2011 and 2012. But I would be more than happy to be proven wrong here. After all, cricket may be a game of glorious uncertainties but the Indian team is a unit of greater volatilities!
So what’s the verdict? In a selfish world, books should only be read by voracious readers who appreciate the nuances of fine fiction and the texture of good literature and there should be no place for the new breed of Chetan Bhagat writers who are helping expand the business of books to the masses, albeit through less than average writing. It’s the same disdain Scotch lovers or wine aficionados will have for those who mix whisky and coke or splurge on wine cocktails. And cricket lovers like us who scoff at the growing genre of housewives and non-serious game lovers who clap merrily when Chris Galye hits another towering six against a hapless Delhi Daredevils unit in a stadium which resembles a giant circus encampment. But then, it sells and like how. And in the real world, the co-existence of the purist and the distorted (read: refashioned) is a truth that I must accept.