Over the years Bill Woodfull’s famous expression from the Adelaide test of the now infamous 1933 Bodyline series has stood for everything unsportsmanlike. A game built on the traditions of British Raj, Cricket originated to represent everything true and honest. Incidents such as Bodyline in 30s, the underarm bowling incident orchestrated by Chappell brothers in 80s, or the match fixing episode of the late 90s tarnished this reputation. But this latest IPL fixing-betting scandal doesn’t fall in the same bracket, simply because IPL is not cricket.
As a cricket fan I was excited at the prospects of IPL starting. I still recall the image which appeared in newspapers on the launch day- Sharad Pawar and Lalit Modi revealing a neatly arranged assembly of iconic players (guess it was Sachin, Dada, Dravid, Kumble, Glenn McGrath, and Shane Warne). It had started as a knee-jerk reaction to ICL, which although being cornered to some dark corners of a Gurgaon stadium (Tau Devilal I presume) was generating enough excitement as a television product. My excitement was propelled by the prospects of watching some exciting Cricket, and yes T20 was still Cricket post that amazing 2007 World Cup victory.
I went for the IPL opener in Bangalore, and what a night it was. From the opening ceremony to McCullum’s amazing knock, Dravid leaving the ball outside the offstump (even in T20) to the eventual KKR victory. I was sold. At least for the first two seasons, and a good part of third. But then my relationship with IPL started souring.
My first issue with the IPL emerged due to pure cricketing reasons. Instead of bat and ball this more a show of strength, brain had been taken over by brawn, beauty by brashness. Logic was quickly becoming a tradable commodity, and the constant shuffling of players meant that emotions never cultivated their own space. Ross Taylor who had become more Banglorean than any of city’s IT imports moved franchise, Chennai and Mumbai always seemed to have their way, Shahrukh’s arrogant presence was getting irritating, everyone had forgotten the initial $9 mn salary cap, and as Guha mentions in his piece which appeared few days back on Cricinfo, the league never covered most of India. It was an affair dominated by the South and the West, and by the rich urban spaces.
In between all this, I stopped watching it after season 3, just to glance through the updates as there was enough of it all around me.
Through all this time I was always confused about why fans were spending so much of their time, energy, and money on this. Was I cynical, a bit arrogant, or was I right to ignore this?
Events which have transpired over the last few days make me a happy man, primarily because I am not sad at all. I am not attached to this. This is not Cricket, it can never be.
Can IPL ever replicate the tension of India’s 2011 World Cup Final; the thrill of Steyn bowling to Tendulkar during the Durban test; the heartbreak of the Klusner-Donald mix up; the insult of the Miandad sixer; the joy of West Indies winning the T20 World Cup; the disgust of the Cronje revelations; the generation-changing impact of Kapil Dev’s victory; the sheer domination of West Indies in 70s-80s and Australia in 90s-00s; the pure excitement of the 2005 Ashes series; the image of Imran Khan lifting the Crystal Trophy; the stomach churn experienced listening to Tony Grieg during the Desert Storm matches; the nonchalance of Benaud; the accidental humor of Inzamam; the righteousness of men like Woodfull, Gilchrist, and Dravid; the pain of watching Tendulkar in pain during the Chennai test against Pakistan; the political manoeuvring of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to get the India Pakistan series on track; the pleasure of reading Guha, CLR James, or modern works such as Rahul Bhattacharya’s Pundits from Pakistan; the delight of watching Pakistani Fast bowlers and the confusion over their actual age; the mystery over Bob Woolmer’s death; the legend of Don Bradman, Len Hutton, and Frank Worrell; the insights of Mihir Bose or Harsha Bhogle; the grace of a Gower or Ganguly stroke; the guile of Warne; the accuracy of McGrath; the fear of facing the West Indian pace attack; the purity of Lords or the certain suspicion of playing at Sharjah; the persistence of Vettori; and the pure joy of watching Cricket in stadiums.
No it can’t.
Englishmen laid the foundation of some great institutions like railways, civil services, and cricket, and Indians have taken control of all of them and driven them towards mistrust, lack of governance, and rampant corruption. Even the in days of Lord Harris administrators were strong, individualistic, and arrogant creatures, but they were never against the spirit of cricket and against the true values of this game. But the blame doesn’t lie with administrators and players alone, the cricket watching public is equally responsible for this moral rot.
When did we start celebrating the objectification of women over the insights of women writers like Sharda Ugra or Firdos Moonda, or TV journalists like Meha Bhardwaj or Sonal Chander? When did we start calling a sixer as a <<bank>> maximum? When did we start appreciating vulgarity over purity? When did we start appreciating paid, make-believe commentary box view over independent opinion? When did we start believing that this was cricket?
I think I was lost in this translation. I better be lost forever than be part of this cheap imitation of cricket.
As for administrators, players, and IPL fans they can begin by asking themselves what CLR James’s famous question from Beyond a Boundary–
What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?
Onto some real Cricket starting with Champions Trophy and then Ashes.
Image courtesy: Wikipedia