Curtail the summer madness

IPL 2012 will have 76 games over 55 days. Can the enormous length of the tournament guarantee great cricket?


Here’s a little exercise for you.

Strain your memory for a bit and answer this simple question: who were the four semi-finalists of IPL 2011?

Write the four names down. Then, check your answers.

Maybe you’ve named the four correctly, maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’ve also noticed that this was a trick question: there were no semi-finals last year. This writer must admit he tried this test and could only name three — despite having seen most of the games in the tournament.

How does one go through a tournament this long and remember so little of it? After all, if one were to believe the hype, the IPL has been the greatest thing since two-minute noodles. No prizes for guessing why: it’s the length of the tournament that has proved counter-productive.

***

THIS YEAR, the IPL is down to nine teams. But the tournament will still be 55 days long and comprise 76 matches. The previous edition, with 10 teams, was three days shorter and had two games less. Now let’s put these numbers in context.

The 2007 World T20, a successful tournament by most counts, had 12 teams but only lasted 15 days. The London Olympics — an event of far greater scale — will be over in 17 days, as did the Beijing Games and the Athens Games before it. The Big Bash T20 League in Australia with eight teams lasted 44 days, out of which only 28 were match days.

What’s so special about the IPL that it must run longer than the last three Summer Olympics combined? A more meaningful approach could have been to form small groups among the existing IPL teams and play a Round Robin league followed by knock-outs. One could even have three or four games a day and be done with the tamasha in a couple of weeks. Playing fewer games would also intensify the contests.

Instead, we have this flabby 16-matches-per-team schedule with double-headers slotted for prime-time viewing. MSM, which own Set Max, paid Rs. 8,200 crore to acquire IPL broadcast rights. With that kind of money on the table, it becomes easy to rationalise this monstrously-long schedule — as does adding more games to the mix, which was achieved in 2011 by replacing the knock-outs with the play-off round.

The pointlessness of much of these games is best judged by whether we can remember their results a week later. The conclusion we can draw here is that the IPL’s primary function is to create tonnes of TV content. The more games the merrier, no matter how meaningless. Come back, IPL 2008. We forgive you for being 45 days long.

***

MANY FROM my tribe — print and web journalists — view India’s summer obsession with dread. The feeling grows with the arrival of the TV promos playing the trademark IPL trumpet music. I can imagine my colleagues hearing the music, rolling their eyes and thinking, “The summer’s here already?”

Just how annoying is listening to that trumpet eight hours a day for 55 straight days? I’d say on the spectrum of all things annoying, it can be slotted above the jarring product plugs by the IPL commentators, but a rung below A.R. Rahman pounding your aural faculties with “Ola Ho” for three weeks during the Champions League.

Then, there’s the on-field narrative — or the absence of it. The same worn-out stories play out match after match. Occasionally, a hero emerges, only to be forgotten soon. “It’s a celebration of mediocrity,” says a colleague at a tabloid in Mumbai. Condensed acts of brilliance — a couple of sixes, a sharp catch, a well-landed yorker — have become the format’s gold standard. Like Imran Khan once said, it’s like reducing a football match to a penalty shoot-out. When the game becomes a lottery, it seems pointless to search for the right adjectives to describe it. And that’s a problem we face every day we cover the IPL.

We seek experiences that would define our lives and careers. Give us the World Cup final any day. Or the boring Test match that comes alive on the final day. The low-scoring thrillers that remind us that bowlers are people too. Give us the game’s back-story; the rich history to which we can add our own chapters. Keep aside the IPL and its fleeting memories. They don’t whet the appetite any more.

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