Before I begin, I must confess something. Well, a couple of things.
Firstly, I am not so much a regular viewer, as I am a regular follower of the game. My cricket addiction is satiated through ball-by-ball commentary, match reports and articles, video highlights posted online, and discussions with friends. Such an existence has forced me to modify the nature of my cricketing day-dreaming and discussions.
No longer can I point out the beauty of that Rohit Sharma cover drive that went for one as a justification for why we should persist with him after his latest brain fade. If the websites don’t mention the cover drive, as far as I am concerned, it did not happen.
So, in between proffering excuses for why I did not illegally stream the game – I am too embarrassed to say that I am too lazy – I have begun to discuss issues such as the DRS, the scheduling of international cricket, sledging, the use of clubs that would make cavemen proud instead of bats, and the IPL.
I cannot discuss and think about the game itself – and as far as I am concerned, the game of cricket is simply the competition between bat and ball, and nobody can tell me any different – so I have begun to discuss issues related to it. It has allowed me to consider these issues in terms of the cricketing universe as a whole; for example, I do not consider DRS in terms of how it got my favourite player out, I consider it in terms of its utility and validity in general.
Now, obviously, while considering the validity of DRS, the advantages and disadvantages are based on actual instances that have happened. I am not suggesting that the incidents do not matter, they do; just that they are complimentary to the main issue. They are not the issue itself. It is this approach that I hope to bring forth in this piece.
Secondly, I have gone on several rants about the IPL in the past; for a brief period of time, mentioning the IPL in front of me was akin to Red Riding Hood waving a red cloth to a very angry bull that had burned his breakfast, fought with his wife and spent one hour commuting to work. I ranted. I raved. I fumed. I frothed at the mouth.
I don’t know whether I did it because I truly believed that the IPL was going to grab the Cricket I loved, and throw it head-first into a vat of toxic waste, mutating it into some gnarly, grotesque and thoroughly unenjoyable Neanderthal-esque pursuit – looking at you, football – or whether I was some sort of faux-cricketing-hipster.
The whys do not matter, I was wrong.
The IPL is many, many things. It is loud, flashy, and far too long. It does tend to drag more than a smoker in a stressful situation. And sometimes, the quality just isn’t there. However, one cannot deny the sheer number of eyeballs it places on the game and the benefits that it has. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea – perhaps coffee would be more apt – but it is here to stay. With the good, the bad, and the hype.
Let us start at the very beginning, which as Julie Andrews tells us, is a very good place to start. The IPL is an entertainment extravaganza, an exhibition with celebrities galore, cheerleaders, and its own sobriquets; it is a carnival with cricket as a sideshow. For while the IPL is a cricket tournament, and all about cricket, it is also about everything but cricket.
It is more than sport; it is entertainment.
It is aimed at getting as many eyes on the product – and it is a product and not just a game – as possible. It has been designed in order to appeal to as many types of viewers as possible. Obviously, there is the cricketing fan who wishes to see contests between the best players in the world.
There is the lapsed fan who tunes in to watch an old favourite who has retired; nostalgia is a powerful thing, for it reminds us of a time that might not have existed the way we remember it, but a time we wish to revisit nonetheless. How many people tuned in to watch Tendulkar-Warne one more time, or just to watch Tendulkar bat? Funnily enough, my discontent with the IPL began around the time Tendulkar decided to call it a day.
There is the fantasy cricket fan who gets to watch players who have been on opposing teams for years team up and watch players from the same country play against each other. I remember being giddy with excitement at the prospect of watching Tendulkar – yes, I am an unabashed Tendulkar fanboy – bat with the likes of Jayasuriya and Ponting.
While the passage of time had diminished their skills, these brief frolics were still highly enjoyable because they were the result of very personal memories and fantasies come to life. And while those combinations did not whet everybody’s cricketing appetite in terms of sporting display, the likes of De Villiers vs Steyn most certainly did.
There is also the celebrity fan, who popped in for Shah Rukh Khan, but stayed for the cricketing entertainment, there is the fan who has taken his family for an outing, or the fan who jumps aboard the hype train and invites friends over to watch the IPL because that is what everyone is talking about.
Whether it is the glitz and glamour, whether it is the celebrity, whether it is the nostalgia, whether it is the marketing efforts of the franchises that have helped them create distinct identities that fans have an emotional connection with, or whether it is the result of the best players in the world converging for a tournament, it cannot be denied that the IPL puts eyeballs on the game.
Those who appreciate the cricketing action gain an interest in the game and begin following it beyond the IPL. Lapsed fans may come back into the fold. Those who love the game will continue to watch it, even if the IPL is not for them; I have always maintained that there is nobody as adamant and creative as a cricketing fan looking to watch cricket.
Some form emotional connections with individual players and begin to follow their careers. Virat Kohli, in particular, seems to have a predominantly female fan base who watch India play for the express purpose of watching him bat, field, or make faces at the opposition.
Perhaps it is due to his considerable skill, perhaps it is because of his obvious passion, perhaps it is because of the passion he inspires in them; it does not matter why. To borrow a cricketing adage, it is not how, but how many.
Lastly, there is the fan who only gets to watch his favourites in the IPL – because all they play are T20 leagues. It is this fan, or rather, the trend that has led to the emergence of this fan, that is a source of consternation for many. While the BCCI’s revisionist history would have us believe that the IPL was a wholly original idea, the truth is that the ICL begot the IPL.
Two leagues, both consisting of city-based franchises represented by young Indian players, international stars, and retired stars, with one crucial difference; ICL players were banished from international cricket, whereas IPL players have shunned international cricket in favour of the celebrity and cash of the IPL. Or so the story goes at least.
Cricket – Just a profession or something more?
Before debunking this myth, I would like to take it at face value. That players have decided that the incessant travel and grind associated with the never-ending treadmill that is international cricket is not for them. That they have forsaken national pride in order to make a lot of money for not a lot of work.
What of it?
It essentially boils down to working a lot for comparatively less money versus working a little for a whole lot of money. Cricket is essentially a profession. Admittedly, it is a very good profession. Admittedly, it is the culmination of a dream that every child that picks up a bat or ball harbours. Admittedly, international cricketers are compensated very well for doing what they love.
But it is a profession.
And if anybody in any other profession chose working for 8 weeks and making an exorbitant amount of money over working throughout the year while living out of a suitcase for comparatively less money, nobody would bat an eyelid.
The notion that cricketers must be held to some moral higher standard when it comes to the IPL versus country debate is as ridiculous as it is outdated. Ridiculous because not everyone wants to be the starving artist whose only concern is their work, some people can’t wait to sell their watercolour to the rich, exotic stranger.
That is not to say that players who do so only play the game for money, far from it. Just that it is possible to play for the love of the game and make some money along the way. Some would argue that it is the responsible thing to do; most people who are offered a promotion take it, not just for themselves, but for their families too.
Indeed, Shanta Rangaswamy, India’s first women’s captain, recently received a lifetime achievement award from the BCCI; she said that it was the first time she had received a monetary benefit in her career. Making money isn’t a bad thing. Unless you’re a professional sportsperson. Then you are accused of selling out and turning your back on your fans or country.
Perhaps it is because we don’t believe that sport is a real job; it is a childish, naive notion to want to play for a living. Is it jealousy, or resentment at our own situation that causes us to lash out? Perhaps it a sense of misplaced jingoism. I’d like to believe that it is because it somehow commercialises sport; sport that we played as children, and religiously follow as adults, that it wraps up this thing that we love, and sells it to the highest bidder.
That it cheapens this attachment to an altogether simpler, more innocent time, dragging the idea of a kinder, easier world kicking and screaming into the quagmire of contrasting emotions and agendas that is the real world. But that’s just me.
Now then. Onto the outdated part. In fact, I’m changing it to outdated and misplaced. So then, the notion that there is some higher moral standard that applies to cricketers choosing the IPL over their country is as outdated as it is misplaced. Outdated because we went through the same thing when it came to World Series Cricket.
History is essentially repeating itself; the players are choosing to play in front of a wider audience, in a more popular format, for a whole lot more money than they are earning playing international cricket. On second thoughts, perhaps outdated is the wrong word.
I would argue that such a scenario is more than likely to happen again the next time the administrators cannot match what an outside party is offering. And the time after that. And the time after that. Far from being outdated, it is one aspect of the game that will always be relevant.
Certainly, the IPL is the richest T20 league, but it is far from the only one. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. If the IPL doesn’t get you, another league must. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. If the T20 leagues don’t get you, Kolpak must.
The IPL is the most visible platform, and therefore it is the easiest target. But the notion of players picking cash over country is not restricted to the IPL. Players have travelled down the Kolpak route for the financial security it offers; Rilee Rossouw, Kyle Abbott and Kyle Jarvis are recent examples of players at the top of their game doing so.
There are those that frame it as players turning their backs on their country, there are those that brand these players as selfish. I submit that they are merely accepting better offers and doing what is best for their families.
Certainly, those that disagree with this; those that believe that the opportunity to play for your country is a reward enough, those people irrevocably in love with the game who would give away everything they have worked to achieve for a roll of the dice and chance to make a go of it as a professional cricketer. They are entitled to their opinion, and I understand where they are coming from.
From a purely personal point of view, I would much rather be playing cricket than writing about it, and it would have broken my heart to see the likes of Sachin Tendulkar choose club over country. But it is not the IPL that should draw their ire; for it is just a product of a system that allows this to happen.
And as long as we’re talking about the IPL, it is actually better for the international game than the Kolpak system.
Every effort has been made to accommodate the IPL within the international calendar – more so than for any other T20 league. We can debate the whys of the decision ad nauseam – hint, it has something to do with the clout that this little organisation that could call the BCCI wields – but the fact remains that players do not have to retire from international cricket to be eligible to qualify as IPL players.
In fact, players need an NOC from their country’s cricket board to participate in it. In sharp contrast, players must retire immediately from international cricket in order to be eligible to qualify under the Kolpak law. To say that the best players are unlikely to pick county cricket – Kolpak deal or not – over international cricket is not quite accurate.
The likes of Jeetan Patel, Brendan Taylor, Kyle Jarvis all chose country cricket over international cricket. Graeme Smith signed a very lucrative 3 year deal with Surrey shortly after his premature retirement from international cricket. I can hear the anti-IPL crowd getting restless, so I will acknowledge that.
Brendon McCullum and Mike Hussey quit international cricket but continued to excel in T20 leagues – their retirements were not due to the dimming of skills. However, there is one key difference between the two; McCullum and Hussey could have continued to play international cricket if they so wished – the IPL did not require them to retire.
Of course, one could argue that had the IPL not existed they may have extended their international careers to make more money – but we will never know. By all accounts, both had had enough of the international game and its constant travel, not the game itself. The IPL itself was not the problem, although it did admittedly offer a solution.
However, it was not a solution unique to the IPL – the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Kumar Sangakkara have been continuing to prove that class is indeed permanent in leagues other than the IPL – although in Pietersen’s case, it is rather more complicated than what has been discussed so far.
Kevin Pietersen wants to play international cricket, but his board will not let him. Pietersen even returned to the country grind – and scored an astonishing 355* – but England had absolutely no intention of picking him either way. Even though I have always supported Pietersen, I will admit that had he been sacked after Textgate, England would have been well within their rights.
At the very least, it would have spared me from the cocktail of agony and joy I drank when he scored that surreal 186 against India. His first sacking was justified. His second was not. They turned him into a T20 globetrotter. Now, obviously, there is more to that than the story. He did retire from One Day Cricket at one point. And one wonders how AB De Villiers’s Test hiatus would have played out had he been as polarising a figure as Pietersen.
There are certainly similarities between the two. Both are outrageously talented – so talented that they justify the use of the G-word. Both prioritised two formats over another. Both were ill-suited as Captains. Hell, De Villiers even publicly spoke about seriously considering continuing his international career – in fact, it was heavily rumoured that he was contemplating quitting in early 2016.
Yet, De Villiers will be welcomed back with open arms. The difference between the two cases comes down to how they were handled. Also, by all accounts, the IPL was just one of many reasons Pietersen was at loggerheads with the team. To place the onus of the split entirely on the IPL is to ignore everything else that happened.
Yes, Pietersen was guilty of checking up on his IPL team whilst playing a Test match. But that was before the reintegration – so it was obviously not a deal breaker. Also, it is worth mentioning that Pietersen opted out of the IPL this year to spend more time with his family. JP Duminy opted out too. It is not the be all and end all.
The perennial issue – Country or franchise?
Because I feel like an IPL cheerleader I don’t have the legs for that – and also because I said this would be an unbiased piece, but mainly because of the legs – let us talk about cricketers who have chosen the IPL over national duty.
The West Indies Superstars’ board wants them to play international cricket – and it would appear that they do too, given that they represent the team in the T20 format – but the probability of seeing a full-strength West Indies side in the 50 over and Test format is slim because of a number of reasons.
The players have chosen to reject WICB central contracts in favour of multiple T20 league contracts. The board decreed that to be eligible for selection in the 50 over format, the players would have to participate in the regional 50 over competition.
They don’t seem interested in playing Test Cricket for a number of reasons that all boil down to financial considerations. And if we’re being honest, the players would like to pick and choose which games they can play.
But, this is in part mitigated by a dysfunctional board that seems to love to take shots at its own players – Darren Bravo is the latest – and this is just pure conjecture here, but a lack of national pride, as they’re representing the West Indies and not actually their respective countries.
However, as I said before, it comes down to opportunity. Eoin Morgan, Ed Joyce, and Boyd Rankin chose England over Ireland for better opportunity – does it make it better because they were still playing international cricket, albeit for another country?
Neil Wagner, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Luke Ronchi, and Grant Elliot all played for other countries – in Ronchi’s case, he had already represented Australia prior to representing New Zealand. Should these men not be lumped along with the West Indies players, or is it different because they did it for a different kind of opportunity – the opportunity to play at the highest level rather than the opportunity to earn more money?
Because when you take away the glitz and glamour of the IPL and the romance of playing international cricket, it comes down to the same thing – professional sportsmen picking one team over another due to opportunity.
Some people have argued that the likes of McCullum, Sangakkara, Hussey and Gayle have earned the right to play T20 leagues and maximise their earnings because they have already paid their dues. These men started their careers before the advent of T20 leagues – before T20 even.
The problem is that today’s generation of cricketers, and the next generation, have been brought up on a diet of T20 cricket. T20 is king. The money. The crowds. The glitz. The glamour. The women.
My English teacher in school was wonderful, she remains one of my favourite teachers. Something that my friends and I still joke about is how upset she would get when certain members of the class would mispronounce words on purpose. The bowler was bowling, she would say, not the baller is balling.
Well, the players playing T20 leagues today are definitely ballin’ – the leagues offer them the opportunity of living a baller’s lifestyle. Why then would they slog for hours and hours playing Ranji Trophy in empty stadiums, on pitches that resemble Indian roads?
Some are completely flat-think roads that are worked upon before somebody important is passing by. Some are spiteful dustbowls – think Indian roads at any other time. A far cry from the adulation, money – and crucially, adrenaline you get from playing in front of packed houses against the best in the world.
I do not begrudge players the money they earn from the IPL – they have still worked hard to excel at those skills – and for every player who makes it, 100 do not. However, I do question a system wherein Cheteshwar Pujara earns 2 crores a year as an elite Test player – and the likes of M Ashwin earn 4.5 crores for 6 weeks of work and sub-par List A and First Class Records.
Again, I do not begrudge M Ashwin for his success – continuing to pursue the game despite no guarantees of an IPL deal and a less than flattering record are a testament to his love for it. And the fact that he was paid 4.5 crores despite entering the auction at a base price of 10 lakh tells me that the teams saw something in him – and that he worked very hard on those skills.
I do wonder whether a kid growing up today would rather be M Ashwin or Cheteshwar Pujara though.
That is not to say that we pick up a bat or ball because we want to earn money. Far from it. We play the game for the love of it. But unless you’re getting paid, it is just that, a game. Within the Indian context, how many kids who play cricket can seriously take up the game without worrying about finance?
Of course they want to maximise their earnings, and of course they’re going to focus on the skills that help them maximise their earnings. The onus lays with the ICC and national boards to incentivise players to prioritise Test Cricket. Ravi Shastri gets a lot of flak, but he was not wrong when he said that the new player contracts were ‘peanuts’.
Yes, as always, context is everything. I would love to earn 2 crores a year for playing cricket – but tell me that someone else is earning double that for comparatively less work, and I will think it is unfair. Given that KL Rahul, R Ashwin and M Vijay withdrew from the IPL due to injuries sustained during the course of the Test season – it would appear that the BCCI and the players agree about the importance of Test Cricket.
But, for how long? And will the next generation feel the same way?
World Series Cricket may have been launched due to a television rights disagreement, and players may have signed due to the great pay, but it was successful because it captured the public imagination. The administrators had better begin to prioritise Test Cricket through their actions – and the signs seem to be encouraging given the Day-Night Tests or T20 leagues will pass them by.
It is worth noting that the CPL had sell-out crowds, but international cricket in the West Indies does not. The IPL is not the problem. It is a symptom of it.
The IPL has done wonders for players’ cricketing skills too. I have spoken about the financial security it offers – which taken on its own is a bit misleading – it helps players too. That is not to say that the competition is great, far from it.
There is a reason I rate Marlon Samuels’s 78 in the 2012 World T20 final higher than Chris Gayle’s 175* – the standard of competition and the stakes. It is worth noting that in the course of his whirlwind 175*, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Luke Wright, the only international standard bowlers in the team – anybody who thinks Ashok Dinda and Mitchell Marsh are international standard better have the last name Dinda or Marsh – went for 23 and 26 runs respectively.
That doesn’t take away from Gayle’s innings – when Charles Coventry scored 194* and went past Saeed Anwar, Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar, I sought to play it down by saying it was only against Bangladesh until a friend pointed out that that may be so, but nobody else had done it – the same standard applies here.
I disagree with those that say the IPL is this great competition – by and large, it is not unless international stars face off. However, that does not mean that less experienced players do not benefit from it. They may benefit from the confidence of a legend – Yusuf Pathan has never been better than when he was playing under Shane Warne.
They may benefit from watching legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Adam Gilchrist, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Ricky Ponting, Anil Kumble, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara (of Russel Arnold’s Mahela and Sanga fame, in case you were wondering) prepare. They may improve their skills by playing against the best – R Ashwin first earned MS Dhoni’s trust whilst representing Chennai Super Kings.
They may improve their game by talking to legends – Virender Sehwag is the first one who told David Warner he would be a successful Test Cricketer because the field would be up and he could play his shots. The likes of Kedar Jadhav gained valuable experience playing in pressure situations in front of packed stadiums before doing the same for India.
Think of the IPL like finishing school – all the talent was there, they possessed all the tools, it was just about putting the finishing touches on and honing and nurturing the talent.
The IPL has also led to camaraderie amongst international cricketers.
Players are friendlier due to playing on the same team, and travelling together – and even if they don’t like each other, they find a way to put their differences aside for the good of the team. The notion that all teammates get along is ridiculous – Shane Warne did not get along with Steve Waugh – but they won together.
I do not know what exactly transpired between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds – but whether it was mutual contrition, or the knowledge that one of them was going to forsake a lot of money if they did not learn to get along – they went from Monkeygate to clicking photographs after meals at Khan Market restaurants.
More recently, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli were at loggerheads after the recent India-Australia Test series – but Smith made it a point to mention that he got along fine with Ajinkya Rahane and MS Dhoni, his Rising Pune Supergiant teammates.
Even Kohli decided to qualify his statement about not being friends with the Australian cricketers by pointing out that he was not referring to the whole team, and remained on good terms with his Royal Challengers Bangalore teammates.
We can debate whether they actually get along with each other or not, but as far as I am concerned, there is enough conflict in this world without seeking out more – especially within the realm of my escape from real life, Cricket. As far as I am concerned, it does not matter why they are getting along, just that they’re getting along.
Maybe it will lead to reconciliation amongst players at loggerheads against each other due to the counselling of common teammates. Maybe it will not. But it provided the platform for Harbhajan and Symonds to discuss their issues – whatever their reasons for doing so, you cannot deny that both had to swallow pride – and it will provide that same platform for others.
What the players choose to do after is their own business. And even if it is just players putting aside their differences for the sake of a payday, so what? It happens all the time in all types of organisations. People seeking fairy-tale endings are looking in the wrong place – there are fairy tales on the field, but none off it.
The IPL is here to stay, whether we like it or not. It is a product of our Cricketing times. Accepting that the IPL does some good is not the same as supporting the IPL – I have yet to watch an IPL game this season.
But I think it is important to ask yourself whether you dislike the IPL because you don’t like the T20 format or because the standard of competition is not quite there, or because it has detracted from your enjoyment of watching the West Indies, or because it is not congruent with a romanticised, idealised world wherein Cricket exists in its own realm, and everyone has the purest motives.