All hail the IPL!

I think we can agree that it’s here to stay

The Indian Premier League is halfway through its 3rd year. And it is awesome. And permanent.

Here to stay folks. As a goofy young teenager back in 1996, Phoenix followed the (ODI) World Cup with the same passion that teenage boys follow breasts (did that too, not relevant here). After the semi-final disaster against Sri Lanka, with a crying Kambli, and trashed stadium, I remember thinking – why the hell isn’t the selection of the National Cricket Team more transparent, goddammit?!

And the solution to my young mind at the time was the setting up of a commercial domestic league, in the format of all American sports. City playing City, State playing state, t-shirts, caps, funny names, the whole shebang. I remember many of my friends laughing at the thought:

Who would want to see the Delhi Dangers take on the Bombay Bombers? That kind of thing would never work in this country

And I would sigh and figure, that yes,  they are right, but why not give it a shot? Clearly, I am not the only one who had that idea. It also struck a man by the name of Modi. At this point – I must say – hold up!- hang on a second! – this is not going to turn into a “praise Modi” article. It’s just to point out that there exists at least one other dreamer like me, who actually was in a position to something about it. And he did.

The first year, the criticism was enormous –

How are they going to build loyalty for the franchises?

The franchises will never break even!

Twenty20 isn’t even real cricket!

I love Uday Chopra!

Whoops, I don’t know who was yelling the last line, but it was also heard in the din. Maybe everybody had had a little too much to drink..or er… possibly smoke.

So yea – how are the franchises going to build loyalty? Well they didn’t have to build it. It was there. Each team had a local player, but even if they didn’t, everyone wants to support their city. Bombay was always going to be behind the Mumbai Indians, whether Sachin was playing or not! Delhi, in its ‘I’m too cool to admit I am loyal to my city’ way was always going to faux-nonchalantly support the Daredevils (Proof that such loyalty exists can be found in M-Block Market GK1, where people gather outside a clothing store to watch the Delhi Daredevils play). What people wanted to see was good cricket. And they got it (more on this below).

Did the Franchises break even? Well according to the papers, hell yea! Not much needs to be said about this – one just has to look at an IPL player’s uniform to understand the amount of sponsorship money thrown their way.

Twenty20 isn’t even real cricket – this objection always make me laugh. Why? Because just needs to hark back to World Series Cricket and Kerry Packer, to understand why this is a case of history repeating itself as farce. When One-Day cricket hit the big-time, they said the same things about it. It was pyjama cricket. It was smashing the old traditions. Who ever heard of using a white ball? Yada, yada yada. And it did challenge test cricket. Test cricket became boring in the days of Sharjah, and Sachin Tendulkar, and the chance that India might repeat its World Cup win again.

But you know what happened? It came back. And it will always remain an awesome game in its own right. Test cricket is a chess match – and there is a lot of beauty in the strategies required to play that game. Twenty20 is, well, different. But that doesn’t make it bad. Or only for amateurs.

Twenty20 is the distilled mojo of a One-Day game. Allow me to explain.

Anybody who has watched One-Day cricket (I refer to the one-day cricket of the 1990s in this case), usually follows this pattern:

  1. Is India batting first?
  2. If yes, who’s opening? Oh it’s X & Y. Well let’s watch and see if they tear the opening bowlers apart
  3. If yes, we keep watching, until X & Y get out and Sachin Tendulkar comes on. Have to watch Sachin bat!
  4. Sachin gets out on the 3rd ball. Sigh. It is to that same ball which was sent down off-side, and swung enough to induce an edge. Or…Steve Bucknor was umpiring, and decided that today, the day of the most important match in series against Australia / South Africa / Pakistan, is the day he would choose to make his usual SHITTY lbw umpiring decision
  5. Shit. Sachin is out. Turn off TV. Do something else.
  6. Hear some screams from the neighbouring house 2 hours later. Something good must be going on. Turn on TV, and catch the last 20 overs of the match – where Ajit Agarkar is hitting 4s and 6s (I am sure he did this at least once. Maybe not more than that. But once for sure).
  7. Yay! India has done it – 292 runs! Awesome.
  8. Watch Sidhu and Bhogle blab in the middle, and hope to God that one of the miserable excuses that India had for bowlers manages to do something with the ‘Belter’ track that has so obviously been laid in order for India to be able to make 292.
  9. Ok second innings! 2 big white men come out. Bowler bowls first ball. FOUR runs. SHIT
  10. Switch from being a too-cool atheist to a pleading polytheist, invoking all the greek, hindu and taoist gods, hoping for a batting order collapse. MISFIELD!$#@$#! YOU BLOODY SAND-NIGGERS. THE BRITISH SHOULD NEVER HAVE LEFT! MATCH-FIXING M********DS. Followed by: SIX. Then FOUR! Then SIX. Then having to endure the agony of having Geoff Boycott talk about his mother and her rhubarbs.
  11. Turn off TV. Rail against the universe, and wonder, when, when will your day come? Go off to read Lord of the Rings. Then just as Frodo is about to reach Rivendell (ok maybe I read fast), you again hear someone from the neighbourhood shout “OUT!”
  12. TV is on. There are 10 overs left. they need 76 runs in 60 balls. 6 wickets are down. Can they do it? Who knows, but the Indian captain is trying everything. Sachin has been called in to bowl. He manages to get a good economy rate. Overs pass. Maybe one four, maybe a 6. People start leaving the stadium because they can’t bear it. 5 runs, 2 balls. Aargh, the whiteys / pakis can still win!
  13. Heart goes into mouth. Mouth starts to tremble. Sweat on the palms, on the forehead. Even the TV starts to sweat and sparks start to fly out… and then IT’S DONE! YAAAAAA INDIA HAS WON. YAY!

Anybody who has watched cricket will probably be familiar with the above on a Match day. It doesn’t happen much anymore, because India has started winning a lot more. It’s not big deal to beat Pakistan, we trouble Australia from time to time, and even lose to Bangladesh, just to ensure our public remains humble and mystified. But in those days, that was the fanaticism.

The point of that ramble was this: Note when the TV was off – the middle overs. You looked to the opening 5 and the last 10-15 overs for the match to be defined. Of course, you sometimes also got an unpleasant shock when you turned on the TV and found India all out for 98. But that is another matter. So some smart Englishman decided to cut out those middle overs, and distill the one-day match down to its essence, it’s mojo. 20 overs.

As a cricket fan of the 90s, it was also a fantasy to see South Asian cricket team formed, which would consist of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram in the bowling department. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly in the batting department. Oh and Atul Bedade just to add some randomness, and Inzamum-Ul-Haq because, yes, we’d like some (supersize) fries with that.

And on days when the Superpower Australia, with its Waugh brothers, Warne, Gilchrist & McGrath Gods walking this earth, would slaughter any opposition, as an Indian, one couldn’t help but wish – man, if only we could have a team like that.

We got our wish. The IPL made it happen. Tendulkar faces off against Sehwag. And I cheer for Sehwag. Because I support the Delhi Daredevils. I’ve caught each and every one of their matches. I watch the others with a mild interest (I just want to see Bombay defeated so it doesn’t win the cup. Blasted bombay buggers, always putting Delhi down). Gilchrist leads an INDIAN team. He plays for Hyderabad. Wow. Gilchrist plays for a local Indian team? Chaminda Vaas, bowling against Sangakarra? Shane Warne, being cheered by Rajasthanis? Wasim Akram coaching Saurav Ganguly????

Is the world turning in an opposite direction? Do pigs fly? Can a half-black man become president of the USA? Could someone ever be nuts enough to pay a bazillion dollars to own a Mallu-headquartered cricket team?



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