Dad,I know who is going to win the finals today,said my daughter. No you dont,I said,dismissing her with the same casual flourish with which the IPL commissioner promised to swat away Shashi Tharoor. She was as adamant as teenagers usually are: I know. Everyone is saying it.
Yes,really? Who and how did you figure that one out?
Its fixed,Dad. You should know.
Those are just silly rumours,I said,feigning indifference. I moved on but I am compelled to revisit the mood and the moments of just a few weeks ago.
I have never been the IPL sort,so had stubbornly resisted the occasional urge to go and see the circus. It helped that the 2008 matches were held at that collapsing monstrosity,the Wankhede,where if you left your precious seat for even a moment,by the time you returned a different posterior would claim to be its legitimate title holder. IPL 2 was abruptly transported to South Africa,and it wasnt worth flying eight hours to watch a three-hour gig. IPL 3 was back in familiar territory; better still,it was being held in the Cricket Club of India,of which I am fortunately a member. But I still resisted.
However,IPLs marketing mantra clearly worked. My tennis-playing,football-watching daughter said: can I go for the IPL match this weekend? For a cricketing purist that was sacrilege,but she was going with a whole bunch of equally excited chums so the blasphemy angle was promptly discarded a convenient excuse for me too.
At first,what hit me in the CCI was the maddening noise,sustained efficiently at high decibel levels throughout the match. Every time there was a dull session (meaning not a single six) the DJs would punctuate the terrible boredom with a typical ear-splitting truck horn,and,like in Pavlovs famous experiment,the crowd would respond with an equally loud,incoherent cheer.
The advertising sideboards flashed brightly,shuffling between sponsors. The giant scoreboard flashed ads even during the over; during the action replay one could see players check their acrobatics on it with a satisfied smugness. Intermittently,giant lights flashed on and off for no perceptible reason,as if to remind us that electric power supply was a national priority. When the match got over,it was like a Diwali firecracker display that nobody really cared for.
The Mexican wave usually started from the vociferous east stands,after a few aborted attempts. When it reached the more stuffed-up pavilions of the glitterati it fizzled out. My daughter enjoyed it; she and I exchanged SMSs,as she was in the family stand.
The DJs would periodically announce: Mumbai,do you want a six? The crowd yelled Yes!,in a brilliantly coordinated chorus. I kept suspecting bowlers patiently awaited the DJs cues before running in to bowl.
Cricket is not just innocuous entertainment in the IPL. It is like Roman gladiators on a giant 70 mm screen. To satisfy the bloodthirsty urges of its watchers,the demands for ruthless destruction from the willow,only sixes will do. As Kieron Pollard hammered one hapless soul into abject submission,the stadium burst into wild celebrations and paroxysms of derisive laughter.
The IPL also has an ingenious device to keep everyone on tenterhooks,awaiting fleeting fame,as anyone could,via TV cameras,appear on the giant screen at any time. Almost everyone secretly hopes to be there,briefly overshadowing Sachin Tendulkar. The lottery element is clearly central to the IPL,involving even the spectators.
In the distinguished members enclosure,the aroma of fresh vegetables,blue cheese and garlic mayonnaise in Subway sandwiches dominated French perfume. People moved gingerly,balancing cans of beer in their forearms. Middle-aged couples bounced to the latest hits; the demographic dividend crowd exchanged SMSs as they sat next to each other in the din. Others blew franchise-branded horns,waved flags and had several curse them from behind for blocking the view.
Everyone looked everywhere but at the cricket pitch,where attention was diverted only when the bowler ran in to bowl. Everyone had presumably concluded that field placements in the IPL are superfluous. In fact,most seemed more glued to TV sets,strategically placed to ensure that they did not miss out if Shah Rukh Khan decided to drop casually in. Usually,all dismissals were first spotted there,rather than on the field right in front.
After the first few games,I felt a sense of ennui and forced exhilaration ,but I may have been a solitary figure out here. I couldnt care less,though. I had conceded partial defeat to the oversold commercial logic that the IPL reflected genuine consumer demand being professionally satiated by franchise owners. If IPL was indeed a reality of our times,so be it,and frankly,how did my opinion matter?
But then,just as suddenly,chaos. Modi tweeted. A minister resigned,million-dollar kick-backs were discussed,IT raids followed; slush money trails,conflicts of interest,shameless profiteering,and political involvement became the new evening distraction. Then someone talked of betting syndicates,and before long the dreaded shadow of match-fixing made its appearance after a decade in hibernation.
My daughter watched all seven of the Mumbai Indians local matches at CCI over the past few weeks,bunking tuitions,missing play practice,sleeping late at night,following Tiwarys heroics. But,on the Monday morning that followed the IPL final late Sunday night,she went to school not even wanting to know if they won the final.
Jha is the author of 11 Triumphs,Trials and Turbulence: Indian Cricket 2003-2010,to be published soon