Playing the Game

A well-researched but prosaic book on the circus that is the Indian Premier League.

Written by Sandip G | Published: April 16, 2016 12:34:58 am

nt-outBook: Not Out: The Incredible Story of the Indian Premier League
Author: Desh Gaurav Sekhri
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 243
Price: Rs 499

Cricket literature in the country, rich though it is, has a certain fixation with heroes and triumphs, as borne out by books celebrating the grand narratives and grander protagonists of the sport. The scandalous and controversial episodes are generally overlooked or even neglected, though it finds superfluous coverage in mainstream media. Hence, books chronicling the grimmer side of the game come out few and far between. Precisely for this reason, Desh Gaurav Sekhri’s Not Out: The Incredible Story of the Indian Premier League should be appreciated.

Even though, there is, in general, an instinct to paint the league as a symbol of everything vicious in the game, the book is not just a critique of the controversies of the IPL. Creditably, the author doesn’t fall into a preconceived trap — he doesn’t take a sanctimonious stand, vilifying the league for its pervasive malaise or eulogising it for its virtues. He maintains a fine balance between these extreme perceptions.

Instead, he makes an unpretentious attempt to tread a rather unbiased line, piecing together and viewing the various incidents that shook the game’s credibility through the prim lens of a sports lawyer while combining the passion of a true enthusiast. In the process, he gives the book an academic nomenclature. That, in a sense, is the book’s drawback as well. It is a little too prosaic, and at times, laborious. But the author can’t be entirely faulted — because the premise of his subject is too vast and tedious, occasional digressions become essential, though brevity could have added lustre to the book.

Sekhri starts off with an overview of the league. The tone, at times, oscillates between cynicism and a genuine desire to see the league shedding its tarnished image. He can’t be further from the truth when he says that, “It’s (IPL) a regrettable necessity because it has been stature-blind in its ability to jilt careers, cause scandals and disrupt careers… It’s too popular to just be a fad, and has too many legitimate corporates investing in it to be simply labelled a racket.”

The most revealing part of the segment comes at the back-end of this chapter, in which he points out how the IPL could have done better in optimising its revenue stream. “During the tournament, the focus could have been on how to add quality to the matches, rather than on how to make the experience more entertaining. A stale product is the first step to loss of brand value,” he explains.

The pace of the narration is typically T20-ish — brisk and not over-focused on details. His observations are sharp, and the narration acquires a graver tone, as he refers to newspaper accounts and legal documents to dissect the spot-fixing scandal and its repercussions, including the Lodha committee recommendations. When dwelling on the Lodha committee’s recommendation to legalise betting and introduce the prevention of sporting fraud bill, he makes a pertinent point when he advocates an “inbuilt regulator in the legal framework for sports fraud.” Sekhri draws an interesting parallel with the Black Sox scandal of Major League Baseball in 1919.

The chapters pertaining to conflict of interest and auctions are erudite and detailed, and Sekhri wraps it up with an existential warning of sorts: “Not out in its first eight innings in consistently worsening condition, the incredible IPL must now adopt a more inclusive and environment-friendly strategy to maintain its unbeaten streak in the distant future… The IPL has never believed in half measures — now would not be a good time to reverse that trend.”

The book is better read in short spells than at one stretch, for there is too much of an academic undercurrent that might not appeal to the lay reader. A few anecdotal insights would have made a considerable difference in enhancing its readability quotient.

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