One more IPL. The WWF of cricket,except that its not fixed (hopefully). The equivalent of a soccer game reduced to five penalty kicks for each side. But what the hell,its good timepass. The first time around,I was initially a sceptic,but was converted in just a few days. Above all,it solves that very importantin fact fundamental-to-life question: What do I watch on TV tonight? Relationships have broken up over this dispute. IPL is the cricket that women with zero interest in the game,women who view their partners obsession with cricket as a serious character flaw,women who think they are competing with cricket for their loved mens loveyes,IPL,even they can see and enjoy,or at least feel mildly indulgent about the goggle-eyed cheering and cursing fool whos sitting next to her. Yuvraj Singh hitting six sixes off six ballsthat,anyone can get. No rocket science. You dont have to endure your mans paeans to the perfect forward defensive push of Rahul Dravid,or explanations of elbows high,bat and pad together,head still,and the difference between long leg and deep fine leg and all that crap.
IPL. W.G. Grace must be spinning in his grave. Could that imperious gentleman with the bushiest beard in history have ever imagined that such crassness could be imposed on this noble game? Neville Cardus,if he had been alive,would surely have gone looking for a firm ceiling fan and a sturdy rope. Though I think a Ranjitsinghji or a Keith Miller would have enjoyed it. This is cricket stripped of all frills,down to a gut-level gully-level game that all Indian men have played as boys. The rules are so simple that an infant can get it. This is cricket for the non-thinking man,cricket shorn of all history,indeed cocking a snook at all history. This is cricket for the bad boys,the backbenchers.
And it just doesnt matter who wins a game,other than to the teams owners and sponsors. An IPL game instantly turns your TV room into the Colisseum and you into a vicarious sadist. You want the players to either perform extraordinary feats or make total fools of themselves. Theres no in-between,no scope for the average or the moderate. Its stirring triumph or pathetic humiliation. No space for sympathy or pity. It is cricket as extreme sports.
We all grew up playing T20,in our colonies,on our roads,and for the fortunate few,in our parks and fields. We challenged the next buildings team,and with them,we had home games and away games. We had a bowler who could bowl a special delivery that would get the batsman run out. When things were not going our way,we ended the match by saying: Fielding declared. Our hook shots broke windows and we ran for our lives. We played on concrete or asphalt roads and yet we dived to save a boundary or take a catch and we bled. IPL,for me,brings back those memories,the child who lives somewhere within us. I have seen women who have never watched cricket in their lives and who have seen Sachin Tendulkar only in TV commercials,shriek and scream watching a T20 match.
Is it good for cricket? A friend of mine has the unusual viewpoint that T20 will eventually kill the 50-50 game and there will be only two types of cricket left,the five-day game and the T20. There will be the premium audience who will enjoy the classicism of test cricket and there will be the masses hunting for an adrenaline rush. The 50-50 game will fall between the stools,something trying to please everyone and losing focus.
Whatever happens,T20 will definitely affect the other forms of the game. Over the last 20 years,the surfeit of one-day games has ensured that batsmen score quicker in test matches and there are less draws. All sorts of unorthodox shots invented in the one-day game,like the reverse sweep,have now become common in test matches. T20 too has forced batsmen to turn their backs on the cricket manual and extemporise strokes that no one thought of before,other than in their childhood neighbourhood games. These will now find their way inevitably into longer forms of the game. Over time,the pace of cricket in one-dayers and test matches will definitely become faster. T20 will change the game,and it will be,I think,for the better.
Sandipan Deb is the editor of RPG Enterprises weekly
features and current affairs magazine,Open