The trouble with a tournament as long as the Indian Premier League (IPL) which has two games almost every day is that unless those games are punctuated by performances like David Miller’s whirlwind century against Bangalore, or Chris Gayle’s fearsome assault on Pune, or Kieron Pollard’s blinder against Hyderabad, even the most hardened fan would be hard-pressed to recall the results of matches that happened less than a week ago. Even by those low standards of recall, and notwithstanding the performances mentioned above, this has been a forgettable IPL, owing almost entirely to off-field controversies, and some on-field ones.
The spot-fixing scandal and the pull-out of the Sahara Pune Warriors have taken the spotlight away from the comparatively minor controversies on the field, like worsening player behavior. The Kohli-Gambhir spat, the Gambhir-Bisla-Watson-Dravid tangle and the Watson-Pollard sledging match have been the worst incidents among a slew of tantrums being thrown around by players this year. Virat Kohli even let the crowd get to him in one of the games at the Wankhede Stadium. Worse, he responded in kind to the abuse he copped. The number of times the umpires have had to step in and have a word with the captains has been staggering.
One can completely understand that these are high-stakes games for players, and sometimes passions and temperatures run high, but one look at the players’ celebrations after taking wickets (the immensely enjoyable and frankly, a little weird, celebrations of the West Indians aside) makes you wonder why the average young Indian cricketer is so angry. I can only hope that it has more to do with the May heat than anything else.
The visceral screams that accompany wickets these days make you wonder whether the bowler has just dismissed a batsman or avenged the murder of a loved one. The truly sad part about this is that these youngsters have evidently learnt nothing from the likes of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, whose stature in India is not only because of the number of runs they’ve scored and the matches they have won, but also because of their impeccable public personas. As much as I admire Kohli for his sublime batsmanship, I hope that the kids who watch him on TV try to imbibe his wristy strokeplay rather than his colourful vocabulary of invectives.
Once respect for opponents goes out of the window, can respect for the umpires be far behind? True, the standard of umpiring in this year’s tournament has left a lot to be desired, but the way Dinesh Karthik yelled ‘bat, bat, bat’ as the umpire ruled him out lbw in the first qualifier against Chennai was definitely worthy of a trip to the match referee’s office. Heck, even the usually phlegmatic Dravid openly fumed at an umpire’s decision this year, while Jacques Kallis flatly asked another, ‘Are you calling me a cheat?’ I don’t know about you, but I think apocalypse is nigh!
And then of course, less than a year after five players were banned by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for varying durations for attempted spot-fixing and negotiating better (read under-the-table) contracts for themselves, three unbelievably naïve players decided that the time was ripe to make a little dough on the side. The greatest disservice S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan have done the fan on the street is that they have forced them to endure the presence of Delhi Police, Indian Judiciary and holier-than-thou politicians on sports pages. Reading the sports page is the best part of the morning for many cricket fans like me before the grind of the day begins, and words like the mafia and D-company have now made an appearance even there!
To the cricket boards around the world, the administrators and the broadcasters, the fan has always been an afterthought. The fan is the one who has endured the scorching sun, awful facilities and mindless policemen at stadiums over the years. He has missed out on countless replays and seen ads encroach his TV screen even during play. He has had inane commentary thrust down his throat in the name of entertainment. Yet, like a teenage boy who just can’t take a hint that the girl he likes isn’t interested in him, he keeps coming back for more. We are looking at a small sample, but it now seems that even the players don’t think twice about cheating the fan either.
In many ways, this year’s IPL has been better than the previous editions. Until Gayle’s onslaught on Pune, it had really been a bowler’s tournament, which in T20 cricket is a rarity worth celebrating. In a tournament that has had a history of comical dropped catches since its inception, we have seen some truly jaw-dropping catches this year. The general standard of fielding has been quite high as well. They may be shadows of their former selves, but we got to see a little of Adam Gilchrist and Muttiah Muralitharan, and a lot of Rahul Dravid, and that is never a bad thing. And most importantly, as with every year, this IPL has given me a couple of names which I will be keeping an eye on in the next domestic season, namely Sanju Samson, Hanuma Vihari and the two Sharmas — Mohit and Karan. But given the number of controversies that have overshadowed the cricket, I for one can’t wait for the tournament to be over.
(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)