By Madan Mohan
Sometime last week the fifth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) got under way. And the news is that the fans are too busy thronging the grounds to switch on their television sets. The reach, or gross viewership, of the IPL has registered a decline for the first time. In the meantime, Sajid Khan’s Housefull2 is running to packed houses. That makes sense too for if you wanted naach gaana, you would go watch a film, not a cricket match, right?
It was clear from the outset that commercially this would be an important edition of the IPL. Observers wanted to find out if it was indeed the World Cup hangover that hurt the previous edition of the IPL or whether the product had lost some lustre.
Accordingly, no stone was left unturned to promote IPL5 and generate tremendous buzz around the event. Katy Perry and Priyanka Chopra were hired for some naach gaana at the opening ceremony, somewhat like an item number in a Bollywood film, the obligatory deference to commercial ‘imperatives’. In these respects, it brought to mind the first edition of the tournament, which was widely anticipated and generated excitement even before a single delivery had been sent down.
If only so much attention had also been paid to the cricket! No, this is not to suggest the organisers can do anything about the level of cricket per se. They can’t make the players play better than they are capable of. You can hype up Ravindra Jadeja as the next Garfield Sobers as much as you like just so that his million dollar salary appears at least a bit justifiable, but it still won’t be particularly convincing when compared to the ‘output’. But if teams have to fall over each other to pay obscene amounts for such players as Jadeja and Vinay Kumar, the tournament needs to get its act together. Do conditions that make amazing cricket possible really exist in the IPL?
IPL1 got off to a flying start thanks to Brendon McCullum’s blazing century in the curtain raiser. It was not the mere presence of stars, or iconic players to use the official lingo, that made the IPL an exciting proposition. It was because it raised the bar for Twenty20 cricket. Recall that ICL was still running and had even generated some interest at that time. But McCullum almost single-handedly blew any comparisons out of the water. When Shane Warne brilliantly led underdogs Rajasthan Royals to the title, the IPL appeared an even more compelling proposition.
That initial promise has faded away. For one, we have gotten used to watching the same old players, disoriented only momentarily to see them turning out for a different team the next year. IPL1 revived the career of Shane Watson, who has since become a mainstay of the Australian squad in all three formats. As things stand, the tournament only serves to give an arm and leg to fervent supporters of Jadeja to plead his case for the national squad. A far cry, that.
The last World Twenty20 held in the West Indies in 2010 may not have had so much hype to ‘back’ it, but the cricket was far more exciting. The ICC has struggled to find a window for the World Twenty20 in the crowded international calendar but every edition held so far has been riveting and has thrown up surprise winners. I mean, whoever expected England to win a limited-overs competition! For all the money being poured into IPL then and its exalted billing as THE future of cricket, the results ought to be better than they have been so far.
However, it seems that there is not even an attempt to analyse where things have gone wrong with the cricket in IPL and work out improvements. On the other hand, every trick in the book has been used to ‘spice up’ the IPL, be it cheerleaders or Bollywood stars or even Katy Perry. Even its diehard supporters seem to feel a tad embarrassed about talking up the cricket and have resorted to projecting IPL as a mix of cricket and entertainment.
But you can’t sex up balance sheets for too long and you can’t spice up the cricket with Bollywood masala. After all, if I did ever want to watch Bollywood, I would go watch a Bollywood film. There was Naach Gaana even in the first edition of the IPL, but it was just the topping, the gravy, not the main course that it is starting to resemble.
Perhaps, next year, the organisers of the IPL will ‘learn’ from Rahul Dravid’s eloquent delivery at the Bradman Oration and hire Lady Gaga to outdo Formula One. Or, they might bite the bullet and do something about the cricket. It might be worth the effort when they have to pay so much to make the cricketers play.
(Madan Mohan is a 26-year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)