By Gaurav Sahay
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is a high point of the cricket odyssey in India. It is a tangible expression of the emerging new reality of world cricket, of the growing Indian influence and imprint on its forward movement. It is seamless in its import and impact.
The IPL is inducing a new value system of concurrent loyalties. One that is natural to one’s country, the other money-driven to an IPL outfit. Both demand intensity. Pride and patriotism are responsible for the first, and securing wherewithal for the life in this birth for the second. Conflict between the two is inevitable. The result - a Chris Gayle!
One of the many positives of the IPL is that it creates new camaraderie, turns sworn adversaries into situational allies, throw up strange bedfellows - Harbhajan and Symonds. At the end of the day, it creates a fraternity that is trans-national.
The IPL, however, is yet another provocation to the perennial skeptics and puritans, many of whom have already penned near obituaries that this now is the beginning of the end of the traditional cricket.
The IPL’s serious repercussion is that it could deflect other establishments from their hitherto accepted positions of importance and influence, force them to cede turfs, readjust their schedules of season and matches. This applies to England in particular.
County cricket versus the IPL
Unless adjusted inter se, the partly overlapping schedules of the IPL and the county cricket will possibly bring the authorities/players in uneasy relationships. However, this is essentially a problem of time management and should be resolvable, to some extent. The real English problem is existential. For the first time, the county cricket is under the threat of being deflected from its position of primacy. The reality of the IPL is slowly but surely sinking in. A county contract was the privilege of a player as also a vindication of his ability. Since county cricket alone carried decent openings for overseas players, the authorities of the day were generally condescending and at times insolent and snobbish. The latter was exemplified by Yorkshire. This county had earlier a professed policy of keeping itself ‘clean’ of overseas players. As such, its contract to the Indian batting genius Sachin Tendulkar in the year 1992 made quite a news as an exception to Yorkshire’s exclusiveness, its ‘intolerance’ of overseas players. The IPL threatens to cut county cricket’s pre-eminence, to dwarf it. The pull of the IPL is so strong that England’s own players are under growing inclination to join it at the cost of their county commitments. Kevin Pietersen is the first voice gone public, announcing his preference for the IPL. This is understandable given the largesse that the IPL offers.
England might have hoped that the IPL would pass over as a one-off phenomenon. It has not however, presumably to the English discomfiture. Instead, from its initial appearance of a jamboree, the IPL is gradually but surely acquiring an institutional dimension, an annual fixture that must be taken cognisance of in cricket calendars all over.
However, much as we may try to sympathise with the present circumstance of the county cricket, we cannot possibly turn the clock back.
The Indian ascendance
The dawn of new millennium also witnessed India’s ascent to a position of substance and consequence in the world body for cricket. India’s standing at the top is not fortuitous even though more than one factor are responsible for this.
These happy tidings have come about after years of wait. It is a matter of fact that no sooner did India receive the status of a Test playing nation that it found itself at the bottom of the list where it languished for decades, along with New Zealand. It was all along held with a slight which is presently the fate of Bangladesh as a cricket playing nation. The Indian overseas visits then were few and far between. India visited Australia for the first time in the year 1948 and the second visit materialised two decades after, in the year 1968.
There indeed were occasional display of brilliance – Vijay Hazare at Adelaide (two centuries in a Test), Vinoo Mankad at Lord’s ( scored an unbelievable 184 in 270 minutes and bowled 73 overs in one innings for five wickets), Jasu Patel against Australia at Kanpur (14 wickets ). But those were exceptions. India’s stock rose - if only marginally - with the advent of Sunil Gavaskar and his ability to withstand the hostilities hurled at him by Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee and their likes. So poor was India’s record in the shorter version of the game that there were audible whispers advocating its exclusion from the 1983 World Cup, which it eventually won!
The year 1983 was the first real strand in India’s cricketing history. The tag of minnows was finally off and there were occasional assertions for position at par with the countries at the top of the ladder.
Sachin Tendulkar emerged in the year 1989; Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in 1996, and Virender Sehwag in 2001. Their exceptional talent and creativity synchronised and flowered to create the Decade of Indian Batting (2001-10). The Indian batting was feared and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) respected. However, it was a concurrent accrual of monies and riches that gave the BCCI the teeth and the power in its punch to dominate and dictate the ICC. This surfeit of money was not an aberration but only one of the many manifestations of a buoyant and looking-ahead Indian economy. India did test the waters, and succeeded, while seeking eviction of Steve Bucknor post Sydney Test of the year 2008. In the process, the unthinkable had happened: India had humbled Australia in the show of strength. Contrast this with Gavaskar’s threatened pull out from the Melbourne Test of 1980, on being given out wrongly. India was almost ridiculed for this ‘impertinence’.
The IPL gives a visibility to India’s first-among-equals standing. It has effectively made cricket India-centric. Yet the IPL is no coercion. It is a celebration of talent and promotion of the game in a larger sense. It is an opportunity for players from countries hardly associated with cricket – Ten Doeschate of the Netherlands for instance. The IPL is just about the right incentive and publicity for the spread of the game. It is time cricket looked beyond a ten country configuration for the Tests and 20 for the shorter version.
Admittedly, the IPL is an Indian show of strength. It is no charity. The franchises have over-riding business interest in it. Yet its multi-national character, its over-arching dimensions should not be lost to anyone. Its critics have failed to appreciate the composite milieu of the game as it obtains now. Instead, in the recent Test losses of India, they find an opportunity to criticise the IPL and to put the Indian establishment on the back foot. This antipathy towards India has its reasons in history. The establishments in England and Australia will take time to reconcile to the Indian ascendance and the changing ground realities. The critics, too, will take time to come out of its habitual loyalties for the two countries.
Wither Test cricket?
The critics allude to the IPL as contributing to the Indian washout in the Test series against England and Australia. The question is: Why this belated comment? What was holding them back from articulating this conclusion even though the IPL had seen four good seasons?
One need not go far to find an explanation. India’s Test setback happened only in the interregnum of fourth and fifth editions of the IPL. For objectivity one can reflect on the achievements / failures of Indian cricket, especially in the Test arena, for the period concurrent with the first four IPLs.
The Indian achievements in Test matches included two series wins each against Australia, England and New Zealand, one against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, three drawn series against South Africa. India meanwhile won the inaugural T-20 World Cup and also lifted the ODI World Cup for the second time in 2011. It also won, for the first time, the ODI tri-series in Australia in 2007-08.
There were just two series losses in Tests: 1-2 against Australia in Australia, a series that the home team won with a liberal dose of help from the umpires, and a 1-2 loss against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. In shorter version, India had to suffer the ignominy of not qualifying for the super league stage of the World Cup 2007 owing to, in some measure, coach Chappell’s misplaced strategies.
During this period, India climbed to No1 position both in Test matches and the shorter 50-over version. India truly were at the top of the world, the existence of IPL notwithstanding. Interestingly those very players who were the architects of Indian ascent were also part of the recent eight successive Test match losses. It will be outrageous even to think that the IPL guillotined the abilities of these proud cricketers. Attaining No 1 position in any game is like climbing the Mount Everest. It takes the best out of the players.
It so happened that there was a marginal decline in the collective team ability and India found itself completely swept away in Tests. The question is: Why this collective decline? It will be tempting to recall an incident from Mahabharata for an explanation.
Long after the war, having fulfilled the purpose of his birth, Krishna decided to leave his body. He thought of preparing Arjuna for the event. He appeared in Arjuna’s dream and hinted at his impending death. That came about as told. Arjuna went over to Dwarka to arrange for the final rituals. Having discharged the duties, Arjuna was journeying back with surviving wealth and women when he was attacked by some robbers. Arjuna took up his Gandiva and tried to string it in a hurry. He could not. He was shocked. He however achieved that with great effort, but his fingers had lost their dexterity. He was feeling it so hard to use the bow and arrows. Arjuna was powerless and could do nothing. The robbers had succeeded in taking away most of the wealth and the women. Arjun the hero of Mahabharata was beaten by a gang of robbers.
The incident, besides being poignant, conveys a deeper meaning. It puts life in larger destinational perspective. Each existence has a time to it, and also a time to go. The wise ones take the unfolding in their stride and adjust; others get beaten and fade in ignominy. In the context in hand, Dravid made a wise choice. The others too have to take a call, or wait for a ‘weak’ Bangladesh for a labored surge to glory. The IPL is obviously extraneous to this marginal decline of the highly-venerated Indian batting line-up, which allowed the others, running a close second, to not only overtake but also inflict heavy losses.
The IPL in fact has in no way un-enamoured the upcoming players of Test cricket. Virat Kohli’s emergence as a Test batsman of quality and commitment is a case in the point. He had eight ODI centuries to his credit before he scored the first in Tests and it was this one century at Adelaide Test that appeared to satisfy him the most. Perhaps Kohli is one of the most valued players in the IPL, but it is certain that he values his Test century the most.
The Over-arching IPL impact
It will be also be interesting to reflect as to how the IPL relates itself to or influence the other sports in the country. But indeed it has. It has inspired the other sports to think big, think grand, partake in the spaciousness of an economy in momentum. There are sponsors with money if the sporting event could, at the end of the day, generate some surplus. The IPL is serving as a model. The World Series Hockey (WSH) is an unbelievable quantum jump for the game of hockey. With all its magic, hockey kept its players poor. All this has changed with the WSH. The winner Shere Punjab received Rs 4 crores. The Most Valuable Player, Gurjinder Singh, received Rs 1 crore and another 25 lakhs for scoring highest number of goals in the tournament. Some of the best Pakistani players were on view. The next edition of WSH is sure to attract and lure top players from Europe and Australia given the handsome contract money it offers. One could even venture to say that WSH will be to the world hockey what the IPL is to the world cricket. Formula I Car race organised recently at Greater NOIDA was at another instance of thinking beyond the known boundaries.
Perhaps posterity will confirm that the IPL was the single most important event that changed the face of sports in the country. It has demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that each sport is capable of generating its own wherewithal in mutually beneficial linkages with the Industry; that it can eventually do without the crutches of doles, charities and government grants for its subsistence.
In the limited context of cricket, a flourishing T20 format, and its crescendo the IPL, will only enhance the beauty of and fascination for the longer version – the Test cricket.
(Gaurav Sahay holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration and is set to complete a degree in law. A banker by profession, his interests range from cinema, music, astrology and, of course, cricket – especially its history, evolution, social impact and economic importance.)