April 24, 2009

Indian Premier League

A case of cricketing apathy

Andy Zaltzman


The clash between Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff wasn't quite the 21st century version of Hector v Achilles © Getty Images
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Global cricket continues to pound its own never-ending treadmill with the urgent ferocity of a marathon runner who has remembered mid-race that he was supposed to be at his own wedding, but is on course for a personal best which he is unwilling to sacrifice. The IPL has added further congestion, while proving that, contrary to scientific expectation, the best way to solve the problem of players complaining about an overloaded calendar was not to reduce the amount of cricket, but add to more and cover it with solid gold.

With so much of the world’s cricketing focus on the IPL, it has been easy to forget that the first Test of the English summer is just two weeks away – which is an entirely ridiculous sentence to be able to commit to cyberpaper on the 23rd of April. As the great cricket scribe EW Swanton once wrote: “An Englishman should never start a Test match when he can still catch frostbite by sneaking into Lord’s at the dead of night and playing nude cricket on the square. This Gubby and I learned by bitter experience on a moonlit evening early last May.”

The English domestic season is already in full swing – if ‘swing’ is the correct terminology for something that lurches spasmodically from one form of cricket to the next, like a drunk polygamist trying to cuddle the right wife.

I realise that the expanded programme of international cricket is necessary to fund the expanded programme of international cricket, but the current structure of the England team’s summer is designed to minimise spectator anticipation – Tests begin before the season, its characters and its form lines have properly started to take shape, without the curtain-raising, rivalry-establishing pre-fight sparring of a one-day series. The matches are then squeezed together into frantic back-to-back bowler-punishing wodges, with an ODI series tagged on as an elongated afterthought, dragging along through September to end the summer on a probably damp and quickly-forgotten squib. (By comparison, when Jimi Hendrix played the Woodstock festival, he was on after Herbert The Singing Labrador, not before. Otherwise, Herbert would have struggled, however good his barked rendition of Blue Moon.)

Nevertheless, the fact that this is an Ashes summer creates regular twitches of excitement, especially following the tumultuous winter England have endured, and the fact that it will be an almost entirely new Australian team for the first time in 20 years.

It is more than possible in these days of global media coverage to become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of cricket. I admit that, as an English neutral, I have had serious motivation problems psyching myself up for the IPL. (It hasn’t helped that Lalit Modi’s jamboree has also coincided with some distractingly intrusive building work in my house – what was once my kitchen currently looks as if Devon Malcolm has spent two hours bowling to himself in it. Debris and destruction everywhere.)

In an effort to engage myself emotionally with the IPL, I have tried to artificially create a personal link to some of the teams. I jumped a motorcycle over eight London buses in an effort to make myself feel like a Daredevil. I held a mobile phone and put my fingers into an electrical socket to convince myself I was a Charger. I jumped on Sir Ian Botham’s back and made him give me a piggy back, but still I felt little like a Knight Rider. I paraglided into Buckingham Palace and invited the Queen to wrestle me, but had I become a true Royal Challenger? Alas, no.

Next, I tried hypnosis, to convince my subconscious self that my father had been a Chennai Super Kings fan when he was a boy, and his father before him, and his father before him, because a schoolfriend of his once had trials for their youth team, but still I could not forcibly affiliate myself to the team.

I even tried auctioning my support, but none of the franchises sent so much as a financial director to the auction in my living room. Unwanted and unbought − I felt like a cross between a canoe made of salt and Samit Patel.

Even the much-hyped (in the British press at least) ‘head-to-head’ duel between Pietersen and Flintoff failed to spark my interest. In the end it amounted to the Lancastrian Leviathan scoring six runs off four balls by the Hampshire Hulk – not quite Hector versus Achilles for the 21st century.



So I consulted a sports-watching psychologist. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked. “I love cricket. The IPL is the spangliest cricket tournament in the world. But I don’t really care about it.” The shrink gave me a thorough physical and mental examination (although his methods – a mixture of prodding and growling – I considered to be somewhat Victorian). He bowled me across his surgery a couple of times, put some bails on the bridge of my nose, then noted my reaction to an ink blot which looked like Yuvraj Singh hoicking one over midwicket.

He put on his diagnosis hat, tucked his chin into his chest, and put on his most serious available face. “Mr Zaltzman. It’s bad news I’m afraid. You’ve come down with an uncharacteristic case of cricketing apathy.” “Oh no,” I screamed. “It’s like the 2007 World Cup all over again. Be straight with me, doc − how long have I got?”

He grasped my shoulders. “Calm down, big horse,” he soothed. “Yours is an increasingly common problem. Watching cricket on television has become a never-ending grind. If you don’t look after yourself and manage your schedule properly, your enthusiasm for cricket in general could wane. You will find yourself drifting off at key moments of matches, and soon you will want to spend more time with your family. It’s a slippery slope.”

I gulped a gulp of fear and realisation. “I can’t risk that – not with the Ashes so soon. You’re right, doc. I’m going to have to give the IPL a miss. Sure, I’ll check the scores, but I already cram far too much sport into my life. I cannot risk adding what is essentially a new sport without jeopardising my marriage or having my children try to put me up for adoption.”

The psychologist squeezed my cheeks. “Good boy,” he said. “Now go home, put the kettle on, take a passing interest in the IPL, and save yourself for the Tests.”

I suppose the problem is that, fundamentally, I quite like Twenty20. I find it sometimes entertaining if largely unengaging. Test cricket grabbed my six-year-old soul in 1981 and has never let go. Twenty20 has been a seismic phenomenon in cricket, and this year’s tournament – an Indian league featuring players from all corners of the world playing with and against each other in South Africa – is an incredible event that joyously must have old apartheid honcho Hendrik Verwoerd spitting fifty different kinds of feathers in his well-deserved grave. But I just can’t quite bring myself to care who wins. Does that make me a bad cricket fan?

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Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by Asmaa on (April 3, 2012, 17:24 GMT)

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Posted by Faizaan on (June 5, 2009, 11:04 GMT)

Why would you like a format that takes all the soul and strategy out of the game? This lacks credibility as a sporting event due to this reason. It is like a comic-book version of a Kafka novel- appealing only to idiots who can't understand the real thing. Instead of championing Indians and their culture the tournament shows Indians as tacky, shallow and unoriginal which is obviously not the case. Also, the team names need a lot of work!

Posted by harsh on (June 5, 2009, 9:19 GMT)

Ever wonder how Chelsea, Manu, Arsenal, Liverpool are followed by million fans all over the world? Why dont you advise Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney to stop playign EPL and instead play only England games? All guys who cannot watch IPL- switch off the TV. IPL is a domestic Indian tournament and no one is forcing you to watch them. Although i think that in another 5 years, you will support Hyderabad or Chennai just like how i support Chelsea sitting in Bangalore.

Posted by Eon Whiz on (May 4, 2009, 3:24 GMT)

Andy.. the point is whether you are enjoying the IPL or not? Whether you get tensed or execited with close finished matches... If your answer is NO then yes you are a bad cricketing fan unless you don't like T-20 format, than its a fundamentally different thing.

Its quite understandable(btw nothing wrong) for general public where patriotism & local heroes has bigger effect as such I don't care about county cricket for instance. But I love to watch Aus VS SA, but I don't care who wins.. all I wan't to see a good cricket. And IPL is providing that.

Posted by S L on (May 3, 2009, 0:35 GMT)

'k, Indians, enough of 'Teh Flounce'. IPL sux, and that's all there is to it. I'm Indian myself, and the very concept of IPL makes me feel sick, leave alone watching that ... Oh well, never mind.

Posted by Dunga on (May 2, 2009, 2:23 GMT)

Well, down in australia, everyone here is talking about the IPL. Everyone has a favourite team. True, I'm in high school, where there are a lot less important things that need to be worried about. But It's, in canberra at least, in contrast to what's being said about the rest of the world. It seems like everyone wishes the IPL was here instead.

Posted by AJ on (May 1, 2009, 16:52 GMT)

To summarize, IPL is in year 2. Its still finding its identity as well individuality. Maybe like other great franchise-based sports (NFL, MLB, EPL-Football), we will start seeing global scouts looking for talent in remote corners, or an actual draft instead of an auction. May be a pipe dream or may eventually be a reality. However, If I were you, I'd not care so much about your apathy towards the current version of the IPL right now, but rather focus on what catches my fancy in this still young league. your support or hatred for a franchise may surface down the line (or never) depending upon how many hours you want to spend away from your family in the name of Sports entertainment.

p.S - would have said just my $.02, but looking at the size of this post, it doesnt seem fair to give it away this cheap. ergo, just my $.2

AJ, USA

Posted by AJ on (May 1, 2009, 16:51 GMT)

The flop that is KP & the Freddie injury storyline? Royal Challengers are a lot like the Washington Redskins (Go Eagles!), in that lots of Star power w/o much to show for it. Given time, you will, hopefully, learn to hate the obnoxious owners or the self-entittled star players in the franchises or cheer for the fairy-tale like stories of Kamran Khan, Rajasthan Royals, Yusuf Pathan, etc etc. If not, there is a huge audience in India that will dwarf the non-enthusiasts and push them to the fringes.

Give it time; Maybe IPL will grow on you. The fact is that its where the most money & entertainment is. Like all of you non-indians, I couldnt give a rats culo about how Middlesex or lancastshire or the SA domestic teams, or the Aussie/NZ domestic teams perform if they played in a similar tournament. I would possibly care somewhat if any Indians were signed by those teams & even more if they competed against any Indian teams, a la Champions trophy. (Contd)

Posted by AJ on (May 1, 2009, 16:49 GMT)

Andy,

I empathize with your apathy towards the IPL as well. I am an Indian from Bombay and unlike you have an interest as a fan in the daily travails of my city franchise in the IPL. If my team is not playing, I have nothing but a fleeting curioisty in any of the other Indian city-franchises standings, unless, they stand between the Mumbai Indian and the IPL gold.

However, i would like to draw your attention to the Stanford series and the planned EPL. The rest of the world should not care either what happens(when it does) in the EPL unless there is a local flair to any of the teams. Having said that, I am engrossed in the behind the scene storylines that are enveloping the IPL currently: The soap-opera like saga in the KKR, the FakeIPLPlayer blogs, former foes & greats playing against and with each other in the format. Who wouldnt love to see Symmonds and Bhajji play together in the same team? Or even the co-existence of Graeme Smith & Warne....(CONTD)

Posted by GertJr on (May 1, 2009, 7:42 GMT)

Hi Andy, I agree with you. Even as a South African I don't care that IPL is in SA. I don't have time to care who wins. I will admit as a spin fan that I look at highlights to see Warne, Kumble, Mendis, Murali and co. zxpin it, bat I don't care about the rest. I remember in the 90's when 6's where something special (Cronje smacking Warne and Kuiper taking McDermott) but now its a normal cricket shot (drive, sweep, pull, DLF maximum, cut, etc). I'm waiting for the Ashes and then England in SA. Those are good test series, not this Mickey Mouse T20 trash that lacks patience and endurance like it was meant to be.

Good artikel, really enjoyed it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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