Australia in the West Indies 2011-12 April 20, 2012

Am I wrong in not caring about the IPL?

The reason English viewers aren't all that interested is not because the IPL is Indian

Kevin Pietersen clobbered his first Twenty20 hundred yesterday, clinching the match for the Delhi Daredevils, and passing three figures with a characteristic six. It was a startling innings by a startling player, although startling things happen so often in the IPL that their startle capacity is less startling than you might expect of cricket so startlingly startling.

Last week Pietersen, who is admirably open, passionate and forthright in his media utterances, bemoaned the lack of English interest in the IPL, and the sometimes negative publicity it receives in the press here, attributing some of these problems to "jealousy". From the selected quotes reported, it is hard to know who is supposed to be being jealous of the IPL - ex-players in the media who missed out on its glamour and financial bounty, or supporters who feel it takes the sun-kissed multi-million-dollar glitz and glory away from the April skirmishes in the County Championship, or the prime minister, who secretly wishes he was an IPL dancing girl.

However, the reason for any lack of English interest in the IPL is simple. It is not because the "I" stands for Indian. The same would be true if it was the Icelandic Premier League or the Idaho Premier League. More so, probably. Idaho has no business muscling in on cricket. They have snowmobiles and processed cheese. They should leave cricket well alone.

Nor does this relative lack of interest have anything to do with the format of the cricket and England's general national preference for the longer game. Nor does it reflect on the quality of play, which although variable (as in any league in any sport), is often spectacular and dramatic. Nor even is it because the rampant hype and commercial insistence of the IPL might grate with a sport-watching public unaccustomed to having branded excitement blasted into their faces with the relentless determination of a child who has just discovered the joys of banging an upside-down cereal bowl with a spoon.

It is simply that, in an already saturated sports-watching market, the IPL does not, and I would argue cannot, offer enough for the English fan to actively support.

As a sports fan, you cannot force an instant emotional attachment to and investment in a team with which you have no geographical or familial link, and which has little history or identity with which to entice you. A Mongolian football fan might support Barcelona, or a Tanzanian baseball nut could develop a passion for the New York Yankees, for what those clubs are, what they have achieved, and what they stand for, and be drawn into their historic rivalries that have evolved over 100 years or more; but an English cricket fan is, as yet, unlikely to find the same bond of attraction to the five-year-old Chennai Super Kings. Supporting sport requires more than guaranteed entertainment and being able to watch great players competing.

Perhaps, in time, this will develop. The process was probably not helped by the franchise teams being largely disbanded and reconstituted before the 2011 season, so that any identity that had been built in the first three IPL seasons was fractured or destroyed.

It is also not helped by the fact that the star players might represent three or four different T20 franchises, and a country if time allows, over the course of a year. What if I love the Barisal Burners but am non-committal about the Sydney Thunder, scared of the Matabeleland Tuskers, unable to forgive Somerset for a three-hour traffic jam I sat in on the M5 ten years ago, and absolutely viscerally hate the Royal Challengers Bangalore (how dare they challenge our Royals, in Jubilee year especially) (despite any lingering historical quibbles)? What am I supposed to think about Chris Gayle? Is he hero or villain?

English cricket fans, even if sceptical or ambivalent about Twenty20, can admire the range of skills on display, appreciate how the format is expanding human comprehension of what mankind can and will do to small round things with flat bits of wood, and relish the high-pitched drama and tension of the endgames. They can simply enjoy seeing dancers jiggle their jiggly bits for no obvious reason, and be moved and uplifted by the sensation that unbridled commercialism is slowly destroying everything pure about sport and the world.

But, without teams and identities for which English supporters can root, and thus the emotional commitment that makes supporting sport such an infinitely rewarding experience, the IPL will continue to struggle to find active support in England. Not that the IPL, or Pietersen, or any of its other players and protagonists, should give two shakes or Billy Bowden's finger about that.

I'd be interested to know your views on this, from English, Indian and other perspectives. I love cricket. I think I have probably made that abundantly clear in the three and a half years I have been writing this blog, and in the 30 years I have been boring my friends and, latterly, wife about it. I have tried watching the IPL, I have enjoyed some of it, but it just does not excite me. Am I normal, or should I see a shrink?

● At the opposite end of the scoring-rate see-saw, a curious but increasingly intriguing Test match in Trinidad found itself donning its Wellington boots and staring forlornly at a dark and soggy ending. Not for the first time in its annoying history, The Weather intervened to spoil a potentially thrilling Test match denouement.

Much of the cricket had been on the stodgy side of gloopy, and the seemingly endless behavioural idiosyncrasies of the DRS continued to irritate more than resolve, but another trademark jaunty Michael Clarke declaration had set the West Indies 215 to win in 61 overs. The stage was perfectly set for Chris Gayle. Or Dwayne Bravo. Or, at a stretch, Marlon Samuels.

They were, regrettably for Test Match fans, otherwise engaged. A full-strength West Indies would not be world-conquering, but they might at least conquer the occasional Test match. Selectors, schedules and squabbles look set to conspire to ensure that the world waits an extremely long time to see a full-strength West Indies Test XI again.

In the absence of proven hitters, Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain, after a largely ineffective match in which he had raised further questions about his suitability as prong four of a four-pronged bowling attack, promoted himself from 8 to 3 in an effort to kickstart the chase. Many things have been written about Sammy as a cricketer, but the words "reliable batsman" are not amongst them. At least, not unless preceded by the words "no one's idea of a". He is, however, a potent thwacker of a cricket ball, and knew that, on a pitch that had been a connoisseur of slow-scoring's dream, a swift blast from him could potentially enable the eternally crafty and virtually impregnable Chanderpaul to shepherd the rest of his fragile team to victory.

Sammy promptly clonked a rapid 30 before the gloom intervened. Victory was still distant, but had become possible, and it was refreshing to see both captains striving to concoct a positive result from a somnolent surface.

● If Clarke's declaration was enterprising, his team's batting had lacked the positivity that had become its trademark in the early part of the millennium. The Baggy Greens plinked their runs at 2.39 per over - their slowest batting match since the Galle Test of 1999. In their 147 Tests since then, Australia had averaged 3.59 per over. Their first innings of 311 in 135 overs was their slowest score of 300 or more since 1989. During it, four different West Indies bowlers bowled more than 15 overs for less than two runs per over - the first time any team had done this against Australia since 1961. Watson's 56 off 172 and Hussey's 73 off 207 were respectively the second-slowest 50-plus and 70-plus scores by Australians in Tests this millennium.

The pitch was awkward and the bowling admirably disciplined, but Australia plodding along at under 2.5 runs per over is further proof that the apocalypse is nigh ‒ alongside economic collapse in Europe, political upheavals around the world, the unstoppable rise of reality television, the branding of time-outs in the IPL, anything to do with Silvio Berlusconi, Vernon Philander's Test bowling average, and the current state of the world cricket calendar.

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

Comments