April 20, 2012

Australia in the West Indies 2011-12

Am I wrong in not caring about the IPL?

Andy Zaltzman
Dale Steyn congratulates Kevin Pietersen, Delhi Daredevils v Deccan Chargers, IPL, Delhi, April 19, 2012
Former South African and former Royal Challenger from Bangalore, and current Delhi Daredevil Kevin Pietersen shakes hands with former Royal Challenger and current South African and Deccan Charger Dale Steyn. Keep track people, it's a question of loyalty  © AFP
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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

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Posted by Badridps on (April 25, 2012, 6:50 GMT)

There is nothing to worry more on this Andy, it is not at all wrong for not following IPL, I am sure 90% of Indians doesn't know that New Zealand were the winners of Rugby Championship or they do not know what EPL stands for or they are not aware that which country hosts NBA. So this doesn't mean that these games have fewer support or importance in their particular countries, infact these games are followed with more interest and intense rather than IPL in India. Each country have their own sports to entertain the sports lovers and similarly BCCI have IPL to entertain us. We Indians are not expecting more of International viewership and support, but yes we will welcome if any foreigner is interested in watching it.

Posted by VN on (April 24, 2012, 15:42 GMT)

I think this IPL has been amazing so far. The atmosphere in the stadiums for all the matches have been great.

I am so tired of all the cricket "purists" denouncing IPL/T20. If you don't care about it then don't write about it. We don't go on and on about how Ashes/county cricket is boring and is responsible for making all the batsmen dull!

Posted by saurabh on (April 24, 2012, 14:37 GMT)

I love IPL because I firmly believe that too much of a good thing is still a good thing.

It is great to see classy international players taking the bowlers to the cleaners in both the innings. It is great when Rahul Dravid does not leave his class and still scores at a strike rate of 130. It is great when two matches are instead of 1. Not so great when AB De Villers twists more than a Kansas twister and hits a switch hit.

Posted by Shalabh on (April 24, 2012, 14:28 GMT)

I don't understand why everyone seems to be lauding Clarke's declaration. Make no mistake, I loved the declaration for what it brought to the game, for the excitement of a possible result etc etc...BUT what is Clarke's purpose as Australia's test captain? Entertainment for the fans? Was he just getting bored during the test match and wanted some excitement? Is it not or Should it not be his sole purpose to ensure his team wins the test series against the West Indies? Maybe I am missing something but I think the West Indies would be the team more happy with the declaration than the Australians. At the end of the day would you risk losing a test series for a potentially more attractive 2-0 win than a solid 1-0 win? And what if WI had pulled it off? If I was an Australian, I would be cursing Clarke for his stupidity - WE WANT TO WIN! Not look like "the nice guys who tries to bring excitement to a dead match and ultimately ended up drawing the series but who cares" - WE DO!

Posted by safety on (April 24, 2012, 13:52 GMT)

I watched a bit of IPL and it's not bad. But I'm not the best person to comment as I will watch anyone bowling a ball at anyone holding a bat. I understand some people need to pedge allegiance to a team before they can enjoy watching sport. I kind of understand that as a Sussex fan for whom almost my entire life we'd never won anything. But a few reasons for the casual observer to become absorbed in the IPL - it's not pay per view (ITV4), match is rarely rained off, some of the teams take on fantasy cricket/harlem globetrotter lineups and you'll see international team mates go head to head (e.g. Jayawardene v Sanagakkara v Dilshan), driven sixes, one handed backward point catches and leg stump inswinging yorkers ARE thrilling, there is always a result, and the whole thing is over in a couple of hours if you really do think you have something better to do. Dig in I say...

Posted by Siddharth88 on (April 24, 2012, 12:41 GMT)

You know the problem about the relationship betweenT20 and cricket fans,not just the IPL, is that its T20.Its not cricket,... and is hardly sport to be honest.I dont think any cricket fan can be truly passionate about a T20 team..especially if its only a T20 franchisee and all the players keep changing every 2-3 years.

Posted by Mohammad Khan Avik on (April 23, 2012, 17:39 GMT)

If you support the Barishal Burners, I would too!

Good Stuff as usual!

Posted by david on (April 23, 2012, 16:13 GMT)

Btw, well done on your first century (of comments) for nine innings (articles). And you got there with a six, KP-style (VK's epic being the literary equivalent thereof). Your average over the last ten articles is 35.00 with the only other score of over 23 being the whopping 125, for the Tendulkar piece. Seems that to get that average up the answer is simple: Indian cricket-based articles.

Posted by Big Boy on (April 23, 2012, 15:49 GMT)

You cannot expect anyone to like a certain brand of a sport, just because you do, if the IPL is truly to be a succesful event, it should first of all know no bias (yes that means allowing the participation of Pakistani Players) and second become more about the actual game and not cheer leaders, celebrities and the questionable marketing methods of various companies. Keep the tournament simple and revolve it around the quality of cricket played and not the money spent on buying them.

Posted by jp on (April 23, 2012, 14:03 GMT)

Seems like over the yrs some IPL fans have lost the old enthusiasm. Moving into a job/office on infantry road Blr in 2010 on an IPL match day(RCB), I was shocked to see the floor full of gals n guys with painted faces, wearing red, carrying the red and yellow streamers, and some more when they walked out in large groups to the stadium - a good walk away. The same scene did not recur in '11 - the worldcup was too much with us! It has not, so far in 2012. The TVR/TRP may be falling but the live crowds, deafeningly present tell a different story. May be a new fan-generation keeps falling year-on-year for its 'total entertainment' value. WICB does not miss super talents like CG! while other imports - especially Brit & SL jump in and out at will - happily making test/odi/T20 ends meet. K.Pie makes careless comments & gets rich (only) in India! His "national" janta gets a new axe to grind! AZ (a la PM) can consider joining the talented xtra-innings team@SETMAX - you'll rewrite this one:-).

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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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