IPL: The fascination of the abomination
"The fascination of the abomination - you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate." - Joseph Conrad.
When Conrad wrote those immortal words in Heart of Darkness, his masterpiece deriding cultural imperialism and all its ills, he was without doubt predicting the arrival of T20 cricket, and more specifically the Indian Premier League. The IPL is like a crazy ex-girlfriend. You never want to see her again, but you still check her Facebook status when no one is looking.
I don't want to know the shirt sponsor of the Chennai Super Kings, but I do. I wish I had no idea how much Glenn Maxwell is earning, but it appears in my mind anyway. Like Alcatraz, there is no escape. You want to be able to tell people, "Oh, I never watch it, it isn't proper cricket." But to do so would be lying.
As time goes by, I find myself more in tune with the cadence of Twenty20 cricket. While it doesn't have the ebb and flow of Test cricket, it has moments of the most intense drama. That these periods of high tension are hidden amongst games between two teams where someone finishes third makes them all the more exciting when they do happen. While a Hashim Amla Test innings is finesse and beauty, a Chris Gayle innings is power and bravado. Both have their place, they are two sides of the same ceremonial IPL coin, which is also available to purchase via auction on the IPL site.
So why am I embarrassed about watching the IPL? Why do I hide behind snobbish mockery? For the same reason I would not like to be seen reading a Dan Brown novel on the train - it does not fit in with the picture I have of myself. I like to think of myself as a cricket connoisseur. If you asked me about my favourite innings of all time, I would tell you it was Michael Atherton's marathon 185 not out at Johannesburg in 1995 - a full 645 minutes and 492 balls of gritty determination.
Where the IPL never fails to annoy is the way that those who promote and commentate on the event talk of it as the most important thing to happen in the field of sport. It is a hit and giggle tournament that is there to entertain. It is not an Ashes test, the Wimbledon final or the 100 metres at the Olympics. To give it the same hype as something that a sportsman has worked his entire life for is to patronise the viewer and demean the player.
The thing about the IPL that I find hardest to stomach is the relentless commercialism of the event. If you stand still long enough at an IPL stadium you will have 14 different sponsors bedecking your shirt. There are sponsored sixes, sponsored catches, sponsored "moments of success". The only thing that gets more screen time that Sachin Tendulkar is the car on the boundary that the players are competing for. If the sponsors believe that a newly made millionaire in his twenties is looking for a reliable family car they may be sadly mistaken.
I long to live in a world where sport takes place in a vacuum, where commercial realities are a grubby necessity confined to other fields. This is a dream about as likely to come true as the one I regularly have involving Angelina Jolie, Emma Stone and a hot tub.
So I will watch the IPL. I will make jokes about MS Dhoni and N Srinivasan's relationship and about Tendulkar getting bowled. I will be made nauseous by the commercialism and the faux sincerity. But more than that, I will enjoy the all-too-rare moments of pure drama and try not to feel too superior. I might fail at the last bit.
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