February 24, 2014

Let's be honest about T20

The format generally, and the IPL particularly, is all about fun and entertainment. It isn't an exacting test of skill

Mohammad Hafeez's analysis of the benefits of the IPL haven't convinced too many © AFP

Without T20 cricket, would we have to contend with the monstrosity of the Big Three? The IPL has much to answer for. It's a money game but players tell us they prefer not to focus on the financial perks. Kevin Pietersen once claimed that India's T20 spectacle helped his game. The massive salary without doubt helped too. Now Mohammad Hafeez, a batsman of inferior quality but bearing similarities in frustration, has lamented the exclusion of Pakistan's cricketers. The IPL, he says, is a great arena to test and develop your skills.

In his defence, Hafeez needs help. His career reflects the modern state of Pakistan cricket. Bizarre selection, minimal development, and arguable progress. Aamer Sohail, the man who oversold Hafeez to a bewildered public in his first stint as chief selector lasted barely a week this time around. Hafeez's potential, if you believe he possesses it, has been trapped for a decade. If you haven't managed to deliver in that time, despite generous opportunities, the odds are stacked against you.

T20 cricket, the least challenging of cricket's disciplines, is unsurprisingly Hafeez's forte. No wonder he craves more. His wish to appear again in the IPL seems unlikely to be met. The tragedy of Hafeez may be that the hero inside himself never landed a leading role on the IPL stage.

Indeed, the Professor's analysis of the cricketing benefits of the IPL are unpersuasive. His hypothesis sprang from his heart not his brain. Auctions, especially human ones, are designed to appeal to our basest instincts, and Hafeez felt love for this year's spectacle.

It is debatable whether the IPL offers any benefit for player development. India aren't dominant in T20 cricket. Pakistan won a T20 World Cup during this period of exclusion. The boundaries are short. The wickets are flat. The bowlers are generally friendly, and any that aren't have only four overs to hurt you. Most importantly, the money is banked. What's left is tamasha.

And that's the point. I do object to the IPL on the basis that it deliberately or subconsciously refuses to consider players from certain nations. Pakistan invariably, and this time Sri Lanka too. This is unfair. I do object to the IPL on the basis that players pretend that it is some grand examination, a finishing school for the elite. That's patently nonsense. But I don't object to the tamasha.

If only more people were more honest about it. T20 generally, and the IPL particularly, is all about fun and entertainment. It isn't an exacting test of skill. Its purpose is to make money for cricket boards, cricketers, and others. T20 cricket is a bookies paradise. And we now know how much money matters. Incidentally, the IPL also provides enjoyment to spectators. Why not call it what it is then? A tamasha. Call it a tamasha and value it for being one.

"It's fun cricket," said Younis Khan on winning the 2009 T20 World Cup at Lord's, and in the next breath he perceptively stooped further, labelling it WWE. Nobody wants their occupation to be trivialised, but, ironically, talking up T20 cricket and the IPL devalues them. Fun has its place in our lives too, although a proper tamasha is better for being open to all entertainers, especially the badmashes from across the border.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here