March 29, 2014

The double-chaos burger with a side order of anarchy

Hooray, the IPL is coming to town and there's nothing you can do about it

"I'll play Colonel Jessup. Will you be Lt Kendrick?" © AFP

The arrival of spring is always a relief to those of us living on this soggy wind-swept rock off the north coast of France. After several months of hibernation, the average English citizen can finally emerge into a world in which our fingers no longer become frozen to our breakfast spoons, our teeth do not chatter of their own accor,d and the umbrella attrition rate has fallen to an acceptable level.

Even nature is making an effort. Generally speaking nature is a mediocre performer. It rarely offers us anything memorable, dealing in clichéd sunrises, chaotically arranged forests, sporadic precipitation and the occasional misshapen mountain. But at this time of year, it does at least conspire to raise the outdoor temperature to the ideal level: sufficiently warm to enable you to breathe invisibly, but not yet warm enough to provoke the populace into their habitual summer displays of ill-advised semi-nudity.

This is also a special time of year for cricket fans, as we hear, in the middle distance, but getting ever closer, an unmistakable media fanfare that makes us shiver with innocent joy, like children catching on the breeze the melodic tinklings of the first ice cream van of the year. Yes, the IPL is coming to town!

The IPL circus is an enormous, colourful, noisy convoy of gaudy pantechnicons that takes up the whole road and brings the cricket world to a standstill. Sometimes it breaks down completely. Sometimes it takes a wrong turn. Sometimes it crashes headlong into a legal pile-up. Wheels fall off, drivers are arrested, trucks are impounded, and every year, as the thing gets bigger and sillier, onlookers shake their heads.

This year the IPL arrives on the outskirts of imminence, swaying dangerously from side to side like an exhausted elephant bearing on its back a treasure chest full of gold coins on top of which is perched a gang of middle-aged men in expensive suits trying to push one another off whilst simultaneously clinging on for dear life.

At the time of writing we don't yet know whether it will start on time, where it will start and which teams will be allowed to play in it.

To the outsider, this might all look like a recipe for double-chaos burger with a side order of anarchy. But it's nothing of the sort. The IPL is theatre. Every long-running West End show has its fallings-out, tantrums, last-minute arrests, Supreme Court rulings, corruption investigations, illegal betting, drug allegations and boardroom coups. The off-stage shenanigans are an integral part of the entertainment.

If the WWE was just a bunch of oiled-up men with silly hair wrestling in a ring, it wouldn't have gained a global audience. So it is with the IPL. You can watch the games and buy all the team merchandise your spare bedroom can hold, but you can also cheer for your favourite administrator, tune in to live coverage of the Supreme Court hearings, and listen to Sunil and Ravi's post-trial analysis.

By comparison, other domestic cricket competitions look a little tame. At around the same time the IPL opening ceremony kicks off with a billion fireworks, the projecting of MS Dhoni's profile onto the Himalayas and Mr Srinivasan dueting with Katy Perry whilst strapped to a space rocket hurtling towards Mars, somewhere in the depths of England, a man in a white coat will cough politely to signal the opening of the County Snoozeathon.

The English have done their best. The fixture list is made more baffling every year, some of the counties have come close to pulling off bankruptcy, and they have even managed to get a bit of home-spun match-fixing going. But it's all a bit second-division compared to the IPL. No, if it's off-field larks, high-octane illegality and Supreme Court drama you are after, I'm afraid the County Championship just isn't in the same league.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here