May 2, 2014

The IPL's seven-year itch

There seems to be something amiss in this edition of the tournament. Whisper it: could it be quality?

"I feel like a newly crowned Miss Universe. World peace, here we come" © BCCI

Even the strongest marriages, it is believed, are susceptible to what is known as the seven-year itch, the stage when a hitherto happy union starts to become a bit fraught. Those lovable little habits of a partner start to turn into excruciating annoyances. Those once-cute little quirks start to seem like huge character flaws. Toilet seats get left up more frequently. The best efforts at DIY get criticised and put down mercilessly. Some couples turn to therapy, but all too often reintegration of the heart is impossible.

No one would ever suggest that the IPL has been the perfect cricketing marriage - unless, of course, the bride and groom are breathless razzmatazz and Danny Morrison respectively - but it is undoubtedly a coming together of entertainment, skill and innovation that has endured despite, to say the least, a few ups and downs: the two years, including the present one, when it has been evicted from its home and forced to lodge with friends abroad; the year some of the in-laws got into a little bit of financial bother, placing a huge strain on the relationship; the continued insistence of franchises that buying Ishant Sharma to be their strike bowler might be a good idea. All of these obstacles have been overridden. Yet this year, the tournament's seventh, it seems as if something is just slightly amiss, with the resultant drop in quality perhaps born out of cosy complacency.

Some of the batting, not least from defending champions Mumbai, has had all the class and finesse of a squaddie's stag do. We're not just talking about mistimed hoicks and top edges flying comfortably for six - complaining about something as integral to the IPL as those is akin to grumbling The Sopranos had too much swearing - but just basic strategy and match awareness, with Steve Smith's cute Super Over nudge against KKR being a rare canny exception.

Despite Glenn Maxwell's early success at No. 3 for Kings XI Punjab, other sides continue to refuse to experiment with their batting order, with the resultant rigidity often leading to rigor mortis. Much of the running would also have made Inzamam blush. Furthermore, although there may be no Pakistan players present, the general quality of catching - despite the odd blinder - has made it seem as if Kamran Akmal is at least there in spirit. The Emirates dew has doubtless been potent, but in the field we've still seen more fumbles than a drunk rhino trying to juggle with eels.

Even some of the IPL's key participants have seemingly had their heads turned by more pressing matters. During the Sunrisers' clash with Chennai in Sharjah, Ravi Shastri actually forgot he was meant to be commentating and needed to be summoned from where he was hobnobbing with dignitaries in the stand to come and do his stint. Now there are those cruel cynics who might suggest leaving Shastri's commentary chair empty wouldn't be such a bad idea, but this little oversight did again illustrate that the tournament hasn't quite focused the minds of those involved.

Another sure-fire sign things are a bit below par is the vast amount of time commentators are spending hyping up the magnificence of being in the VIP Box. When you're reduced to talking about a visit to an enlarged chintzy plastic goblet as if it's a cross between the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Scarlett Johansson's bedroom, you have to suspect that the action on the field has been less than riveting, validating the theory that hype is often disproportionate to quality. This is a truth I discovered to my own cost recently when watching Slumdog Millionaire for the first time.

Another movie, the Billy Wilder film The Seven Year Itch (which explores this marital phenomenon of disengagement after a certain period), contains an iconic scene where Marilyn Monroe is left rather exposed when her pristine white dress is blown upwards as she walks over an air vent in the subway. Exposure is the very last thing the IPL needs, but this edition perhaps does require, like a troubled marriage, just a little bit more commitment, focus and tact as it heads out of the UAE and back to the family home.

James Marsh writes Pavilion Opinions. He is also a Tefl teacher whose students learn superlatives by being shown Graham Thorpe videos