May 27, 2015

An IPL review (without having watched a game)

The joys of bringing a clear, fresh perspective to the cricket world's blingiest extravaganza

Too late, Virat Kohli realised his team's prospects were like the chair he was sitting on: imaginary © BCCI

Thanks to a contractual dispute with Sky* I haven't been able to watch the IPL this year, so as you can imagine, it has been a frustrating seven weeks.

You can produce an approximation of the IPL experience by asking two passing acquaintances who you don't really like to sit behind your sofa shouting inane comments while you fast-forward through footage of the 2007 Indian Cricket League, flicking over to the shopping channel every 30 seconds. But still, it's not quite the same.

On the other hand, this unfortunate IPL hiatus does mean that I can approach the traditional tournament review with a clear, fresh perspective, unencumbered by having watched any of the games. So then, what conclusion can we draw from IPL Eight?

First, that there is a quantity theory of IPL success. Every team has been allocated a certain amount of IPL success by the cricket gods, but they must use it wisely. If they squander it all on a success spree, they will have nothing left for the following year. Take the sad tale of Kings XI Punjab. From heroic to hapless in the space of 12 months. Last year Glenn Maxwell was the bee's knees. This year, he's the dung beetle's hindquarters.

Second, that Delhi Daredevils' IPL success ration is rather small. Having not used any of it last year, they were able to cash in this year, with the result that they moved up from eighth to seventh. Unfortunately, that's as good as it gets.

And third, we have to accept that Chennai Super Kings are no longer the Chennai Super Kings we knew. To anyone who saw the first four IPLs, Chennai were the top bananas, the big yellow juggernaut, the unstoppable lemon-flavoured T20 force.

But to the post-2011 generation, Chennai are famous not for winning the IPL but for almost winning the IPL. They are synonymous with near-misses, with almost-but-not-quite tragic failures; they are the clumsy final stooges, the canary-coloured losers, dare I say it, the South Africa of expensive franchise cricket.

This is, of course, a good thing.

Every soap opera needs well-defined characters, but sometimes they can become stale. So it is with the IPL. Bangalore are the flash bullies with the Bolognese-red Ferraris who always come unstuck at the end of every episode. Mumbai are the prodigal sons, Delhi the luckless losers, and Rajasthan the cut-price Cinderellas. Chennai used to be the bland Hollywood heroes who bored everyone with their relentless final appearances. But they have evolved. Their character has a weakness, namely a chronic inability to win anything.

This makes them much more interesting. In the past we might have turned on the television, seen that Chennai were playing, yawned and switched over, because we knew what was going to happen next. But no longer. Now when we watch Chennai beat Delhi to go ten points clear at the top of the table, we know that their victory will only serve to make their eventual defeat in the final all the more poignant.

And MS Dhoni is no longer a two-dimensional action figure, strolling to triumph after triumph with impeccable modesty. He has been transformed. Now he is playing a much more interesting role: he is a man doomed by fate to be forever picking up the losing captain's check; he is Indian cricket's tragic hero; he is Hamlet in a yellow-polyester shirt.

*The dispute revolves around their insistence that they should be paid for providing their cricket coverage, and my counter-claim that if I give them my money they will only hand it over to the ECB, who will in turn squander it on subsidising Leicestershire's new hospitality casino or Derbyshire's multi-storey pizza restaurant, crèche and garden centre. Negotiations are ongoing, although they aren't replying to any of my letters.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. @hughandrews73

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