May 1, 2008

Four thumbs up

The IPL has showcased a high standard of cricket, emphasised sportsmanship, fostered camaraderie, and treated spectators right. More power to it.

The Australians, Michael Hussey among them, have led the way with fine performances in the IPL (file photo) © Getty Images

Although still in its infancy, and therefore capable of experiencing a troubled adolescence and disappointing adulthood, the IPL has so far surpassed expectations. Reports indicate that India has been in a ferment and sometimes even a frenzy. Of course, there is nothing unusual about that. Taken as a whole, cricket followers in the region are not inclined to sit in an armchair smoking a pipe before offering an opinion about the selectors, Greg Chappell, Shoaib Akhtar, or whoever else is currently tickling their ivories. To the contrary, the customary modus operandi is to act upon the thought with an alacrity calculated to please Mrs Macbeth and shame Hamlet.

That India is agog is not altogether surprising, for the IPL has been an Indian enterprise driven by Indian money and staged on Indian soil. Presumably the players have been feeding upon dosas. Apart from Sachin Tendulkar, whose untimely injury has robbed his team of its lustre and its leadership (alas, his replacement has again betrayed a lack of restraint and manners), Indian cricket and the country itself have been seen in all their glory. The IPL has been a splendid advertisement for the nation.

Altogether more significant, though, has been the response overseas. Cricket folk around the world have been closely following the unfolding drama. Never mind that winter sports have taken hold in Australia and South Africa, the IPL games have held their own. Never mind that its soccer teams have been dominating the European stage and that no Englishmen have been playing in the IPL so far, England has also become involved

Even stuffed shirts have grudgingly admitted that the tournament has so far been a success. These stiff collars tend to take cricket a little too seriously. It is worth remembering that an IPL match lasts as long as an opera (except those written by the more Germanic composers) or a Shakespearean play (unless staged by a Norwegian director). First and foremost, these works of art offered a good night out. They existed in theatres and on stages and only later on paper. Otherwise they were dead in the water. The Swan of Avon did not hesitate to include Fools and songs in his tragedies, nor did he scorn farces. Audiences can forgive anything except tedium. Afterwards the masterpieces were identified and their virtues extolled and examined.

In short, cricket ought not to be shy of providing brief entertainment to the population at large. In some opinions the IPL has laid it on a bit thick, but then, traditionalists are not forced to attend. Suggestions that the game will be permanently damaged by these exuberances are also unduly pessimistic. The trouble with traditionalists is that they present themselves as protectors of the game's values but are actually doomed romantics. They lament the present state of affairs yet resist innovation. Casting themselves as heavyweight, they reject the slap-happy, mistaking it for the slapdash. But it is a mistake to overestimate the past. It was not such a fine place. Nor is it possible to pin cricket into a book, like a dead butterfly.

That the game is in poor health and could hardly sink much further could be argued with equal force. All the more reason to break the chains, to let the game try its luck in a different format. Doubtless there will be a price to pay, but is there so much to lose? Take a closer look at the situation.

Supposedly, ten nations play the game to a high standard. Among them, West Indian cricket is in freefall, Zimbabwe reels under appalling governance, South Africa is trying to recover from the past without destroying the future, Pakistan is beset by political complications, Bangladesh is fighting to escape from the poverty trap, and New Zealand thinks mostly about rugby. Oh yes, and India has not produced a high-class batsman for a decade. The IPL will bring untold wealth. The next step will be to invest it wisely.

There is much to be said on the IPL's behalf. Certainly, the standard and sincerity of the contests has been a pleasant surprise. Some coruscating innings have been played, mostly by Australians, a bunch happy to adapt and determined to conquer. Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Hussey were among the first to reach three figures. It is no small thing to score a hundred in an innings lasting 120 balls, half of them faced by partners. Admittedly the boundaries are shorter and the balls damp with dew, but the bowlers are hardly lobbing them up. Also, fortunes have changed in a minute. In the space of a few balls the most cheerful bowler can come to resemble a chef whose favourite dish has been burnt by an underling. Mind you, the champions have overcome. A certain retired 38-year-old from Narromine has been economical, and a blond bombshell from Victoria has been taking wickets and coaxing victories.

The IPL has also impressed in three other important areas. Far from insulting spectators, a common enough practice around the world (it might be cramped seats or dirty rest areas or pricey refreshments), it has treated them with respect. By all accounts crowds have been entertained and informed. Doubtless a few glitches have occurred, but they are to be expected in the early days of any adventure. Certainly, the grounds have been heaving and everyone has seemed to enjoy themselves. Nor have home crowds failed to support the local lads, albeit that few of them were born in the neighbourhood

The trouble with traditionalists is that they present themselves as protectors of the game's values but are actually doomed romantics. Casting themselves as heavyweight, they reject the slap-happy, mistaking it for the slapdash. But it is a mistake to overestimate the past. It was not such a fine place

The IPL has also placed an emphasis on sportsmanship. At the opening ceremony the captains signed a document promising to abide by a collective code of conduct. Has that happened before? From a distance it appears that the matches have been played in excellent spirit. All the more reason to condemn Harbhajan Singh's latest boorish outburst. It is high time India took him and Sreesanth in hand. Harbhajan, especially, has found a cheap route to heroism. It is not appropriate for a 27-year-old to act like a petulant child. Nor is it sensible for local supporters to cheer him merely because he defies the Australians. People think I have been soft on Harbhajan. The point has been absorbed. It is time he was isolated and confronted.

The IPL's other great legacy will be the way it enhances the fellowship of man. Most previous attempts to bring together players from all nations have been unsatisfactory and fleeting. This is different. Now players from different countries, some of them supposedly bitter rivals, some of them with axes to grind, must work together in common cause, discussing tactics, forming partnerships, sharing rooms, socialising and so forth. And it has worked. In a recent column Kumar Sangakkara wrote about playing alongside Brett Lee, recently a fierce opponent, and against Murali. Apparently Shane Warne and Graeme Smith have been knocking around together.

Far from hurting the integrity of the game, the IPL may advance it. Maybe the sledging will soften and passions will be more easily cooled. Perhaps the very word will be replaced by "chirping", the South African version, a name indicating an altogether lighter touch. Always there will be borderlines but the players will know each other much better and that will take away the nastier edges.

The IPL has captured the imagination. Interest may decline a little as the Australians report for duty in the Caribbean and so forth. But it is here to stay and the ICC must find a regular place for it in the fixture list. April need not be the cruellest month. To the contrary, it should be given over to this vibrant form of a mostly serious game.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jairam on May 3, 2008, 13:09 GMT

    Quite surprising to see even Peter Roebuck jump onto the IPL bandwagon. I must admit it's a lot of fun, but if it replaces all other forms of cricket then cricket itself is bound to fizzle out. Maybe it is time for cricket to fade away; so be it, there is life beyond cricket. However, it is ironic that the much-vaunted IPL will lead to the demise of the game.

  • Pratyush on May 3, 2008, 5:17 GMT

    The IPL has been a resounding success, something which has made the cricketing world come together. I dont think this could have happened anywhere else except India, simply because the unending support the game has among the masses. Its been fun to see rivals come together, great to see champions like Warne, McGrath back in action and see how the younger lot cope with these champs. Yes, as usual we had some issues, like our problem child Sree and Bhajji, there must have been some other reasons for sure but we may never know. Both players should have been punished but only Bhajji got the ire. Its time when these kids grew up. Saurav Ganguly as usual tries to behave like a Maharaja, forgetting that this is a 20/20 game and not a 5 day game , where he can take his sweet little time outs ! All said and done , IPL has been a huge success, no questions asked.

  • Dave on May 3, 2008, 5:04 GMT

    The beauty of cricket is the many forms in which in can exist, whilst essentially having the same basics. Skills will not be degraded as today's sportsmen are or should be professionals with a total understanding. The importance of your wicket will determine your comparison exists between the importance of a Test and T20 dismissal. I love all forms of the game and due to its location and hype the IPL is a great show.

  • SEKHAR on May 2, 2008, 12:49 GMT

    All those who are talking ill about the IPL at this stage are the ones who look at only the negatives of T20 and not the positives.It is a misconception to believe that T20 will sound the death knell for Test and ODI cricket.T20 will exist alongside the other two formats.

  • Rajaram on May 2, 2008, 12:20 GMT

    Twenty20,and therefore,ICL or IPL is NOT Cricket.It is a "wham,bam,thank you ma'am affair" that will ruin a batsman's technique,replacing the "correct approach" to a ball by a slog sweep,which Indians will recognize as a "dhobi shot" - a "cross-batted shot". No bowler,except for Glenn McGrath will excel.You might as well replace bowlers with bowling machines -and program these machines to send down 2 spin,2 fast,one googly,one bouncer.

    As one person has commented,both ODI and Twenty20 should follow TEST Cricket Rules of no fielding restrictions.

    I am waiting for The Ashes 2009.

  • Anoop on May 2, 2008, 11:04 GMT

    One has to look beyond the glitz and glamour and look at the impact of this new format on the sport in the long run. I reckon there are 3 elements to this; current cricketers, future cricketers and the business model of the sport itself. A look at this on my blog:

  • James on May 2, 2008, 10:10 GMT

    The IPL suffers from the same big problem as one-day. I cannot make sense of the field placings, because there is a rule, as I understand it, that a certain number of players have to be inside a small oval within the big oval, for a certain time during the game. This is extremnely complex and takes away from the naturalness of the game. It seems to be some kind of falsification of cricket, and I doubt whether backyard cricketers would stand for it. The second-biggest problem is that batsmen are not asked to go after the ball if it is outside the leg stump or well wide of the off. In my book, these balls are opportunities for heavy scoring. Why can't players in IPL hook and cut like Test players? IPL batsmen have developed a kind of paralysis from the waist down, a Laxmanitis, as he seems to be a pronounced case.

  • Jason on May 2, 2008, 8:44 GMT

    I disagree with the enthusiasm suggested by English/Australian supporters. Essentially the consensus amongst the players and supporters I know is that it is a series of pointless matches which showcase some players who will only ever succeed in 20/20. I hope that Test cricket remains king and 20/20 remains a sideshow played by national teams AFTER a Test series. The reason English football is so rubbish at the nation level is that players are too busy earning money for clubs...keep the best cricket for the national teams otherwise you risk losing the very essence of many great rivalries.

  • Roshan on May 2, 2008, 8:37 GMT

    IPL is great fun and that's it - I suppose that's what it was meant to be as well. As for such a thing succeeding elsewhere I'm not so sure. Every single match has seen a packed house - even at massive Eden Gardens in Calcutta. But it will run out of steam very quickly elsewhere. I thing its the "Bollywood" thing here that's working. You know the stars both cricket and film, the song and dance, the atmosphere and of course the hype.

  • Vijendra on May 2, 2008, 5:41 GMT

    Hats off to Peter Roebuck , You always write hard facts, be it Sydney Fiasco in critisizing ponting's team behaviour or Bhajji's latest misconduct.I must say your artiles are always without any prejudice.

    For all those IPL haters , Please look at the positives it's bringing to The Game of Cricket,Cricket players [few unfortunates players are getting chance now],It brings revenue to Stadium and management,Small time bussiness like food/drinks caterers,It brings new Job to many people.

    IPL is a hit , accept it and appreciate it for the good things it bring to life of many.Please dont curse it.

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