March 16, 2010

Really, Warnie?

The IPL has become an occasion for tub-thumping, mutual back-slapping and all-consuming PR
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Shane Warne has given his view on the best innings he has ever seen. Having bowled to Tendulkar and Lara in their pomp, Laxman and Dravid in Kolkata, having watched Steve Waugh in Antigua and Adam Gilchrist in Johannesburg, he has nonetheless opted for… Yusuf Pathan's hundred for Rajasthan Royals against the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League at Brabourne Stadium last week.

From the greatest bowler of his generation, such pronouncements are bound to be noticed, especially as Warne is already on record - or, at least, on Twitter - as confirming that the zenith of his career was the Royals' victory in the inaugural IPL. This was during an exchange of mutual endearments with the IPL's equally Tweet-happy impresario, Lalit Modi.

Actually, it's one of Warne's most admirable characteristics that he is so liberal with his praise. With age can come the attitude that all was better in one's own day. Warne might be the far side of 40 and only play six weeks a year, but the day, he feels, is still his. One with ample reason to dwell in the past is uncompromisingly a man of the present.

These days, however, Warne is a veritable praise machine, spreading the gospel of the IPL to parts far and near. In the recent snafu over security concerns in India, it was Warne, alongside Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, who argued against his former captain Ricky Ponting, his erstwhile spin twin Tim May, and their old joint interest, the Australian Cricketers' Association. When the Royals unveiled their Royals 2020 venture with Hampshire, Cape Cobras and Trinidad & Tobago in London in February, Warne was the senior spruiker: "I am delighted to be part of this new innovation, and I am excited by what we can achieve, given what we have already achieved. Yet again, the Royals are leading the way."

Warne's views mesh perfectly with the general IPL communications strategy, conveyed alike in its advertising and its commentary: that this is it, and the rest of cricket simply does not exist

So what to make of Warne's encomium for Pathan? Firstly, it makes little sense. Pathan batted for 37 balls. The bowlers on whom he took greatest toll, on a storied but small ground seating only 20,000, were Ryan McLaren, Rajagopal Satish, Ali Murtaza and Sanath Jayasuriya. His team lost. When Warne said of taking on Tendulkar that "it was a pleasure to bowl to him", it was a meaningful and heartfelt tribute. Exalting Pathan was simply succumbing to the tumescence of the moment - an action, of course, to which Warne is not exactly a stranger.

Yet there is more to it than that, for Warne's views mesh perfectly with the general IPL communications strategy, conveyed alike in its advertising and its commentary, sometimes indistinguishable in their hucksterism: that this is it, and the rest of cricket simply does not exist; or that cricket began two years ago, when Modi whipped it into shape from the drawn-out and economically inefficient activity it had been for a century and more.

That is certainly Modi's self-perception. "Either we innovate and bring in new fans," he told the Times last week, "or we don't innovate and we let the sport die". There is something more than a little messianic about this, with its inference that cricket was devoid of innovation and in danger of dying before the IPL - one half expects Modi to start paraphrasing Lt William Calley and urging that it will be necessary to destroy cricket in order to save it.

It's arguable that for all the entrepreneurship unleashed in India, cricket globally was actually in better shape two years ago; there were certainly some boards of control, like Pakistan and West Indies, in ruder financial health than they are now. And for all its reputation for conservatism, cricket in its history has demonstrated a remarkable capacity for innovation. What game has survived subjection to such extraordinary manipulations, having been prolonged to 10 days (in Durban 70 years ago), truncated to as few as 60 balls (in Hong Kong every year), and remained recognisable in each instance?

One keeps looking out for innovation in IPL, but of late it hasn't been all that obvious. Lionel Richie as an opening act? Johnny Mathis must have been busy. Matthew Hayden's Mongoose? Looks a bit like Bob Willis' bat with the "flow-through holes"; Saint Peter batting mitts are surely overdue a revival. The only genuinely intriguing step this year, bringing the IPL to YouTube, was forced on Modi by the collapse of Setanta; otherwise what Modi presents as "innovation" is merely expansion by another name, in the number of franchises and the number of games.

There's certainly fun to be had in the IPL. The players are doing their best, and with so many high-class cricketers there is always the chance of seeing a sublime stroke, a Dravid cover drive or a Gilchrist pick-up, and you could hardly not enjoy watching Yusuf Pathan hit the ball to infinity. But calling it "great" or the "best ever" made as much sense as saying the same of a pop video. The risk is, as ever, that the hyperbole of IPL will simply smother the cricket; perhaps the members of the IPL's cheer squad should stop listening to each other and start listening to themselves.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • acrazycricketfan on March 19, 2010, 2:36 GMT

    Yes the other day against the RCB , Yusuf was very much uncomfortable with the short pitched deliveries.How can he survive at the international level with this serious issue to sort out?Shane Warne should not have mentioned this as the best innings ever as Yusuf cant play all the shots in the book.Hope Warne realises atleast now before he gives another statement like this.

  • aiyalur on March 18, 2010, 13:14 GMT

    SwamiG, you are right. he is a businessman. probably doesn't even like cricket. why would you let a guy like him have so much control over cricket. He's probably going to realize in a few years that people find it boring to sit through a 20 over game and what the people need a 10 over game. Young crickets in India are seduced by 20/20 as a easy path to success, if this goes on India aren't going to produce any test match crickets. India is already struggling to find test replacements for Dravid and Laxman. They didn't play in the first test again SA and we lost by an innings because our middle order collapsed.

  • Rajesh. on March 18, 2010, 7:47 GMT

    While most talk about how good a captain Shane Warne would have been I feel he would be the best PR man for Cricket Australia :-) Folks, rope him in right away.............

  • lucyferr on March 18, 2010, 7:01 GMT

    Test cricket is all very well, but the average professional cricketer needs to make a living. Footballers make their living from their clubs, not their country. What matters in a professional sport is whether a good player - not a great player lucky enough to consistently make the national squad - can make a living. Having a prosperous domestic league makes that possible - if the form of cricket is one people will pay to watch at club level. That means T20. By all means keep Test cricket alive at nternational level - but don't get in the way of honest men making a living at club level. Critics should focus their attention instead on eliminating the 50-over game - it has served its purpose well but now needs to be pensioned off. Mind you, I do agree that hearing 'DLF Maximum' and 'Citi moment of wotsit' during a game makes me cringe - and makes the advertisers look bad. Such crass overcommercialism is normal with the nouveau riche - it'll work itself out in time.

  • Bollo on March 18, 2010, 6:56 GMT

    Furthermore cricfan78, I certainly wasn`t gloating about test crowds in Aus or England, merely correcting an error, which claimed that the 2 countries with the best test match attendances were in fact the countries in which tests were struggling. South Africa and India (apart from a sensational crowd at the Eden Gardens) have far deeper, long-running problems with attracting crowds to test cricket.

  • Bollo on March 18, 2010, 6:43 GMT

    cricfan78. I was replying to a post which specifically referred to crowds, not TV audiences, so don`t see what`s so funny about it. Sure, some fairly poor crowds for tests in Aus this summer, mainly because of the lopsided contests and lowly-ranked opposition. The MCG still managed to get more than 150,000 over 5 days. What did Nagpur pull? 1500 non-paying schoolkids and a few scoreboard attendants

  • CricFan78 on March 18, 2010, 5:56 GMT

    Bollo its funny to see how you comprehend "watching cricket" to only being in stadium, there is something called TV as well if you have forgotten. And yes we saw the crowds for Eng-WI and Aus-Pak/WI so stop gloating.

  • prachu on March 18, 2010, 5:20 GMT

    Warn has his opinion and we need to respect that. I think the entire 100 by pathan has been put in shadows by the writer. Till this guy came out fighting with that century in no time. there was no chance for the royals to even think of a win with the number of wickets they lost. it was actually a one man show in the game by pathan. if he was not out in an unfortunate way they might have won the match itself. If the author did not like the selection they he could say that he liked some other innings the best. the way it was return was quite uncalled for. Regarding cricket innovation and better condition of cricket. Please tell me out of the previous so called better and more innovation how many had as much fan following as this one. the previous ones where either at the wrong place or at the wrong time or where not good innovation atall. It seems like the author is not happy with either the money flowing in or with the increase of fans that IPL is getting cricket.

  • AravindZ on March 18, 2010, 3:01 GMT

    @aiyalur, it is obvious why the youtube version isn't broadcast in the states. While there's the tata's and the bharthi's providing ISP for a cricket frenzy crowd in india, comcast or timewarner wouldn't care less about the IPL given the number of ppl interested in it in the states. Modi is not stupid, he is a smart businessman working hard to see test cricket's demise. Hail the king!

  • S.N.Singh on March 18, 2010, 2:17 GMT

    I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY WARNE COULD RATE A BATSMAN PLAYING 20/20 CRICKET. HE SAID YUSUF PATHAN 100 IS THE BEST INNINGS HE HAS SEEN. WHAT WARNE WAS TRYING TO JUSTFY IS BEYOND MY UNDERSTANDING. HOW WILL WARN RATE YUSSUF AS A" TEST" PLAYER ? YUSSUF IS HAVING PROBLEMS TO FIND HIMSELF IN THE ODI SIDE. I AM SORRY TO SAY THIS BUT NO CRICKETER SHOULD HAVE A SPECIAL RATING IN 20/20 BECAUSE IN MY OPINION 20/20 THERE ARE A LOT OF PLAYERS SCORING ( LASHING BALLS) RUNS IN FASHIONABLE STYLE AND BOWLERS GETTING WICKETS CHEAPLY. HOW MUST WE APPRAISE THEM ? THIS IS LASHING BALL . S.N.SINGH

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