The Gamechangers April 3, 2010

From yarn to yawn

The blog was the sensation of the second season of the IPL. The book seems an unwieldy, long-winded cash-in

The problem with covering the IPL, as any journalist or blogger will tell you, is that events change so fast as to render the morning's news redundant by lunchtime. And so The Gamechangers, the (barely) fictionalised account of the 2009 IPL season, is hamstrung by the fact that, on publication, it has already been overtaken by events. Calcutta Cavalry is so 2009; this year it's all about the Haryana Hurricanes, though the cast reads eerily similar: a franchise fronted by a Twittering Bollywood A-lister, coached by an Australian and featuring a temperamental left-handed Indian batsman ousted from the captaincy in favour of a foreigner wicketkeeper-batsman.

That's just one of the reasons why the FakeIPLPlayer (FIP) should have stuck to the blog. Another reason is the format - think Twenty-20 stretched into a Test match: short, sharp bursts welded into an unwieldy and long-winded narrative. The 2009 blog was an instant and smash success, with its wickedly sharp, eerily prescient take on life inside a franchise with the wheels blown off. Even as the questions grew - Who was "FakeIPLPlayer"? Was any of it true? How did he/she/they come so close to reality? - the answers became irrelevant. The blog at once offered an instant connect with the tournament, being staged thousands of miles away, and the wit punctured a lot of the bombast that had grown around it (that season we didn't have Navjot Sidhu in the studio). It helped in the suspension of reality, and after a point it didn't really matter what was fact and what fiction.

Gamechangers takes those blog posts and constructs a story around them - the story of FIP, the havoc his blogs cause to the paranoid franchise owner and his aides, the mistrust they sow within the Calcutta Cavalry, and the undercover search to find him. There are several parallel strands, chiefly the exploits of the Bangalore Bangers and their megalomaniac billionaire industrialist owner, who sacks their iconic, upright Indian captain, replaces him with an upstart Englishman, and reinstalls him when the season goes pear-shaped. There are the aforementioned Hurricanes, whose captain is having an affair with the Bollywood A-lister. And at every turn, pulling all the strings, is Lalu Parekh, the head of the Indian Bollywood League, who believes in "inclusive capitalism".

Then there's the everyday working of a high-profile billion-dollar league: tantrums, contract issues, libellous newspaper articles and subsequent apologies, failed dope tests and how to get around them (I'd never heard of powdered urine before this!) and of course all the off-field nocturnal activity. Add to this the complex name changes - it's a story within a story, remember, so each of the principals has at least two names, and a third if you connect him to real life - and you're a little confused by the time you get to the humour.

At the end of 401 pages, it's tough to figure out whom this book is aimed at. The casual cricket fan will miss out on the in-jokes and, unable to connect many of the references to incidents real or imaginary, be left bemused by the minutiae of international cricket politics. The more informed fan will simply be too closely absorbed in IPL 2010 and wonder why FakeIPLPlayer hasn't resumed his blog.

The writer hasn't yet disclosed his/her/their identity, it is still unclear whether this is fact, pure fiction or something in between. The sad fact, though, is that truth is often stranger than fiction. You get far more reading Inside Story, the compilation of Cricket Australia's uncensored, declassified documents, or FA Confidential, David Davies' account of life at the helm of English football in the turbulent noughties. And far more laughs on Twitter feeds.

The blog was a ripping yarn; the book turns it into a gaping yawn.

The Gamechangers
by the Fake IPL Player
HarperCollins India, 401pp, Rs 199

Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of Cricinfo in India