May 30, 2011

Too drained to care

You don't support your side through a World Cup win and then forget all about it inside a week to cheer them as they turn out for different teams in a Twenty20 league

Having retained the IPL in front of a sea of yellow on Saturday, MS Dhoni was asked the customary question about how the crowds had been this season. "Every Indian on earth wanted us to win the World Cup," Dhoni said. "After the World Cup, they were a bit relaxed emotionally."

The World Cup? Does that ring a bell? It wasn't long ago that India went delirious after Dhoni lifted that particular trophy, on the night of April 2. Long-awaited revelry broke out in Mumbai. In Ahmedabad. In Siliguri. I remember arriving home at half-past-three the morning after the final to find my room-mate still crying as he watched the winning moments over and over on his laptop. Why?

To a generation that had grown up thinking Sachin Tendulkar was the best thing to have ever happened to cricket, 1983 was known only as a relic to be revered. Secretly they hoped there would come a day when Tendulkar would be carried on the shoulders of his team-mates; and that that day would not have to be his last on the field for India.

World titles arouse extreme passions. Stinging self-examinations greet the dethroning of monarchs. Ask Australia. Nations that have never tasted success spend years agonising, and when the moment finally comes, there is no holding back the emotions. Ask Greece. Those that have had one glimpse of glory in the past work themselves into a frenzy of expectation on each successive occasion, only to be left wondering if that next title will ever come. Ask England.

India had been in England's boat for 28 years. When Kapil Dev's side won, it had been a huge surprise; the nation wasn't used to expecting anything in those times. Liberalisation gave rise to a much more demanding generation. A semi-final finish in 1996, worthy of celebration during another era, brought reprisals. Then came the class of 2003, which blew away almost all opposition before losing the final. They earned respect, but clearly, being second-best was not what fast-changing India wanted.

Now arrived the generation that, having grown up in the consumerist era, craved instant gratification and instant achievement; wanted an opportunity to bask in what was believed - with some justification too - to be the long-overdue cricketing arrival of the world's second-fastest growing economy.

That moment came on April 2, but ironically, it wasn't going to be savoured. There wouldn't even be a victory parade, like the one that had brought Mumbai's traffic to a standstill after the 2007 World Twenty20 triumph. There was more cricket to be played, of the IPL kind. Within six days. There was going to be no happy hangover.

Barely had the fan taken off on the wings of Dhoni's liberating six when he was brought crashing down by the sight of his captain, decked in canary yellow, at a pre-IPL press conference. The bat-twirling conqueror of April 2 already seemed distant. It was time for the fan to mutate into a consumer of club cricket.

Just how do you deal in five days with something that has happened after 28 years? The cycle that had begun with a grinning Kapil on the Lord's balcony had just been completed by the sight of Tendulkar being carried around the Wankhede Stadium by Harbhajan Singh and Virat Kohli. Now Kohli would take the field against Tendulkar in the IPL, the first week of which would seem "confusing" to him.

When the IPL schedule was announced, the talking point was the short interval between the World Cup final and the start of the league. There were concerns expressed about how taxing such a quick turnaround would be for the players, after a physically and emotionally draining World Cup. Scarcely anyone thought about the fans. Of course, there were a few who fretted over them: the IPL franchises and the broadcaster, concerned whether a 51-day event would be too much even for the tireless Indian cricket fan, given that he would have under a week to recover from a 43-day tournament. But when buzzwords like "cricketainment" dominate the landscape, others like "savour" and "reflect" are jettisoned.

The fan himself has had a considerable role to play in the near-demise of those words. Apart from at a few traditional centres, he has stopped going to grounds for Test matches. ODIs are still better off in terms of stadium attendance, but television ratings are no longer what they used to be.

I remember arriving home at half-past-three in the morning after the World Cup final to find my room-mate still crying as he watched the winning moments over and over on his laptop. Why?

India's World Twenty20 win gave rise to the IPL, which drew capacity crowds as the public lapped up the mix of showbiz and sport. The IPL grew; the highest franchise bid in 2011 was three times that in 2008. India's appetite for the shortest format was seemingly insatiable.

A one-dayer demanded too much of a generation used to communicating in shorthand through Twitter and Facebook. The IPL suited it just fine. Catching the 8pm IPL match with colleagues got added to the to-do list. Two friends and I took turns to go to the Cricket Club of India on a single expensive ticket during an IPL game in 2010 to experience 25,000 Indians shouting "Malinga, Malinga". An hour for each person.

The CCI and the Wankhede used to be empty arenas apart from when they were allotted the odd Test or one-dayer. There were less than 50 takers for Garware Pavilion tickets that cost Rs 50 each for the Ranji Trophy game between Mumbai and Karnataka in November 2007. Those who had turned up were Rahul Dravid supporters, upset after he had been "rested" for the final ODI against Australia.

Months later, during the inaugural IPL, tickets for the same Garware Pavilion cost tens of times more than what they had for the Ranji match. Sold out. Seven times during the IPL season, a galaxy of international stars put up three-hour displays of "cricketainment". To watch Tendulkar captain Malinga cost a bomb, but who cared? What could be better than leaving your office in Nariman Point at seven in the evening, catching a three-hour game at the CCI and tweeting about it on the way home?

A World Cup win, it turned out. The smartphone-wielding professional, who was expected to gorge on fast-food cricket, found that he wanted to stop and savour the World title, still simmering fresh in his memory. To his dismay, he found that luxury had been snatched from him. Suddenly, a league that was supposedly tailor-made for him seemed flat and colourless in comparison to the "real thing".

As a friend said, "It was so unfair. You felt cheated, in a manner. You found yourself craving for some more time, maybe a week more, when, in fact, that time should have been your right." This friend, who had travelled to Bangalore, Nagpur and Mohali to follow the Indian team during the World Cup, didn't go to a single Mumbai Indians game this season. He works a kilometre away from the Wankhede.

A World Cup takes a lot out of fans. Passionately supporting a team requires considerable time and patience. The return on emotion invested is usually so fluctuating that when a fan encounters a bull phase in the form of a cathartic victory, he wants to cash in and take some time off. Getting bombarded with a 74-game event within a week, the first match of which involves his World Cup-winning captain leading a Sri Lankan and a South African, can wait.

Dhoni knew it all along. "They [fans] thought, 'We [will] pick up the IPL a bit later'," he said. "They were emotionally drained along with the players."

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 1, 2011, 16:43 GMT

    editorial assistant??!! get this guy on board, cricinfo!! amazing article... captured the feelings of a true Team India fan...

  • Dummy4 on June 1, 2011, 8:21 GMT

    @ mukund iyer U were spot on.The IPL has never thrown a single talent that has taken the world by storm Amit Mishra,Pragyan Ojha are the only two crickters who have gone to play cricket with some regularity for the country..But Mishra had more than 300 first class wickets before he even played in IPL.Ashvin had developed and mastered the carrom ball even bfore playing in IPL and Murali Vijay had played a test match before IPL. All IPL has done is making bcci a serious money making machine.B'wood Celebs come for promoting their films.Sachin wanted a BUS PARADE after the World Cup win bt that was not possible cuz of this IPL. Its become a joke wen the so called IPL fans who have never followed TEST CRICKET start taking a dig at legends like Dravid, Laxman n Kallis ! N y do u evn need to have semis/finals/eliminators..In all the leagues in World the table toppers get the trophy cuz being top of the table is the true reflection of how good the team has been in the entire season.Its a joke.

  • J Ranjith on May 31, 2011, 16:32 GMT

    Just see how beautiful this article is written and about similar topic how a senior editor has written another article. It shows how pure talent is not given its place, just like test cricket.

  • gopal on May 31, 2011, 14:16 GMT

    too drained to care ? who ? you ? who cares ?? the artilce was more about the world cup than the IPL itself. Would have been a good article to read at the beginning of the IPL. The author may be too drained to accept the consistancy of one team in IPL time and again. Did you see the packed stadium on the finals day ? If the spectators are too drained to care, then they should have thought that they purchased tickets for a soap opera and somehow accidentally landed in chepauk!

  • P on May 31, 2011, 11:40 GMT

    This parochial writer meant RCB,MI and KKR viewers. Who wants to see the franchisee owners breathe down the neck of players or kissing going on in the stands using some excuse of on-field happenings. Fans/TV viewers are bored by the antics of people like Nita, Siddharth, Preity, Shilpa and that insufferable joker SRK. I hope in the next IPL these charactetrs are barred from "exposing" their antics

  • Andy on May 31, 2011, 11:04 GMT

    best article in the recent times after the gary's interview! Again Country vs Club Just take an example of Spanish and european leagues for money and fame the clubs exists and how much intensity and true prayers for their respective nations that feeling is nothing when compared to earning bucks even the greatest players of all the time will be evolved by the real games not the simple as that

  • Ajay on May 31, 2011, 7:06 GMT

    Well written and cent percent accurate. I too felt little awkward, because there had been no time for cherishing the hard earned World Cup title, For a generation of youngsters like us Kapil's Devils was a distant memory which we all wanted to relive. And when that happened again through Dhoni, every Indian Fan and Players had the right to celebrate and remember each and every moment to glory. But sadly before reading a detailed article on World Cup, India's strength, weakness, how they fared and all those statistics, we had to read articles on worthless IPL manics. The sehwag special 175, sachins twin hundreds, Yuvi's heroics, Dhoni and Gambhir's patience, Kohlis maturity, cameos from Rain and Yusuf, Zaheers brilliance etc.. should have been on paper for another month for the fans to relive and cherish.... Instead its all about 80% dead IPL matches... Apart from Sehwags 2 Innings there had been nothing that challenged a batsmen in the IPL

  • Senthil on May 31, 2011, 6:27 GMT

    I'm laughing at all the resentment about too much cricket, AFTER Chennai has won! Till then, nobody had any real problem with too much cricket. It was fun on top of the WC! There are even people suggesting that CSK and MI used influence to get their teams back. What influence? Everybody was in the same bidding process, with the same amount of money, with the same permissions to retain players. Chennai knew how to build their franchise, how to keep their fan base intact, AND play winning AND fair cricket. It is too much cricket, but I am not complaining as long as others don't use sneaky excuses to tell us why they played shoddy cricket and lost to CSK. CSK needs to win the Champions League later this year to really shut out the support for some other teams! It is really irritating isn't it, when one team dominates so much? How about learning a little from them? At least try for the fairplay award.

  • Dummy4 on May 31, 2011, 6:04 GMT

    So true, i agree with the author completely, IPL has nothing to do with India or even cricket, its just capitalism at its most distasteful, repulsive form. As a tamil person born in Chennai, i still haven't cared about the "Chennai" Superkings, and probably never will, there is nothing domestic about these cricket teams, and no amount of victories will ever come close to the honour of winning the world cup, in economic terms, this is called market saturation and i hope the IPL does not profit financially in future seasons, atleast for the sake of the sport of cricket and its lovers souls.

  • Dummy4 on May 31, 2011, 5:48 GMT

    Take a bow, Abhishek Purohit!

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