June 2, 2012

Don't blame the IPL for everything that's wrong

Sleaze in cricket? There was plenty of it before the IPL came along

Like much of pop culture often does, the IPL too has renewed the age-old division between the classes and the masses. So while the masses endorsed the fifth edition of the tournament by filling stadiums match after match, the league was viciously attacked by some of most credible voices among the Indian intelligentsia, and they found vigorous support from voluble cricket fans on social media networks.

What I am about to say is not going earn me popularity among this section. I have learnt from recent experience that criticising the IPL can give you a certain halo. I am going to do the opposite: defend the IPL against some unfair criticism.

And I want to make it clear that while I worked as a freelance TV commentator on the IPL, I am not on the payroll of the BCCI or the IPL. These views are those of a neutral viewer of the game who genuinely likes the IPL and is a strong supporter of it.

Also, I adore Test cricket, have always done. I loved playing it and I now love watching it. I believe it is the highest and toughest form of the sport, and the yardstick with which to judge the greatness of players. Given a choice between watching a Test match featuring two evenly matched teams and an IPL game, I would chose the former any day. But having said that, I love the IPL too.

The first and most common kind of attack on the IPL is that this it (and T20 cricket at large) will destroy the traditional forms of the game. Good supporting arguments are put forth to back the claim - or perhaps fear.

I find this mindset to be no different from those of the traditionalists of the late '70s, who were up in arms when Kerry Packer barged into their world and switched on the lights so that his band of "big boys" could play at night. He even got them to wear tight, bright-coloured pants. Thirty-five years later, Kerry Packer is gone, and perhaps we did not thank him enough for the good turn he did the game.

The IPL and T20 are helping the sport in an area where Test cricket and now even 50-overs cricket have generally failed: to hold mass appeal. If the IPL is bringing new fans to the ground (and yes, some of them do not even like cricket that much) why do the traditionalists have a problem with that? They have the choice to switch channels and watch West Indies play England in Tests.

What caught my attention amid all the criticism was the suggestion that IPL 5 had taken sleaze in cricket to new heights. This is unfair and untrue. Let me refresh some memories.

I've never heard the media call the private parties that cricketers go to during, say, a World Cup, "World Cup parties"

Player misdemeanour has always been part of the game. Long before the IPL, an international player was accused of rape. There have been allegations of molestation levelled against cricketers a few times, and most times the matter has been hushed up. Players have been caught smoking marijuana while on national duty. Match-fixing slapped the administrators in the face and disillusioned them. There have been plenty of cases of administrators siphoning off funds meant for the betterment of the game. And finally, in a first-class match that I played in, I watched as a player ran after another with a stump to assault him.

All this was a part of the game before the IPL was even conceived of. And now comes the bizarre charge that IPL 5 has taken sleaze in cricket to new heights. The truth is that the IPL is a long way behind in catching up with the sleaze we have already seen in and around the more established forms of the game.

It was amusing to read about the "IPL parties" and the incidents around them. The fact is, the so-called IPL parties are now a thing of the past - they went out with the exit of Lalit Modi. The parties now are private ones that players attend on their own during the IPL season. I've never heard the media call the private parties that cricketers go to during, say, a World Cup, "World Cup parties".

The incident with Luke Pomersbach was also blamed on the IPL. Why wasn't international cricket and its culture blamed when an international player was accused of rape in the '90s? The focus then (as it should have been) was on the individual.

When India played badly in England and Australia, the IPL again became everyone's favourite target - not so much the players, it was the IPL that was held responsible for India's problems. I concede that the IPL could hamper your Test match preparation if you are not smart as a player or your cricket board isn't. But those who believe the IPL will destroy India's Test cricket strength in the future can take solace from this fact: in the five years of the IPL, South Africa have had their core players playing in the IPL, and in that time South Africa has only grown as a Test team, with most of their IPL players having enhanced their reputations in the long format.

Yes, there are valid long-term concerns about kids - specifically about whether they will have the desire to play Test cricket anymore when an easier pursuit is more lucrative. To this I will say: as long as cricket remains a popular sport in the country, for every *Saurabh Tiwary there will be an Ajinkya Rahane or a Cheteshwar Pujara who will emerge from the same generation. There may be fewer Test aspirants to choose from than during, say, my time, but can you blame kids when the purest form of cricket is struggling to draw audiences?

The greatest high for any performer, more than money, is performing in front of a massive audience. Let's hope something miraculous happens to Test cricket and it starts drawing big crowds to the grounds again. Like everything around us, the IPL is not perfect - but to hold it responsible for all the evils in and around the game is illogical and smacks of prejudice.

05:17:41 GMT, June 1, 2012: *Changed from Manoj Tiwary

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar commentates on the IPL and other cricket. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ramakrishnan on June 5, 2012, 12:41 GMT

    After the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Danny Morrison, the latest one to be afflicted by the IPL mania seems to be Sanjay Manjrekar. All along I considered Sanjay to be one whose views are balanced and up to the point without fear or favour. It is now clear that he is also caught up with the IPL sway and supports it. One other view expressed by him on Twitter says that the celebrations surrounding the Queen's Diamond Jubilee is fussy. Sanjay... don't you feel the dancing of cheer girls in IPL is not fussy?

  • G on June 5, 2012, 6:55 GMT

    the problem with ipl is not the type of cricket that is on show but the amount of money that is involved, period

  • harsh on June 5, 2012, 5:16 GMT

    Except some of the matches...........in ipl most of the time foreign batsmen are hitting inexperienced and slow indian bowlers... for me after some time it just becomes boring to watch chris gayle hitting domestic bowlers for sixes...also I think India needs to improve a lot in test matches...and what does sanjay mean by " every *Saurabh Tiwary there will be an Ajinkya Rahane or a Cheteshwar Pujara who will emerge from the same generation".... I mean these guys have not even proved themselves in test matches... forget Rahane or PUjara.... even best of the indian batsmen were exposed against australia and england..... India should concetrate on doing that... i mean two consecutive 4-0 losses is too much....

  • Srinivas on June 5, 2012, 0:31 GMT

    @jonathonjosephs, mate so you find test matches interesting but the intervening meagre 10 overs in a t20 as boring and all of that? Are you sure what you are saying here? Please don't crack us up now! You watched each and every ball of Eng vs Ind Test Series but find the intervening meagre 10 overs in t20 boring? Seriously, you crack me up big-time and gave me a terrible side strain. Oucchh....

  • Shiv on June 4, 2012, 19:29 GMT

    @kiwirocker - pak players most successful in recent times?? If "recent" means 90s, yes u r correct. No matter how much you wish, IPL is here to stay and entertain.

  • Deepak on June 4, 2012, 19:23 GMT

    @thestunner316_15 - You have an option to mute the channel and watch if you are so annoyed with their commentary. I do it when Ravi Shastri and Rameez Raja are on..

  • Absar on June 4, 2012, 14:53 GMT

    @ captain meanster - No disrespect to the old lady, but your ideology was lame... Ranatunga was right - IPL will only produce butchers...

  • Absar on June 4, 2012, 14:50 GMT

    @ sanjay manjrekar - Dude, i would like to watch the IPL, but i cant stand bad commentators like yourself and Shastri and Gavaskar and LSRK...

    People have choice to change channel, sure they do... But we dont have choice to switch commentators...

  • Vivek on June 4, 2012, 11:41 GMT

    one week after the tournament is over there are 83 comments for this article (including this one). Single mention of the word "IPL" is enough, anywhere, to get a response only second to the word "Sachin Tendulkar". Any more evidence required ?

  • Ramesh on June 4, 2012, 7:43 GMT

    Well, IPL does have its share of dark side as well. IPL has brought some little known players into the limelight, but as always there's a bad to every good. Who can forget the verbal spat between Ambati Rayudu and Harshal Patel afterthe end of the match between MI and RCB? And the dissent towards the umpire from Munaf Patel, Harbhajan Singh, and Dinesh Karthik? Appana's involvement in Pomersbach issue... Can these players even dare to do such an act if it was an international game? The other day I read a quote from Juhi Chawla that if not for the Bollywood "stars"(sic), no one would watch IPL. Give me a break! How much does she know about cricket? And some really sub-standard commentary - "Karbonn Kamaal catch" for a sitter on your lap, "Citi moment of success" for what? NOTHING! If only IPL could be disassociated from Bollywood... In the end, the game is losing the respect it deserves. IPL is a mirage in a desert, whereas Test cricket is an oasis. We all know what's more precious.

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