It will be a little difficult to swallow at first. The players themselves have spoken about the confusion over ‘home and away’ matches. There is concern that crowds may not be as supportive of the city-teams when they move to play abroad. Experts on television have drawn derisive laughter over the question: ‘How do you expect a supporter in
Yorkshire to get excited over a team from Chennai?’
But the fact is, Twenty20 and IPL are rewriting not just the rules of cricket, but carrying it forward into the new century.
Many years ago in an essay on the future of sport, I had written that international sport would break away from the narrow confines of nationalism, time and place. The example I gave then were the Olympic Games, which was an exercise in jingoism (the examples are too well known to bear repetition here), and thanks to the arrival of sponsors and
professional athletes might soon become a set of competitions among corporate houses rather than countries. Coke and Pepsi and Adidas, and many such would be in the happy position of being able to call upon their players from across the world to participate in their colours.
This is already happening with Formula One. It is Ferrari versus McLaren versus Renault and so on. Drivers are professionals hired for their sporting prowess and not dependant on country of origin. It is Ferrari which wins, not Italy. The only concession to tradition is the playing of the national anthem, which, considering everything, is incongruous.
Now IPL is set to take cricket in the direction of Formula One. This is sport in the post-modern world, not restricted by boundaries, geographical or otherwise. The IPL’s claim that city-teams and city-loyalties were being encouraged always sounded hollow anyway. Now, with the caravan moving to England or South Africa, the spin doctors will try to top their original spin doctoring.
Cricket has long ceased to be a game over 22 yards, and become one that is played over 22 inches (or whatever is the size of your television set). This has already seen competitive matches in countries like Canada, UAE, Singapore, and Morocco which are hardly the bastions of the game. ‘Have television, will play’ is the motto, and it is in keeping with this that the IPL move - despite the tears being shed over it - appears to be
inevitable. The security concerns have merely hastened the process of an international league conceived in India being taken around the world.
That is why the franchisees are not particularly fussed. Firstly, there are enough Indians in most cricket playing countries who can fill a stadium. Then the Shah Rukh Khans and Preity Zintas can strut and wave for the cameras just as effectively from the Wanderers or the Oval. And audiences are just as likely to take to the mixed goodies that come with
having players from different countries in the same team.
Much as Bangalore loves Rahul Dravid, the crowd this year would be more keen on watching Kevin Pietersen. Kolkata worship Sourav Ganguly, but it is Brendon McCullum who sets EdenGardens alight. The IPL loyalties are more individual than team loyalties, more about continuous action regardless of who is providing it. The spin doctors got it wrong the first time. They should have focused on the boundaries (geographical) being erased rather than new ones being drawn.
Cricket, by its nature, is conservative. But Twenty20 is only incidentally about cricket, and therefore is under no obligation to respect hoary traditions. This is not such a bad thing if the more things change (in Twenty20), the more they remain the same (in Test cricket).
Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore