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By Suresh Menon
The remarkable thing about the IPL is that those who came to scoff have remained scoffers, and those who thought (or were paid to think) that it was the greatest thing in cricket since sandwiches at tea, have remained believers. Four years is a long time in which to build a bridge. And there has been no attempt to build one since there is as little point in preaching to the converted as there is to changing the minds of the unconvinced.
The cricket board's wonderful gesture of a one-time bonus to the players means that criticism from them will be inaudible if not muted altogether. This may or may not have been part of the plan – it is easy to get cynical about the board – but it certainly is a bonus in return.
Four years ago the BCCI oversold the IPL, granting it the kind of virtues that might have won it a Nobel Prize had it been a living, breathing human being. It will bring nations together, it said, and cut down sledging and poor player behaviour since you cannot share dressing rooms in Chennai and then shout and scream at one another in Sydney or Cape Town.
Fan bases are built on fan loyalty, and the IPL will change the way we support our cities and interact with our heroes, went another argument.
The game lasts less than four hours, and is entertainment during working days in a country where watching films is the greatest entertainment. We are giving the punters a choice: the implication being that apart from bringing nations together, the matches would also bring families together. The IPL was almost Karan Johar-like in its devotion to bringing families together.
None of these wonderful things came to pass; only the terminally naive believed they would, anyway. Money can't buy love.
The message from its fifth edition is that the IPL is, for the moment, too big to fail. And the country will have to accept it like it accepts corruption and the need to enroll an unborn child to get ahead in the race for school admissions. We raise our voices occasionally, but in the end we accept.
Meanwhile, the fan base of the game itself shrinks. Gautam Gambhir plays for Delhi, then Kolkata, and so when he plays for India it feels like he is merely turning out for another franchise. When even top players pull out of Test series in order to be fit for the IPL, they kill something in the fan. Indifference destroys interest whether in love or in cricket.
It is not the money alone that is corrupting. At the end of five tournaments is the ideal time for stock-taking. How has the IPL benefited Indian cricket? Where do we go from here? Have the negatives overwhelmed? Will the BCCI have the courage to undertake an honest survey among the stakeholders of the game in India ?
We might learn something then; it might even convert a few die-hards on either side of the IPL divide. Introspect or stagnate.