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Oversell and overkill are close cousins
by Suresh Menon
Apr 22, 2008
By Suresh Menon - DreamCricket Columnist

One of the memorable quotes following the Emergency in India, when civil rights were suspended in the mid-1970s, came from L K Advani, former Deputy Prime Minister. Speaking of the media which caved in without a fight he said, “They were asked to bend, but they crawled.” A similar reaction - but at the other end of the scale - can now be seen in the media’s reaction to the IPL. Perhaps asked to merely support the IPL, they have gone overboard and speak only in superlatives.

The IPL is the tomato (‘is it a fruit or a vegetable?’) of the television world - no one is sure whether it is sport or entertainment; obviously someone has already called it ‘sportainment’. The roles behind the scenes overlap distressingly. The secretary of the cricket board is the Commissioner of the IPL; at least two members of the governing council, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri are also television commentators for the tournament, the treasurer of the Board owns the Chennai team.

This seems appropriate since Bollywood - an important element of the IPL - revels in double and triple roles for its leading stars in the movies. If anyone has even mentioned clash of interests, it has been drowned in the noise and hype of the tournament. Objectivity may be old fashioned, but if the ‘independent’ media act as marketing managers for the IPL (despite Lalit Modi treating them like the dust beneath his chariot wheels), can the average fan be blamed for getting confused?

Remember that powerful last scene in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where “the creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, but already it was impossible to say which was which” ? It is the same with the IPL’s public relations and the ‘independent’ media’s. Where is the dissenting voice? Not dissent for the sake of dissent, but a perspective that is not trying to be Olympian - faster, higher, stronger - with its adjectives and verbs and adverbs. Surely it must have irritated somebody that Shah Rukh Khan was making a silly ass of himself or that Preity Zinta was overdoing the cute stuff?

Perhaps it is the nature of Twenty20 to be larger than life size. Still, it is one thing to see the insider Ravi Shastri have apoplexy while introducing teams and players and telling the world on television that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It is quite another to hear a Tony Cozier do the same, although to the credit of this veteran, he did sound uncomfortable while interviewing the ‘stunt man’ Akshay Kumar who told us that he was in China and Australia for recent movie shoots.

Count the superlatives next time. Do ex-cricketers with enviable international records have to tell us that Brendon McCullum hit an incredible, unbelievable, awe-inspiring, glorious six over third man, when all he did was attempt to drive to the on-side and edge the ball? Does the IPL need its commentators to exaggerate so much? Can’t a lucky shot be a lucky shot?

Twenty20 is an attempt to make cricket an inclusive game - and to that extent, it has been a delight to see the crowds at the various venues. I am sure the franchisees would rather buy whole chunks of tickets themselves to give them away and put bums on seats rather than show swathes of empty chairs on television.

There is no doubt that it is an arresting spectacle on television, just so long as you suspend your cricketing judgement for the period. My son, who is a classical pianist is an obsessed heavy metal fan too, and there is no reason why those who swear by Test cricket cannot enjoy Twenty20. But I suspect it is easier for the Test fan to enjoy Twenty20 than it is for the latter to appreciate Test cricket.

I have enjoyed the cricket, but can we have less of the breathlessness, the inanities of the franchisees and the sight of the TV person asking an umpire which team he thinks would win the match? Oversell and overkill are close cousins.

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