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Impossible is nothing
by Rahul Namjoshi
Apr 24, 2008
Impossible is nothing

By Rahul Namjoshi – DreamCricket Columnist

The stadium was like a boiling cauldron. Parthiv Patel had given a decent start to the Chennai Superstars in their match against Mumbai Indians - the imagination of the name-search team appeared to have touched new highs with the only competition to this masterstroke coming from the super creative team that dreamt up the ‘Youngistan’ slogan for a soft drink.

Nehra got Patel to edge one to the ‘raunchy’ keeper. Tony Cozier later apologized saying that the name was pronounced as Ronki. The stadium went quiet. As Patel walked to the dugout, there was a huge roar from the crowd. Anyone passing Chepauk would believe that SRT had come to bat.

Michael ‘Mr. Cricket’ Hussey would have never dreamt of getting a loud boisterous reception reserved for the likes of SRT or MSD at the Chepauk. His previous whirlwind innings was fresh in the minds of the ‘home’ spectators and they fervently wanted an encore.

Matthew Hayden had made his views about his love for India very clear in a not-so-recent interview. He implied that hitting a six in an Indian stadium gave him a sadistic (this word is the writer’s addition to be fair to Hayden, but the tone of the interview had intended it) pleasure as he loved to hear the crowd get into a stunned silence. An entire stadium chanting ‘we want sixer’ when he was facing Abhishek Nayar would have overwhelmed even the burly left hander.

Matthew Hayden under-edged a clear catch to the keeper off Nayar and stood his ground. The umpire turned down the appeal. One would have loved to ask Dhoni about this incident in the post-match conference. One has heard enough criticism from the Mumbai fan of Harbhajan Singh for under bowling himself and Sanath Jayasuriya under playing as well.

Indians have been brought up on a staple diet of Mahabharata stories for centuries now and what seems to be happening is a reality show that is putting them in Arjuna’s position of dilemma. How can one fight one’s own people?

Welcome to the world of IPL.

You may love it, you may hate it but surely, ignoring it doesn’t seem to be an option. So much has been written about it, every aspect has been discussed threadbare, every possible attempt made to pull it down.

There are two broad themes that deride the league. The first one is regarding the underlying game. T20 is caricature of cricket, the batters reigning supreme, the bowlers being present to make up the numbers (just like the alleged ‘free passes’ that are distribute to fill the stadium), ordinary players getting undue importance over the class acts, domestic and for that matter test cricket being threatened by this ludicrous creation of a cloning experiment gone horribly wrong.

The other argument is about the league itself. Will it be able to replicate the EPL by building team loyalty? Until now, Indians ate, drank and lived cricket only if the ‘national’ team was playing. The financial feasibility of the huge investments made by the ‘obscenely’ rich industrialists and movie stars was also questioned. There are many more specific issues that were raised.

I agree with some of the fears/objections and have raised a few issues myself. But what has been surprising is the vehemence with which the IPL is being slammed by one and all. From a cricketing perspective ODI cricket which was panned at its beginning has undoubtedly brought about a sea change in test cricket as well. It has inarguably brought more skills to the game than what were seen fifty years back. Higher fielding standards, better running between the wickets, aggressive and some times unorthodox style of play, better fitness have all helped Test cricket as well. T20 arguably can have some positive impact on the way One day cricket is played. As far as an average T20 player being seen as a better player than a great Test player is concerned, a Bevan was never considered a better player than a Steve Waugh and a Yuvraj Singh still wants to prove himself on the Test stage despite being an outstanding ODI and T20 player. The lower prices fetched by a Ponting or a Hayden are not indicative of their value but just inconsistencies of a nascent market.

When does any game or a product go through an overhaul? Not when the market is hot and the product is selling. It starts when the product can’t be sold with the time tested attributes. The need for any change originates from customer fatigue. The marketer wants to create some excitement by changing the packaging or by changing some attributes of the product. This is basic marketing. When Test cricket started churning out dull, boring draws time and again, the need for something more attractive something that gave instant gratification was felt. ODI cricket was born. Maybe it was more of a lucky break. Maybe it wasn’t a conscious decision by the powers that were, to promote ODIs. But it clicked.

From a commercial perspective ODI cricket did take a few years to pick up. It was looked down upon by most cricketers as a less serious version of the game and treated as such. India was slow in warming up to this form of the game. Any way India wasn’t relevant then. With the advent of television in India in the 80’s and the World Cup victory in 1983, followed by the Benson & Hedges triumph in 1985 the arrival of ODI cricket on the sporting scene was complete. Dalmiya’s aggressive promotion of the game on the subcontinent in the 90’s along with high TRP ratings of ODI cricket brought the first signs of money in the sport.

Lack of innovation in ODI cricket had started to create spectator disinterest. It was facing a mid over crisis. Life styles were changing. People were not ready to spend a full day watching a match that had a bit of predictability about it. It was time for change.

T20 was an English innovation. It has been in existence for a few years now. India (BCCI) was indifferent to this version till its unexpected victory at the T20 championships (let us be politically correct by not calling it T20 WC). It was another cycle replicating the upsurge of ODI cricket around 30 years back. An added threat of a parallel T20 domestic competition that recruited a lot of international stars (most of them retired veterans) in the form of ICL, had to be faced. An entry of the Indian marketing monolith in this version of the game had to have huge repercussions. It has.

True, T20 may be unfriendly to a bowler with the batter being given a blank cheque to attack. It may impact the development of a young cricketer adversely. The version itself might be a death knell for ODI cricket rather than Test cricket. So it is not yet time for an obituary of Test cricket.

The other objections against the IPL have been the inherent flaws in the league format. The illustrations mentioned earlier in the piece about Hayden and Hussey give a small but potent indication of team loyalty being built. How the organizers manage to create a fan base from non participating towns and cities is a moot question. But surely a start has been made. The TRPs of the matches have been very high but one has to check the sustainability of these ratings in the days to come.

The IPL as a concept has been sold to the team owners as a 10 year investment and it has always been known that teams will manage to break even in a few years. The various consortiums who have bought the teams obviously had some feasibility studies done before committing large sums into this venture. The ‘obscene’ show of wealth by buying teams in a poverty stricken country like India is nothing but an investment that the buyers think will generate handsome returns for them. It is a business venture that can fail. But one has to remember that success or failure can’t be measured from the need to distribute free tickets. Cricket being an amateur game at heart and letting it be that way is an oft used argument. Coming from journalists who themselves have gained immensely from the commercialization of the sport, it wears a bit thin.

Agreed, one is pained to see the camera focus on SRK doing his simian steps after every boundary hit by the Knightriders. One is pained by the overdose of movie stars and dumb presenters. Style over substance has been noticed in quite a few aspects of IPL. Sometimes it reminds one of a curry with too much spice. Admittedly, there are a lot of deficiencies in the concept.

I am not trying to extol the virtues of T20 and IPL as a concept. Nor am I suggesting that it will enjoy sustained success. But IPL has offered a somewhat balanced, realistic and practical approach to change. Most human beings are afraid of change. Status quo is always the preferred option. Maybe its time to tick another option.

 
More Views by Rahul Namjoshi
  A letter from one Rahul to another
  L'affaire Roebuck
  Mumbai crowned Ranji Champs for 38th time
  Ode to a champion
  Impossible is nothing
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