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T20 is for the masses. Test cricket is for purists.
by Boria Majumdar
Apr 26, 2008
As we get into the second week of IPL, several critics have expressed concern over the quality of cricket played. Some like Mukul Kesavan have gone on to label the standard of cricket played so far as ‘low grade rubbish’. Such labeling is a result of completely missing the point. Anyone who watched Symonds blast his way to a 45 ball century against the Rajasthan Royals or Shane Warne fashion a heroic last over win hitting Symonds for consecutive sixes in that very contest against the Deccan Chargers will agree that the quality of cricket on display was the very best this format can offer. To expect that the T-20 format will provide spectators with the kind of intense cricket Test cricket often provides us with, is to expect first class comfort in a world traveler cabin.

The IPL, it is time to accept once and for all, is competing not with Test cricket but with the Saas Bahu serials in India’s national imaginary. Its essential target is the non-purist cricket viewer who wants to watch boundaries and sixes and not a classic defensive stroke against a viciously swinging ball. For this constituency of our cricket viewing populous, it is pure and unadulterated drama, no re takes, no pre written script, no set dialogues, simple spontaneous excitement that gives it an edge over the soaps. This explains the large number of women and children from the country flocking to see IPL matches.

Just as cheerleaders are anathema to Test match viewing, classic cricket is anathema to the IPL and T-20 at large. And more than anyone else, the players playing know it best. This explains Saurav Ganguly’s repeated assertions in the pre match press briefing at Chennai that Test cricket was, and continues to be, the ultimate challenge for any cricketer.

However, this does not deter T-20 from becoming popular. It’s a different format with its own rules, own qualities and own problems. And the kind of fanfare it has generated clearly proves that it is here to stay. For purists, who perhaps prefer watching a solitary Test match to a month long T-20 contest, the failure of the IPL, unfortunately, has become an obsession. It is as if its failure will ensure that cricket is left un-corrupted. While such sentiment has its place, it is time to accept that Test cricket is too far entrenched in our psyche to lose out to an IPL. For example, the fiery Ishant Sharma spell against Ricky Ponting at Perth, which helped India create history, can never stand to lose its place in cricket’s hallowed pantheon.

What IPL is to Test cricket, mainstream bollywood is to art cinema. While Ray will never become irrelevant to the serious cine watcher, the slew of films churned out in the world’s biggest film factory, Bollywood, also has its constituency of fans. And it is only foolish to undermine its growing currency. At the same time, it is important to fathom that there’s only a miniscule section that manages to traverse both worlds. Kesavan and Co, it is apparent, don’t belong to this category.

A final point is in order here. For far too long we have undermined the popular in favour of the niche and the pure. If courtesy IPL, we can ensure that 35% English players are drawn to Indian cricket’s riches, it is a fact to celebrate and not berate. The cricket world has turned a full cycle and what was a cricketing backwater till the early 1980s is now mainstream. The IPL provides the final seal to this transformation.

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