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IPL's sleight of hand
by Suresh Menon
May 27, 2008
By Suresh Menon

Much has been made by the IPL of the camaraderie among players (the tournament has been a boon to spin doctors who, in the manner suggested by the poet see a 'World in a grain of sand and a Heaven in a Wild flower'), yet the possibility of the reverse happening has not been articulated. Pictures of Ricky Ponting and Murali Karthick celebrating together for the Kolkata team after a wicket fell made all the newspapers in the country in the early stages of the tournament.

"Such camaraderie will see a change in the atmosphere when India play Australia next," gushed reports fed by the spin doctors, "Indians and Australians who played out a torrid series in Australia have come to understand each other, and a friendly series is in the offing." Variations of the theme were played in the media; television channels acting as PR agents of the IPL picked it up quickly.

If playing together brings naturally opposed forces together, it is only fair to assume that playing separately would force apart members of a larger team. Yet, when such a thing was demonstrated forcibly by India player Harbhajan Singh slapping India player Sreeshanth, the PR men (who said there are no spinners in India? They are all employed by the IPL) put a positive spin to it saying that the story was a fine example of how the cricket board showed it would tolerate no bad behaviour. This kind of sleight of hand has been one of the features of the IPL.

I think it was Rahul Dravid who first articulated the problem of crowd support, or rather its opposite. After batting in Mumbai, he said, "The silence that greeted a boundary was a strange new experience while playing in India." The Mumbai crowd, till the other day, known as India's most knowledgeable has emerged so partisan as to be positively embarrassing. When Punjab skipper Yuvraj Singh made a sarcastic reference to their 'support' for him, saying that he was an India player and entitled to crowd support anywhere in the country, the spin doctors were quick to pronounce judgement on that, interpreting it for lesser mortals.

"This shows that city-based teams have come to stay. An India player will be cheered when he plays for India; but if he is in the opposing city team, he will be treated like an outsider."

Thus Dravid can expect to be cheered in Bangalore, but not in Mumbai; Ganguly in Kolkata but not in Chennai and so on. Despite the spin doctors' assurances, I am not sure if this is a particularly good development from a bigger perspective. Say that, and you will get the IPL to talk about the English Premier League where national and club loyalties clash more vigorously.

Much was also made of the fact that playing with established stars would quicken the pace of education of the youngsters. Venugopal Rao, for example, seems to have converted himself into a big hitter thanks to his technique of using a squash ball in the batting glove - a trick he learnt from teammate Adam Gilchrist in Hyderabad.

The impact of the IPL will be felt over a long period. Only one thing can be said with any certainty, and that is cricket in India will never be the same again. Some of the changes will be good, some not so good. But when the IPL tries so desperately to put a spin on everything, you begin to feel like Emerson (the writer, not the tennis player), who said, "The louder he spoke about his honesty, the faster we counted the spoons."
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