I’ve not yet sat down and watched an IPL game all the way through this year.
I didn’t mean it to work out this way. There were things I wanted to see, such as Rahul Dravid’s swansong before he sinks gratefully into the rocking chair of retirement, Jesse Ryder’s timeout from New Zealand cricket after another boozy misadventure, the ridiculous ongoing KKR soap opera and gauging how badly they are doing by the point at which Shahrukh Khan stops turning up to their matches.
I have caught a few passages of play here and there, but the thing that’s struck me most, though, are the uncomfortable juxtapositions that have been occurring lately. One could even call them examples of dramatic irony. On the day that Chris Gayle went ballistic for Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy versus Pune Warriors – a scorching innings of 81 that included five sixes in one over off the hapless Rahul Sharma – Shivnarine Chanderpaul was determinedly grinding out the runs at Port of Spain to steady the Windies ship after a diabolical start where their first three wickets were lost for only 38 runs. These two innings, Gayle’s and Chanderpaul’s, and the 9,000 miles that separated them, represent the fault-line that divides the game. Sometimes, it feels as though you must be on one side or the other; as a fan, straddling that divide is uncomfortable, if not impossible.
The West Indies could have done with Gayle in their ranks during their hour of need, but he is where he is due to a chain of circumstances not entirely of his own making. In the form of the West Indies Cricket Board, it seems this unstoppable force managed to find its immovable object. There have been encouraging noises coming out of the Caribbean lately regarding a rapprochement between the two, but it seems wrong that Gayle should be in India while Chanderpaul takes the burden of his country’s Test hopes on his shoulders.
Kevin Pietersen too has entertained, but he has brought with him his own controversy, the way that only KP – genius, mould-breaker, shit-magnet – can do. He got himself into a bit of hot water the other week when he ascribed English attitudes to the IPL as jealousy. There was some confusion as to where and when (and if) the “jealousy” word was uttered, since Pietersen seems to have done more than one interview that day, but it provoked a fair amount of blustering and sputtering in the UK press. Coming so soon after his 151 against Sri Lanka at Colombo, lauded as one of the finest Test innings ever seen, and while English county cricketers ply their trade in freezing wet conditions on seaming spring wickets, it’s been another stark and discombobulating contrast. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto, and we’re not at The Oval freezing our extremities off, either, while waving arthritically to the pavilion for another jumper and a pair of hand warmers.
Judging by all the tub-thumping that occurs on Twitter and forums this time every year, there doesn’t seem much room for doubt in this brave new world – you’re either a clued-up progressive who moves with the times and accepts the IPL and all its various copycats as a logical, entertaining result of the sport’s snowballing commercialisation, or you’re derided as an antediluvian dinosaur (the term used to be “purist”, but you’re more likely now to be branded simply a snob) if you dare to venture a preference for the longer form. Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket has been cited many times in comparison as a similar gamechanger – once the dust had settled players were better paid, scoring rates in Tests became faster, the world did not end – but I’m resistant to the simplistic view that history repeats itself. True, both tournaments had their genesis through a desire for money and power, but the riches and influence have changed hands since Packer’s time. The lure of a large pay-cheque for a few week’s work continues to provide a headache for county and national administrators when it comes to fixture clashes and player availability. It’s an issue that’s grumbled about but continues more or less to be tiptoed around, lest the inevitable “restraint of trade” threat raises its head. You cannot blame Chris Gayle for helping his bank account by plying his trade in a variety of T20 tournaments. Hell, he’s great entertainment, and he’s making the most of the opportunities available to him. But he will be helping his country – and cricket – more when the WICB allows him back into the Test fold rather than treating him like a rebellious teenager.
The IPL isn’t Packer Version 2: it is less revolution than evolution, and whether it will prove a dead end in that respect is still too early to tell. Like the Titanic, it could end up being sunk eventually by the iceberg of indifference, a victim of its own hubris and bloated hype, as viewing figures and advertising drop off. Whether there will be any pickings left for cricket after it’s done pursuing its scorched earth policy through aggressive scheduling and self-interest is the main concern.
The death of Test cricket has been predicted before, and fair enough, it is still with us, but one could also say it’s these continually raised concerns that have reminded us of how much in the way of tradition and history we stand to lose. The erosion, though, has now reached a point of insidious acceleration. Pietersen was bought during the transfer window for this year’s IPL by Delhi in a deal reportedly worth US$2.3 million. For becoming the number one Test team, England received a cheque for US$175,000. Add to that the increasing frequency of two-Test series and the cancellation – sorry, “postponement” until 2017 – of the ICC Test Championship, and while it’s not quite barbarians-at-the-gates stuff, Test cricket’s fortifications could definitely do with some strengthening.
I do enjoy the IPL, albeit in moderation – like the coke-snorting yuppie who gatecrashes your party and drinks all your champagne, it does tend to go on a bit. I’m all for embracing change and accept that the game must adapt in this current economic climate. But some things are so valuable, you cannot measure them in money, and you cannot tear down a load-bearing beam in your house because the woodworm have taken a chomp at it and it doesn’t quite fit in with your snazzy new decor. It’s all about balance. Sure, you could probably make a home in the rubble if you needed to, but would you really want to live there?
Eoin Morgan won’t be accompanying the England squad on their forthcoming tour of Sri Lanka.
While Kevin Pietersen suffered the lion’s share of the critics’ scrutiny throughout the just-concluded UAE tour (has there ever been a modern-day England batsman laden down with so many ridiculously high expectations?) he at least redeemed himself with a return to runs and the old KP swagger. Morgan failed consistently in all formats. So, in the Test series – an ignominious 3-0 loss – did every one else who purported to be a batsman, but unlike Pietersen and Strauss, the slack the selectors were willing to extend to Morgan could only extend so far.
The wafts outside off stump; the dilemma of whether to go forward or back; that increasingly-exaggerated trigger movement of a man lowering his privates into a scalding bath: this is a man who is in desperate need of runs and confidence. Andy Flower has signalled his disapproval of Morgan’s likely decision to honour his IPL contract, but whether it’s a 20-over match in the steamy heat of Bangalore before 40,000 screaming fans, or a cold April day at Taunton, the bloke just needs to feel bat on ball. Morgan’s IPL stint last year had less bearing on his selection for that summer than his 193 for the Lions against Sri Lanka: an innings in which predicted shoo-in Ravi Bopara (who turned down an IPL contract) could only manage 17.
Morgan’s non-selection for the upcoming Tests in Galle and Colombo, however, does signal a pragmatic ruthlessness on the part of the selectors. For once this is not a change born of panic, or a we’re-making-this-up-as-we-go merry-go-round of addle-brained chop and change. Perhaps taking a leaf from Australia’s book, the England management have a goal in view and a plan in mind. Nurture where necessary; jettison the expendable.
In Australia’s case this meant axing Simon Katich from Tests, giving Cameron White the bum’s rush from T20s – both as captain and as player – and ending Ricky Ponting’s ODI career. Regardless of the seeming unfairness of a couple of these decisions, you can’t say new chief selector John Inverarity does things by halves. It’s an approach that has borne already ripening fruit, with a potent pace attack comprising new blood and rejuvenated older campaigners, a gritty opener in Ed Cowan to complement Dave Warner’s freewheeling pyrotechnics, and new keeper Matthew Wade putting pressure on the increasingly out-of-favour Brad Haddin.
India’s future development remains stuck in neutral so long as their selectors refuse to make such bold moves; you get the feeling their re-ascendancy to the top would be under way already if they had a Flower or Inverarity at the helm.
Of course, as far as England and Eoin Morgan go, one wonders whether the IPL is really the demon it’s made out to be. Runs for Morgan for his Kolkata team could come in useful; England after all have a T20 world title to defend in September.
I’ve never been one of Ravi Bopara’s biggest cheerleaders, but I do think it’s right and fair he is given another opportunity, and while Samit Patel will doubtless lose out to Ravi for the no 6 position, his inclusion in the squad signals recognition of a renewed commitment towards playing for England at the highest level and to leaving the hotel buffet and the Bounty bars the hell alone. I liked Samit’s little cameo in the final T20 which included a lusty six back over the head of Saeed Ajmal; I liked too the clap on the back from KP as he went off. The team were apparently informed after this match who would be going to Sri Lanka; by this point Morgan must have known his time was up.
Perhaps a 50 in the ODIs or the T20s could have saved him. Perhaps not. It’s been a back-asswards tour; players noted for their ability against spin (Morgan and Bell) have failed and England were whitewashed in the format in which they are currently the world’s best. They then proceeded to give expectations another hefty kicking when they clean-swept the ODIs, a format the opposition were expected to favour. By all accounts spirits were high when the England team landed at Heathrow today; that might be tempered slightly when, as is most likely, South Africa wrest away that number one spot when they take on New Zealand in the 3-Test series starting next week.
Sri Lanka would seem the easier prospect after Pakistan. England will have momentum, two warm-up games and no Saeed Ajmal to keep them awake at nights. But after this series I’m predicting nothing, only that Andy Flower has no doubt planned for every eventuality.
I am having a bit of trouble getting into the IPL this year. Blogging cheerleaders aside, it hasn’t really grabbed me. God knows I’ve tried to take an interest, but considering match 67 has just been played and the competition is still in the group stages, well, that is quite frankly taking the piss. And folks complained about the World Cup being long.
Of the players participating, the gulf in talent and ability between the internationals and younger, inexperienced players seems to have widened. The likes of Gilchrist, Gayle and Sehwag have produced entertaining innings, sure, but off such piss-poor bowling that you feel impelled to append an asterisk next to their innings with attendant qualification: “filthy full tosses; dropped twice; given out lbw when ball would have missed second set of stumps”.
Everyone seems to have changed teams as well, which doesn’t help. I suppose this is less of an issue if your allegiance is based primarily on regional criteria; but for the rest of us it is pretty farking confusing. And from a purely aesthetic stand-point, you know the competition has reached the point of no redemption when the Kolkata Knight Riders’ team colours look positively restrained compared to the rest. Christ, Kochi… my eyes!
If Test cricket is the sport’s Grand Old Man, then T20 is the kid with ADHD whose parents maintain is “special” but who really just needs Ritalin and a slap upside the head, Sreesanth-style.
From one pointless competition to another: Leicestershire have now lost five of their six CB40 games this season. The latest and most comprehensive battering came at the hands of Warwickshire this Sunday past, and this was a Warwickshire sans the services of Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, and Chris Woakes – not that their absence made the slightest iota of difference as to the result.
Not all the arguments against the 40-over format are entirely fair, in my opinion: the one that says we should be playing 50-over cricket to develop our players for ODIs doesn’t really wash – South Africa don’t have a domestic 50-over game and they seemed quite decent at the old One Day stuff last time I checked (propensity for clutching defeat from the jaws of victory aside).
Crowd numbers at Grace Road have been noticeably good, but the uncomfortable feeling among the faithful is that the Foxes have written off this competition already. Granted, it is prohibitively and ridiculously difficult to progress to the semi-finals – first-placed team in each of the three groups go through plus the best second-placed side – and given Leicestershire’s record in this form of the game, we were always likely to be on a hiding to sweet proverbial.
But the tendency to rest key players has not gone down well with many fans, though one must look at this pragmatically and given that we do not have a large squad this year, players who are carrying niggles must be rested and the CB40 series has obviously become “designated recovery time”.
Pragmatism, though, can only take you so far in trying to swallow the sight of an inexperienced second-string bowling attack being pasted round the ground by Varun Chopra and Will Porterfield. Leicestershire are now second bottom in their table above Scotland, the only team they have beaten so far. With any hope of advancement well and truly gone, I guess they can stop now even pretending to give a tinker’s cuss about it.
Problem is, the spectators could very well stop caring, too.
That Leicestershire seem to be putting all their eggs into the Championship and T20 basket is understandable, certainly in the first instance, considering we were in with a chance of promotion last season.
But the fact we still seem to have our hands cupped under the arse of the T20 goose waiting for it to lay the golden egg is rather more worrying. Last year, the egg ended up on another part of the club’s anatomy entirely when unrealistic expectations went unmet to the tune of a £403k loss. FPT20 receipts were £55K down on budget.
Granted, times are tough for all of us, financially. But T20 seems now to have jumped the shark. The IPL is too wrapped up in its own razzmatazz to realise this yet, but it will. Viewing figures are reportedly down 20 percent on last year.
The windfall-that-never-came bit most counties on the arse last year. Leicestershire recently renegotiated the covenant on its Grace Road ground with Leicester City Council to “give some tangible security to its bankers in respect of working capital facilities”. Not long after this, new chairman Paul Haywood stated that he wanted to increase Leicestershire’s playing budget. The club are currently in negotiations to sign Indian all-rounder Irfan Pathan for this year’s T20 campaign.
Pathan is no longer a regular in the India team, but has acquitted himself pretty well in the IPL for Delhi; he will not come cheap. Financially the club are stretched to the limit. You do not need to be Alan Sugar to deduce that throwing big money after one player who may or may not make a difference is a gamble we can ill afford to take.
But as long as the T20 circus continues, we will all keep following that rainbow, praying for that one big pay day. There is one piece of good news. India will be at Grace Road on the August Bank Holiday Monday for a T20 game. Tickets are reportedly sold out. Given that Leicestershire’s advertising in the past for tour matches has been almost non-existent, this is good news, but then you’d have to think if they couldn’t sell out a game featuring some of the best players in the world to a population with a large Indian contingent, then you’d have to be doing something wrong.
The India match aside, financially and results-wise it looks like being a case of same-old for Leicestershire, given there are the same amount of T20 matches this year as last. The T20 novelty has gone, and apathy has set in.
There is something else that traverses quickly through the innards of a goose, and it isn’t always an egg made of gold.
One is high maintenance, mired in controversy, conflict and off-field dramas that affect on-field performances. The other is Lara Bingle.
I’m talking about the Kolkata Knight Riders, my IPL “franchise” of choice, the team I nailed my colours to when the bloated behemoth that is the IPL bandwagon first rumbled into view in 2008.
Parallels between KKR and the Bingle imbroglio are inescapable. Back in 2006 Michael Clarke was introduced to Bingle on some reality TV show and she was probably wearing something tight and low-cut and Pup’s brain most likely fizzled, sparked, shut down and started playing that Wurlitzer organ music you hear at circuses. He fell, and fell hard. KKR has a take-me-to-bed line-up that bypasses the brain and goes straight for the groin region. Chris Gayle; Ricky Ponting; Brendon McCullum; Ishant Sharma when he still bowled at 145kph. As the eye-popping auction prices registered and the line-up fell into place it was like a tongue in the ear, hot breath on the neck and a whispered “Where the bloody hell are ya?” That team for the first match was my Fingal Spit; to say I was besotted was like a man wandering into the world’s greatest strip club and being told you can have this, you can have it all, even though, looking back now, the girls had serial killer eyes, the music playing was Combichrist’s “This Shit Will Fuck You Up” and the bouncers looked like they wanted to throw my still warm body out of a fast-moving vehicle.
Brendon McCullum’s orgy of hitting in that first match at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium was the sweaty, frantic consummation of my absolute infatuation. A six-fuelled marathon of boundaries scored and deliveries dispatched to every part of the ground, it was T20’s equivalent of the greatest fuck you have ever had, or ever will have. It went on and on. Parts of me eventually started aching. It was so good it left me feeling like a spent, limp dishrag. It was so good I found myself thinking: “This could be it. This could be the one.”
It was always going to be tough for things to carry on this way. The first match had been enough to convince me to let the team move in, bringing its yapping Pomeranian and leaving its feminine hygiene products scattered around my bathroom. It took a while for me to realise, as KKR’s star fizzled and dimmed, as the team stumbled from one inept defeat to another, that there were things about my chosen amour that could, let us say, prove to be matters for concern and that may even, in time, jeopardize our relationship. But, like the vacuous reality behind the facade that emerges when Bingle opens her mouth in interviews, it was easy to ignore that all was not a bed of roses. Besides, we looked smoking hot together: everyone knew KKR was packed brimful of superstars; they were the “it” team, and surely it could only be a matter of time before success was theirs again. Wrong: they never even made the semis.
2009 was when the shit really hit the fan. It was the year of meltdowns, player mutinies, Fake IPL Player and Sourav Ganguly throwing hissy fits over anything that offended his sense of self-importance. The team changed captains more times than Bingle changes her managers. Fake IPL Player was, of course, the Brendon Fevola shower photo: a muck-raking deluge of truths, half truths and innuendo that hinted at just enough unpleasant goings-on to give me grave misgivings about our future together. I, like Michael Clarke, began to feel “lost and confused”. I was now beginning to realize that my team was beautiful, bat-shit crazy and baggage-laden. And maybe even, in the cold light of day, actually not that hot.
As if things couldn’t get even more ridiculous, on the eve of IPL 3 I learn that like, Bingle with her shady Sydney connections, KKR have signed a new shirt sponsor which happens to be a company whose owners are implicated in a murder investigation. And the worst thing is the new colours are gold and purple. Purple. For christ’s sake, no one looks good in purple.
But, though I should know better, I am besotted still. Dav Whatmore has been brought in as coach to replace John Buchanan who along with all his cod-psychological bullshit has been given the heave-ho. Wasim Akram – WASIM FUCKING AKRAM – is bowling coach, sorry, “mentor”. Chris Gayle will be available for most of the tournament, Owais Shah has been brought in from Delhi to bolster the batting and Brendon McCullum and Shane Bond will no doubt fly out on the first flights available after fulfilling their international commitments.
It is memories of McCullum’s 73-ball 158* in that match at Bangalore that keeps me coming back for more. Thinking about it even now gives me sweaty palms and reaches parts of me other IPL teams cannot.
So, I am not yet ready to call in the removal vans, drop-kick the Pomeranian off the balcony or demand the return of my 4.7-carat loyalty to this team. The future will undoubtedly hold more scandals, more meltdowns, more player revolts; but all I have to do is imagine McCullum’s incendiary innings and all reason and sense of reality goes out the window, my brain fizzles, sparks and shuts down and starts playing that Wurlitzer organ music you hear at circuses.
Just when you thought the IPL couldn’t get any more ridiculous, just when your patience was already stretched to breaking point by strategy breaks, DLF maximums, Citi moments of success and yet another piss-poor performance by the Kolkata Knight Riders, here comes Jezza Coney with a serious, understated and spectacularly well-timed look at the inner workings of the scoreboard at Kingsmead during the match between the Chennai Super Kings and the Deccan Chargers:
My favourite bit is when he makes doubly sure that the bloke who’s “worked the tins” since 1970 doesn’t actually live there. Thank christ for that!