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?

8 Responses to “Gamechangers”

  1. Rizwan says:

    The arguements for the impact of IPL on endangering Test match cricket has lost conviction for me, it’s almost as if we are looking for easy scapegoates who we can point fingers at. There are some very complex reasons why attendance has been decreasing, and it isn’t only to do with the IPL. As a matter of fact, the attendance in test matches have been going down well before the invention of IPL, even India-Pakistan contests lost their bite, and for me because they kept playing each other every year between 2004-2007.

  2. Jatender Koul says:

    Hi, i have recently started reading your Blog post it was mentioned by one of your friends in his articles in Cricinfo.
    I really like what you write.Keep it Up

  3. legsidefilth says:

    Cheers, Jatender; thanks for popping by.

    Fair points, Rizwan. ODIs and high ticket prices have to take their share of the blame as well, along with quality/frequency of the opposition. There’s definitely a school of thought that says the future of cricket will be a 2-format one: Tests and T20s. No one ever seems to cite ODIs as their favourite form of the game…

    Instant gratification versus the long game – I like both (prefer the latter), but not when one is being wielded as a blunt instrument in the hands of a power-hungry body, just because it can.

  4. Mandeep says:

    Great blog you have got here, i was too reffered by someone else.

  5. Rizwan says:

    In addition to prices, I think scheduling of tests must also be heavily blamed, how can you expect crowd for a test match starting Monday? Look at WI vs Aus now, its happened too often India too.

  6. Luke says:

    Rizwan I agree with your point but I think the bigger problem is always trying to fit 3 formats of cricket into every series. Personally I loathe 20/20 but do not wish to deprive others of enjoyment. What I have a problem with is maintaining such a franchise model to the international arena. People can have their IPL, Champions League and whatever else; but stop playing international 20/20.
    2 test series follow 5 or 7 ODI series with no apparent meaning, the test Championship is postponed for 5 years; the ICC while pledging that test criket is the pinnacle act in ways contrary to such a statement.
    It does seem 50 over cricket is dying but never before has a form of cricket been so continually tinkered with so people don’t even understand it any more. It’s become so forumlaic with boring matches (remember how exciting it used to be?) but still long series are played which may have been decided in the first few games.

  7. Girish says:

    Great article and great blog!
    As the great Harsha Bhogle once said ’50 over cricket will never die.’ Its going to remain the main format because its got the maximum time for ads.

  8. Luke says:

    Girish, I believe it is dying. The Champions Trophy is being culled to make way for the test championship. ODI cricket is the least popular of the formats with the players. Numbers of viewers and ground attendances for ODI cricket are dwindling.
    I think the ICC believes that cricket cannot really sustain 3 formats. I despise 20/20 and do honestly believe it is bad for the game of cricket as a whole. But I concede it isn’t going anywhere and if the life of test cricket is maintained as well ODI cricket will be the fallguy. How I wish it were 20/20 instead.

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