Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The two sides of the IPLT20 coin

Side 1:

Amit Varma raises his voice, defending both the quality of cricket and the money in it.

Purists – and I used to think of myself as one – often speak of Twenty20 cricket
disparagingly, as if it has reduced the fine game of cricket to something absurdly simplistic, where sloggers rule, hand-eye co-ordination matters more than finely honed technique, and bowlers are irrelevant. If you’ve been watching, you’ll know that isn’t true. Twenty20 is not a dilution of the game but an intensification of it.

Some commentators take issue with so much money being spent on a sport in a poor country. "[M]ost of these millions will be leaving India," de Lisle wrote in his
piece, "filling the coffers of Australian stars who are already very highly paid. Money shouldn't travel in a direction like that." If that logic was correct, we might as well stop poor countries from importing anything. Every trade happens because it leaves both parties better off, and the IPL's foreign players are being paid so much because they bring that much value to the table. That value, the return on those investments, will happen within India.

Side 2:

Gideon Haigh sees some light in the new toy but is concerned about the numerous dark patches. Those patches involve both the money and the quality of cricket.

On the cricket:
Already, however, I'm struck by the fact that what I've enjoyed are those moments when Twenty20 has looked more like cricket rather than less. And this is a problem, because there simply aren't enough of them. Twenty20 is envisaged as a concentrated form of cricket, without the pauses and longueurs that test the patience and understanding of the uninitiated. But it's less concentrated than crudely edited, and what is missing are those aspects of the game that make it linger in the mind, that impress on the imagination, that take time to understand, that need effort to appreciate. It requires nothing of its audience but their attendance and their money. Apparently, the first episode of Shah Rukh Khan's Indianised version of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? airs later this week. Pardon me for thinking that Khan's two new presentations have a few things in common.

Twenty20 has rightly been called a batsman's game, but it is a very particular kind of batsman: the type whose game is built on eye and strength. If a new Dravid were to begin emerging now, I suspect he would face a career as a second-class cricket citizen.

The game's skills, meanwhile, have been massively rationalised. What we see in the main is not so much batting as hitting, not so much bowling as conveying. The batsman is assessed by the change his strokes are leaving out of six; the bowler is like the fall guy in a comic routine stoically awaiting the inevitable custard pie.

And on the money:

Profit maximisation is the name of the game - and that goes for administrators, franchisees, players, managers, broadcasters and sponsors alike. The possible negative consequences for other countries or other forms of the game are of no account compared to the commercial, and doubtless also political, ambitions of the likes of Lalit Modi and Sharad Pawar. It is not even about giving the people what they want; it is about giving the people what Modi and Pawar want them to want, and can then make a packet out of selling them.

Exactly why the people deserve this is not abundantly clear. Perhaps it is an instance of what I once saw defined as the Golden Rule of Arts and Sciences: "Whoever has the gold makes the rules." But the contrast I noted earlier between the proceeds of my own humble cricket event and the IPL's was not merely a matter of quantum. All of the Yarras' hard-won $583.50 will go straight back into the game's beneficiation. Of what proportion of the billions raised by the IPL, I wonder, will that be true?

Gideon's taken a goofy dig at the clamour from various quarters, including the English players' clan, that ICC create a window for the IPL in its annual calendar:

You don't have to be Einstein - hell, you don't have to be Napoleon Einstein - to realise that if the IPL contains even a glimmer of promise, it won't be stopping there: pretty soon cricket's schedule will have more windows than the Sears Tower.

No comments: