April 26, 2008

Cricket - Neither Quite Nor Quiet

April 26, 2008 Posted by Vijay No comments
The current IPL 20-20 matches seem to be getting embroiled in one controversy after another. If the whole idea of IPL was entertainment, it seems to be dishing out added spice and controversy to make it an even bigger hit. Unfortunately, after a little over a week of IPL action, it is really sad to note, that the standard of cricket has been quite disappointing.

Critics and experts of the game say that 20-20 isn't really cricket and IPL never so. Simple reason being that, the skills of any cricketer is too short to be assessed in this format which hardly lasts 3 hours. A counter argument could well be, is it really worth watching 35 hours of play spanning over 5 days of Test Cricket ? True, and that precisely is the reason why a new fan base is developing for 20-20. A new generation of sports fans who just want to see an exciting short game, with lots of sixes and fours and an enthralling finish if possible, like the Jaipur/Hyderabad game 2 days back.

In essence, many of those in the new fan base, would have been those who found even the ODI format too tedious to watch over 7 hours in a day. The 3 hour 20-20 format is short, crisp and not too dragging. It is the bowlers whose reputation is taking a pounding. On the positive side, the bowlers will have to be even more clever and try to come up with more tricks to counter ferocious hitting all through 20 overs in a match. McCullum started the IPL with a scorching 158* in the very first match and the success of the batsmen has been consistent, except for couple of below par performances during the IPL.

Though the hitting has been sometimes outrageous and unimaginable, the fielding standards have been quite shoddy and at times mediocre. Especially , the catching in most matches has been quite appalling. An exception could be the match between Punjab/Mumbai yesterday, where Lee made a fabulous run out and Yuvraj and Bravo came up with stunning catches. That apart, fielding has been poor all through. Bowling has been pretty bad too, except for some inspiring bowling from McGrath, Mohammad Asif, Ishant Sharma and Brett Lee. It is understood that it is a batsman's game. But unless the bowlers come out with a better strategy, 20-20 could well do without any world class bowlers.

Batting has been brilliant at times. Conventional shots have been put in the back burner and scoops,reverse sweeps and slog sweeps have become the daily dose. It was hearty to watch Sangakkara's innings yesterday, which was conventional, yet brisk and much to the liking of cricket connoisseurs.

That much for cricket. Now for the spicier part of IPL. No sooner had the Eden Garden pitch controversy died down, the culture keepers of India came out against the cheer leaders of IPL. The reason being that it was obscenity in full display by the supposedly skimpily clad cheer leaders. This, coming from top brass politicians, who are fine with the deluge of item numbers in Hindi movies, and the lead actors willing to expose every inch of their inherited Indian cultural assets. That has indeed not been taken note of, or is it that the politicians have a censor board of their own for editing these ?

I guess, any obscenity which can be of three dimensional nature and real life, and which can be felt, is what irks the politicians. It is so ironic, that on the one side they want to have sex education imparted in schools, but do not have faith in the common public when they watch these cheer leaders. It is also amusing and scary, that they want the policemen to do moral policing when the Indian capital has responsible policemen raping minors ! It maybe generalisation, but something serious to ponder about.

The pitch controversy was certainly not planned for sure, and was a blunder by the pitch curator. The pitch at Kolkata, by all means was terrible and very dangerous to play cricket on. The magic of 20-20 cricket is that , it is so short a time to play for, that the pitch condition doesn't really matter. But, if the same pitch had been used for a 50 over game, I am quite sure the match would have been called off . Since IPL is riding on billions of dollars, the match had to go on. The players had to play on, since they are being paid so much ! So 20-20 now has truly proven, that it is not about cricket or the players. It is about the crowd, the entertainment. The pitch or the bowlers or the fielding doesn't really matter. The charm of cricket is the pitch conditions which vary from country to country and season to season. But 20-20 wipes out that advantage altogether.The batsman, as has always been the case, relish and plunder the bowling.

The positive side of having international stars arrive and play in the IPL was to create better camaraderie between rival players, who would be sharing the same dressing room. There are lots of pros and cons. Players would come to know what is the weak point of a player and play on that when they represent their country. On the positive front, it would also be an opportunity to sort out differences and understand the culture of other players and respect it. This in fact could be a boon and a bane. Boon, if the players truly respect and toe their line when it comes to cultural or racial slurs on the cricket pitch. Bane, if the players do just the opposite to sledge even more. The latter sounds rather sinister, but cannot be entirely ruled out. The IPL also gives an opportunity for upcoming talent to learn more about the game from past and present legends who they are playing with.

Unfortunately, IPL can also work totally against national team members playing against each other. Cricket being a sport, is really competitive, and when the national team members face off against each other, sparks could fly, words could be exchanged, and this could create disharmony when they eventually play together for the national team. This is precisely what happened after yesterday's match between Mumbai and Punjab yesterday night. An upset Harbhajan Singh (captaining Mumbai), after the loss apparently slapped Sreesanth(bowling for Punjab) who just a few months back were playing together on the cricketing field for India. This has become a fresh controversy, and even if things are sorted out between them, when they share the dressing room for India next time, they would always think back at this incident and not be comfortable with each other.

This incident for sure is not make believe and had to have happened. Why else would Sreesanth cry uncontrollably on the field, that too after his team had won their first IPL match ? The problems are only going to start, simply because the owners of rival teams could go at logger heads and that could easily permeate to their team members on the field. Well, it could be termed as entertainment, but then it doesn't help in building a good rapport for team members of the same national team.

All in all, the IPL thus far has been cricket wise, moderately successful, entertainment wise, hugely successful. Controversies will always dog the IPL, since big bucks are involved and any small incident will always be blown out of proportion. As a true cricket lover, I would only pray that Test Cricket be left alone. And hope that ICC changes the way ODI games are played. For ODIs are in grave danger of being replaced by 20-20 which doesn't really require too many skills. The only reason ODIs would continue to flourish, would be because this is the only format where true talent and big hitters of the game can be identified, both for the 20-20 format as well as for Test Cricket.