I like my cricket shaken and stirred

Undoubtedly there are individuals who prefer watching live cricket amid the grandeur of empty stands and a few rounds of polite clapping

Curmudgeonly” is a tongue-twister that, ideally, I would rather not use. However, I can think of no better and appropriate expression to describe the reactions of a Communist MP from West Bengal to the boisterous celebrations in Kolkata last Tuesday when the Kolkata Knight Riders and Shah Rukh Khan came “home” with the IPL trophy.

At the best of times Gurudas Dasgupta sports a scowl and a sneer, and wears his Communist superiority on his sleeve. If Jyoti Basu had a reputation for never smiling, Dasgupta has made a career out of being permanently disgusted. When most people say that “it’s not cricket”, they take refuge behind transparent superciliousness. When the CPI Lok Sabha MP said “not cricket” last Tuesday, his expression was sneering. The IPL, he pronounced angrily, was “not even sport”, and KKR “not even Bengal”. The whole thing was, in his expert opinion, a corporate tamasha (or words to that effect).
Whether it is the Olympics, the Queen’s Jubilee, Kaun Banega Crorepati and the IPL, every manifestation of popular culture invites elitist and intellectual disdain. The Puritans, the biggest kill-joys produced by Western civilisation, for example, loathed bear-baiting — once a popular pastime of the drinking classes. But, as Macaulay was moved to observe, the disavowal didn’t stem from compassion towards the unfortunate animal; it was born from a disapproval of the joy the sport gave to the spectators.
Every society produces its own Roundheads. The only difference is that whereas aloofness from the hoi polloi was earlier a private expression of taste, the made-in-media age has amplified contrariness into a public talking point. Indeed, judging by the shrillness of the so-called cricket purists who have made their mark on TV, it would seem that the IPL tournament is nothing but a tasteless and even criminal enterprise.
The aesthetics of the IPL festival is, of course, a matter of subjective preference. Undoubtedly there are individuals who prefer watching live cricket amid the grandeur of empty stands and a few rounds of polite clapping. To them, the pom-pom girls dancing boisterously each time the ball crosses the boundary is an eyesore. Maybe it is a needless distraction from the art of batting. Yet, at the risk of giving offence to the purists, it is necessary to point out that first the one-day game (which was similarly berated at its inception) and now the T20 format have done more to enhance the popularity of cricket in India than the combined efforts of W.G. Grace and Ranjitsinhji.
This is not to undermine the worthy cricketers of yore who contributed immeasurably to the development of cricket in this country. It is only to stress that contemporary cricket can be neatly divided into three categories: five-day Test cricket, the 50-over game and T20. Each form of the game has its own dynamics and requires different skills. Those who persist with the impression that T20 is nothing but a few cross bat slogs and a few well-aimed yorkers ignore the spectacular improvisations that the shortened format has brought to the game, not least of which is the dramatic improvement in fielding. Whether it is M.S. Dhoni’s incredible helicopter shot — which matches Ranji’s leg glance in improvisation — or the stunning catches taken in the outfield, T20 cricket has made the game far more energetic than ever before.
Beyond the technicalities, there is another feature of evolving cricket that is worthy of note: the shorter the game, the more its popularity. This has everything to do with the pace of life in the 21st century plus the fact that the T20 games are timed to suit our leisure hours.
Yet, despite the growing international acceptance of the T20 format, what can be said with certainty is that this form of cricket has flowered in India more than anywhere else in the Commonwealth. The IPL is unquestionably the most successful cricket tournament in history, generating interest levels and revenues that would have seemed inconceivable just three decades ago when it was being said that cricket is a dying game. For good or for worse, IPL is India’s most enduring contribution to sports. Nothing before it — not even the string of gold medals won in hockey from 1924 to 1980 — has surpassed its success.
In viewing IPL, we are not merely viewing the evolution of cricket; we are dealing with a great Indian success story. It is the enormous enthusiasm of cricket lovers in India — the breakthrough came with the World Cup triumph in 1983 — that is responsible for the shift in the centre of gravity of the game moving from Lord’s to India. Much to the chagrin of England and Australia, the cricket economy of the world is now centred on India. And what is more, this shift has led to global spin-offs.
There was a time when cricketers all over the world hankered for a season’s contract with an English county side. Today, throughout the world, there is hunger among the talented to find a place in an IPL team and spend two rewarding months in India. It does not really matter that KKR had only three or four players who could have played Ranji Trophy for Bengal. The KKR is a private club which, like football teams in Europe, has now become identified with a city.
In today’s India, IPL is possibly the only piece of good news. Let us celebrate that.

The writer is a senior journalist

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