The recent spat between Kieron Pollard and Mitchell Starc is just a tick in an assembly line of ‘incidents’ that have occurred over the several editions of IPL.
When Sunil Gavaskar was appointed as the interim BCCI Chief a few days before the annual Indian cricket carnival event took off, he was adamant that this year’s IPL should be remembered only for the cricket and nothing else. He was, of course, referring to the previous edition’s fixing scandal, that brought about much shame and disrepute to the Indian cricket in general. But alas Mr.Gavaskar, this is the Indian Premier League, which thrives on controversy and public scrutiny.
The IPL, now in its 7th successful edition, has never been shy of a little drama. The IPL has always been viewed as “cricketainment”, an enticing combination of cricket and entertainment. With all the fancy team jerseys that make players look like walking bill boards, over-enthusiastic cheerleaders and high profile after match parties, cricket has never been the sole factor in the success of the IPL.
The pre-match show generally starts an hour before the scheduled start of play, but the actual cricket content and analysis, in bits and pieces, lasts about a third of the running time. Most of it is focussed on the in-studio panellists going gaga over the special guests who turn up to promote their respective trades (read, actors and movies, mostly), a drummer who goes “ba-dum-tuss” everytime Navjot Sidhu enlightens the public with one of his annoying yet trademark ‘shayaris’ and the acrobatic cheergirls shaking a leg to hit Bollywood numbers.
While the glitz and glamour of the IPL have always been there for all the editions, the transgressions in discipline and deteriorating standards in on-field composure also seem to have never abandoned it. Way back in 2008, Harbhajan Singh caused an uproar when he slapped his opponent and India team-mate Sreesanth. He was subsequently banned for the rest of the tournament, but the Mumbai Indians had to deal with a massive PR burnout. Last year, Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir, both Delhi and India team-mates got into an ugly spat which was later on justified by Gambhir in his newspaper column, calling it “a tense moment between two passionate individuals”. There is also the incident where the normally zen-like Rahul Dravid took a jibe at Mitchell Johnson after being sledged and thrashing him for a boundary the very next ball. The list of such incidents just keeps on growing as the years go by.
So what makes the competition among the players so fierce? It is after all, franchise based cricket, where the honour of a nation is not at stake. There are a few explanations, though.
A T20 game might be nerve wracking for the fans but it is a high pressure affair for the players, where the dynamics of a game can change in an over. The fact that one missed stumping or dropped catch or even a mis-field can cost the game for a team makes it a highly volatile environment. It sometimes brings out the best in individuals. For example, the two time hiding that AB de Villers has given to Dale Steyn in 2012 and 2014, arguably the best bowler in the world, proves the point. There have also been instances where bowlers have defended a meagre six runs off the last over, a phenomenal feat, considering the nature of the game.
But however intense the environment maybe, flinging bats at opponents and constant bickering can never be justified. And unfortunately, the IPL has a huge fan base among youngsters and budding cricketers, which complicates the issue. When their role models indulge in aggressive acts and use gestures/abusive language, the example being set is not really a favourable one. In a format where quick thinking and swift execution is of prime importance, the “spirit of cricket” seems to have always taken a backseat.
In the past decade,T20 cricket has sparked some wild innovations in all departments of the game and has definitely taken the quality of cricket being played to a notch higher. The IPL is one of a kind tournament, the one that fills the BCCI coffins with mind boggling revenues and brings together the best talent in the world. The general perception is that the IPL has improved relations among the players of different countries. But periodic incidents such as the Pollard-Starc spat force us to reconsider the authenticity of that statement. The focus of this cash rich league has never really been on cricket alone and sadly has relied on gimmicks and controversies to stay in the limelight.
It is probably true when somebody remarked that “cricket is no longer a game, but a multi-million dollar business industry”. An industry where showmanship has taken the lead over the willow vs cherry contest. The good old cricket fan might cringe at this thought, but it remains a sad fact. Cricket is, in every sense of the word, a sport. The players must recognize that being a sport also counts, just playing will not suffice.Share this post