"AND those who were seen dancing, were thought to be crazy, by those who could not hear the music." � Friedrich Nietzsche
I speak frankly here, at the risk of causing unintended offence but with my finger on the pulse of Australian cricketing sentiment (I think). Apart from the cricketers who line their pockets with gold nuggets of varying sizes, the Indian Premier League is largely an irrelevance in Australia. Apart from the die-hard fans and the growing expatriate population, the IPL occurs each year and barely registers a murmur.
Part of that insouciance is down to timing. The major football codes are in full swing and cricket is very much “so yesterday”. The Border Gavaskar Trophy and the Ashes inevitably attracts interest but it takes an event of national significance to put cricket on the radar during the IPL season. Mostly though, the IPL has failed miserably to attract any sort of following because it is perceived as a tournament that has no loyalties or tribalism. Perception becomes reality — it is seen as a rich man’s indulgence for a transient glory that just fades into anonymity. Rich cricketers becoming richer, mercenaries selling their souls for a cause that has no connection to the Australian psyche.
Not that India needs to care about our indifference. It is a local event that has a semi-global reach and has no need for approval or patronage from Australia. I love that about modern India - she is fiercely independent and patriotic with little reliance on foreign consumption to boost local pride. And that’s what bugs me about the hypocrisy (on all sides) when it comes to IPL auctions.
So Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke are going under the hammer? Presumably money can be the only possible motivating factor. And that’s exactly why we care so little about the IPL. There is an undeniable perception that it’s all about money, that it has no soul, no raison d’etre. For someone like Ponting who is nearing the end of a brilliant career, it can only be to add another golden egg to line an already overflowing nest. No one can begrudge him the right to an even richer retirement but his involvement in the IPL (for those reasons) will not drive viewer interest Down Under.
A base price of $400,000 for a cricketer past his prime who never entirely bestrode the T20 stage with any great distinction anyway just smacks of a marketplace that trades willing slaves to any cause. I’m sorry but that just fails to excite any level of interest or passion from a third-party observer who has no emotional stake in the manufactured tribalism that the IPL has tried to create. If the free-market economy of the IPL values Ponting in those terms, I question the integrity of the product. At least with Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Mike Hussey, you got some semblance of loyalty to a franchise.
There’s the nub of the problem! Loyalty to a franchise? It just doesn’t ring authentic. Can we really manufacture that sort of loyalty when we’re talking about something as soulless as a franchise? For $400,000+ worth of filthy lucre, Clarke clearly feels he can dance to anyone’s music. This is the same player who has never really succeeded at this form of the game and voluntarily (admirably) dropped himself from the Australian T20 set-up? This is the same player, captain of his country no less, who has a known history of back/hamstring injuries and can barely get through a few consecutive games of cricket without requiring a rest? Can this be the same player, ranked number one in the world in Tests who is the one class act in a relatively weak batting line-up, about to endure three of the most important cricket series’ of his career (Border-Gavaskar Trophy & the Ashes x 2) and is prepared to put his fragile body on the line to play IPL for the highest bidder?
It wasn’t that long ago when Clarke turned his back on the IPL, claiming he needed to save himself for Australian duties. It was a noble and sensible decision at the time. So what’s changed since then? He’s now captain of Australia, is the lynchpin of a much weaker team, he’s got a tour of India coming up followed by an Ashes Series in England and then another Ashes battle at home. He can’t be any poorer than he was a few years ago so it’s hardly likely that he needs the money. His base contract with Cricket Australia plus endorsements puts him firmly in the “never need to work after retirement” bracket.
His batting, wonderful as it is in Test cricket has never been all that special in the T20 format. He hardly needs to “challenge himself” at this stage of his career. He is part of a selection panel that controversially ‘rests’ players because of perceived fatigue issues, he misses international games himself when he feels a bit weary and he’s now keen to squeeze in a few IPL games during a rare potential period for recuperation? That makes a lot of sense. Not!
There is such a surfeit of cricket here in Australia that we’re almost beyond caring even when it involves local chest-beating. Bowling the West Indies out for 70 at the WACA on Friday night barely made the evening news. It lasted less than a Big Bash match. Our growing indifference to cricket is nothing personal, it is not intended as any slight on the IPL.
There’s just this growing sense of disenchantment with a sport that hands out baggy green caps on a rotation basis and by so doing, has devalued that fierce sense of ‘ownership’ that should not be confused with the franchise model. That sort of reserve price for auction items that are past their “best before” date (Ponting) and marked “extremely fragile” (Clarke) no longer makes sense to a nation that has previously had a long history of celebrating their sons fighting other people’s wars on distant shores.
The ANZAC legend is one that is dear to this country but the concept of mercenaries and franchises is one that leaves us cold.
The writer is a former first-class cricketer and Oxford Blue who now lives in Australia