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IPL must lead the way

Michael  JehBrisbane: India and Indians apart, the IPL has always been viewed with little interest in founder cricket nations like Australia. Some of that apathy can be sheeted back to cultural prejudice - it will be some time yet before the average Australian comes to appreciate the IPL in the same way that the cricketers do - if you’re not directly earning obscene amounts of money, why take an interest in some foreign league? That there is an element of prejudice is evident by the fact that the English Premier League and the American leagues (baseball, basketball and NFL) are closely followed despite there being far fewer Australians involved.

But imitation is often the sincerest form of flattery so the rise and rise of the Big Bash in Australia goes some way to prove that there is much to admire in the pioneering trailblazing path forged by the IPL. Even the American influence pervades cricket to the point where the naming of franchises assumes ridiculous proportions with very little local cultural significance. I mean, does it get any more OTT than the super superlative-laden Supergiants? It’s not enough to be a giant unless it’s a Supergiant? Oh, I forget, the Superkings trump them! And the Mumbai Indians? How positively unimaginative for a team comprising some notable non-Indians? Like I said, ridiculous but at least the IPL were market leaders in that segment.

That's a no! Umpire Richard Kettleborough calls a no-ball after West Indies' Lendl Simmons was caught off India's R Ashwin during the ICC World Twenty20 semi-final in Mumbai on March 31. Pic/Getty Images
That's a no! Umpire Richard Kettleborough calls a no-ball after West Indies' Lendl Simmons was caught off India's R Ashwin during the ICC World Twenty20 semi-final in Mumbai on March 31. Pic/Getty Images

So what can the IPL do now to maintain its status as a forum for innovation and leadership? As far as corruption and monkey business goes (that is not a reference to the Harbajhan-Symonds episode by the way!), the IPL is peerless in world cricket. The sheer scale of an absence of morality dwarfs any other league, defunct (ICL) or fledgling (Pakistan’s version). To an outsider, the sums of money being spent on cricket in a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is so vivid, it is indeed astounding that it has taken until 2016 for judges to question whether the extravagance of the IPL should be placed in proper perspective to the sanctity and dignity of human life itself. But then again, perhaps an outsider doesn’t quite understand that for so many Indians, cricket is life.

Let’s consider the positives then; how can the IPL continue to be an ideas factory for the refinement of T20 cricket? How about this for starters? Borrow a leaf from tennis and install technology that polices every single ball for no-balls. There is nothing more incongruous and ironic than the freeze frame shot of Hardik Pandya’s no-ball in the World T20 semi-final with the West Indian batsman already in front of the white line. For a sport that is so fixated by millimetres and raised heels when it comes to no-balls, stumpings/run-outs and boundary catches (Jadeja/Kohli combination), it turns a blind eye to a batsman ‘stealing’ inches. Why is it only the wicket balls that get scrutinised? The free hit no-ball can be a match-changer so why not adopt technology that checks every ball?

On that theme, perhaps the IPL can be the forum for Vinoo Mankad to finally be recognised for the magnificent cricketer he was instead of his proud name being associated with a perfectly legitimate method of dismissal? Why should the batsman, the person actually breaking the rules by stealing an unfair advantage, be given victim status? Unlike most other athletic events where false starts are deemed illegal, cricket goes the opposite way and vilifies the person who plays by the rules under the guise of some sort of misplaced notion of chivalry. Integrity and IPL are the perfect examples of an oxymoron so it represents a chance for cricket to shed itself of this double-standard when it comes to a tradition that is now a dinosaur.

One of the arguments put forward to justify the abbreviated T20 format is that it is a true test of skills where both teams compete under almost identical conditions. Sure, it lacks the ebb and flow of the longer formats but it’s big plus point is that the pitch conditions rarely affect the result. It’s ultimately down to who plays best on the day. So to then have a competition where dew plays such a crucial role in determining the winner is an anachronism that T20 cricket can well do without. Realistically, what can the IPL do to eliminate this form of lottery? From rescheduling day/night matches to improved cricket balls to covered stadiums, if there is an organisation with the cash to lead the way in neutralising the dew factor, the IPL is our most likely trailblazer.

When the IPL was first floated, there was talk that it would engender more harmonious relationships across countries. Where NZ, South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka are involved, this may well be the case but when it comes to the Big Three (Australia, England and India), there seems to be precious little love lost, despite IPL friendships. In the case of abrasive characters like James Faulkner and Ben Stokes, it is hard to feel any degree of sympathy when they get flogged because that is the currency they deal in but one can only hope that the IPL highlights the true gentleman like AB De Villiers, George Bailey and Brendon McCullum in the same way that it farewelled the careers of so many of the Indian greats of recent times. A truly global league deserves so much more than some of the mean-spirited rubbish that the ICC tolerates.

If commentators are now ‘selected’ based on player feedback, it is indeed the beginning of the end if the tail wags the dog. When commentators become mere propaganda agents, the whispers about the integrity of the competition, perceived or real, will continue to undermine integrity. Who will be the first administrator brave enough to jump off the speeding gravy train? To quote Groucho Marx: “I refuse to join any club that will have me as a member.”

Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class player

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