Using an example from literature to defend the existence of Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket is a bit like quoting Gandhi to make a case for 'necessary violence'. Which, by the way, many hotheads do when they quote what Gandhi wrote in the August 11, 1920, issue of Young India:
"I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence."
But as far as metaphors go, IPL-style Twenty20 cricket is the equivalent of the hard-boiled dime novels dripping with sex, violence and simplistic plotlines that would make Chetan Bhagat's books radiate with Vikram Seth elegance. One great practitioner of the pulp fiction genre was Raymond Chandler of the "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window" fame. Today, most of us who read Chandler, read him as literature and not, as a contemporary literary critic described, as someone who is "rambling at best and incoherent at worst". Much of Chandler's attraction as a writer is that he made no bones about writing 'non-high literature', which he wrote with swagger and brilliance.
The same holds true for Twenty20 cricket. It's loud, it's brash, it's populist. And especially over the last week, we have come to realise that there is more news emanating from outside the IPL field than from inside. By the very nature of the game, the Twenty20 format is limited in its sophistication. But this is more than made up by the circus-like atmosphere - the much derisively described 'tamasha' - and its still novel sub-national loyalty scheme. Much of it is non-cricketing entertainment (what's wrong with that?). But for anyone who has seen Virender Sehwag or Chris Gayle play some innings in this year's IPL (yes, this format is loaded heavily in favour of the batsmen) knows that it isn't all just PlayStation 4 Cricket.
There was a time when the only non-cricketing entertainment you'd get to watch in Test matches was the streaker. In the same vein that Richard Dawkins scoffed at Keats' notion that Newton destroyed the 'poetry' of the rainbow by reducing it to the colours of the prism, I find no reason to believe that Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick's gothic scalping spree of 17 Pakistani wickets in the first England-Pakistan Test at Lord's in May 2001 was in any way diminished by the topless lady who sprinted across the field on the fourth and final day of the match.
There's no point responding to the paladins of national taste like Lalu Prasad who find the IPL's sleaze'n'money stories so off-putting that they want it shut down. Although it's worth reminding Prasad that Mohammad Azharuddin, Hansie Cronje and Navjot Singh Sidhu did their bit in the pre-IPL era. (Sidhu-ism No. 261: A no-ball delivery hitting the stumps is like being charged with culpable homicide; nothing really happens.)
It's also worth reminding pundits that when the progenitor of one-day cricket, Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, started in 1977, the groans were remarkably similar to those we are hearing now. "I expect there may be some blood-and-thunder cricket which will have a curiosity value to some," wrote EW Swanton in The Cricketer, adding with shock how "the spirit of the enterprise may be gauged from the announcement already made that tailenders will be given no immunity from bouncers."
Chandler, in a 1946 letter to Eric Stanley Gardner, wrote, "...like all half-educated publics in all ages, [the public] turns with relief to the man who tells a story and nothing else. To say that what this man writes is not literature is just like saying that a book can't be any good if it makes you want to read it. When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance, it becomes literature." In IPL 5, Twenty20 cricket has reached a certain intensity of 'artistic performance'. Its aesthetic appeal is different from that of the longer forms of the sport. But it is there and as perceptible as the charms of 'Roll over Beethoven' are to those lucky enough to value music unlike the 'Moonlight sonata'.
This is not to say that the IPL tournament, with charges of match-fixing and bad boy behaviour swirling around it, doesn't need a stint at the dry-cleaners. But this is a form of cricket welded to non-cricketing entertainment that provides a pleasure of its own. What turns cricket boffins off the IPL is that so many cricket illiterates love it. Which is like saying you hate French fries because McDonald's serves it.
So beer-cheer your team today as you watch the IPL 5 final. Shout out when you spot a celeb. Mentally cheer those girls with the pom-poms if only to remember that sports has not only been always war by other means but is also a mass mating ritual in disguise. (Imran and Botham weren't playing for just mum and country.) And don't worry if someone calls you a philistine scum. Just holler into his ear, "What do you know of T20 who only T20 know?" He'll get the reference.
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