As Mumbai Indians chased down the Kolkata Knight Riders’ modest score on Monday night, I tried to imagine that I wasn't watching IPL at all. As closed to being blinkered as possible, attempting as best as I could to block out the white noise of the IPL circus, I tried to imagine I was merely watching Sachin Tendulkar bat.
All the stuff that makes watching Tendulkar bat pleasurable was on show as in a delightful buffet: the straight-bat push-drive down the ground; the short-arm pull in front of square; the swivelling hook-pull behind square; the punch through the covers that never troubles fielders.
Cricket fans remember too much and remember too well, so I — inevitably —thought of three Tendulkar innings: the one in which he decimated Pakistan at Centurion Park during the 2003 World Cup; the recent 200 against South Africa; and the 175 against Australia in Hyderabad last year.
Why was it that this innings (71 not out from 48 balls) gave me not a fraction of the delight that those innings had? Because those were proper international games. Because Tendulkar was playing for India rather than for a league side. And we all know where we stand when India plays cricket, don't we? We know, too, the frisson of pride and honour that illuminate a player’s best performances when he plays for the country.
In the case of the IPL, I’m sure that players feel a sense of pride — but that is the pride that any competitive athlete feels when he participates in any sport. Tendulkar, I am told, is very competitive while playing table tennis or water polo with his teammates.
For the most part, there is only one big motivation for playing — and playing well — in the IPL: money. In the league, there are many players whose international careers are over (Warne, Gilchrist, Kumble, Ganguly).
The money from this is all they can make out of playing cricket now. But for fans like me, it's different. I don't get paid to watch the IPL.
And my cricket-watching days are far from over. (At the flick of a remote, I can watch an Australia v New Zealand Test in Sydney.) Without the frisson that watching one's country play, the IPL seems like what I've suggested before: a game that is not cricket at all.
(This occasional column will appear through the IPL)