I love IPL because I don’t follow cricket | Opinion
The IPL season is back. So is the debate: Is Twenty-20 good for cricket? The more “evolved followers” of cricket insist that the success of the IPL has destroyed the spirit of cricket. The razzmatazz that the IPL has come to be, with a heady mix of cricket, business and entertainment, is designed to serve the interests of commerce and not the sport, they would argue. As my colleague Kunal Pradhan recently wrote, he can’t watch IPL because he loves cricket; that the T-20 format in which you want instant results has trivialised what was once “a sport of dexterity and endurance.”
No matter what, there is no denying that the IPL has emerged as the most popular of all cricket tournaments; and I dare say, for the right reasons. I love IPL because I do not follow cricket. Growing up, I could never come to terms with the time people wasted watching cricket – five days for a Test match and nine long hours for an ODI. When people skip work and students bunk classes, imagine the losses this cricket-crazy country suffers each time an ODI or a Test match is played. In contrast, the IPL matches get over in three-and-a-half hours; they are held mostly in the evening; and you don’t need to know the nuances of cricket to enjoy an IPL match.
Above all, each IPL match has a much bigger business multiplier than a Test match or an ODI, perhaps with the exception of the World Cup fixtures. Critics complain how that might just be biggest harm the IPL has done to cricket -- how the lure of money has spoilt young sporting talent; how businesses often dictate the players’ engagement in ways that could hurt their performance and evolution. Some of these criticisms do hold true, but are not compelling enough to dismiss the benefits of this tournament.
In my view, the IPL’s biggest draw has been in discovering cricketing talent from every nook and corner of the country. There was a time when highly talented cricketers struggled to find a berth in the national or the state team. A few powerful administrators of the game sitting in Delhi or Mumbai decided their fate and the decisions couldn’t be questioned much. The IPL has changed all of that, making the scrutiny of players and their performances more transparent and public. A good talent can no longer be ignored. Many years ago, when I first watched Ajinkya Rahane play an IPL match, I instantly put my bets on him. Today, he is one of the finest players of cricket in all formats. I am told Rahane had already made his mark in Ranji matches before he was picked for the IPL, but I am not sure if he would have earned the place he has today without the IPL. Rahane is not alone in this journey. Scores of small-town cricketing aspirants have made it to the big league in the past 10 years since the IPL was launched. It has made the competition tougher and, I would like to believe, has helped India build a stronger national team.
But the thing that I admire the most about the IPL format is that it celebrates unity in diversity. From Keiron Pollard of West Indies to Afghan rookie leg spinner Rashid Khan and Aussie captain Steve Smith, dozens of foreign players are part of this extravaganza. Delhi boy Gautam Gambhir leads Kolkata Knight Riders, while Delhi Daredevils is led by Mumbai-based Zaheer Khan. The IPL has players like Mohd. Siraj from Hyderabad, a rickshaw puller’s son, as also former U-19 captain Ishan Kishan who comes from a rich business family.
I cherish the camaraderie I get to see among players who come from different cultures, classes, races, religions and regions. Such camaraderie help me stay with the hope that cricket-loving India will strive to be inclusive, and not intolerant.
Rajesh Mahapatra is chief content officer, Hindustan Times.
He tweets @RajeshMahapatra