There were two kinds of Indians on Sunday evening: those who were roaring for Jaipur and those who were egging on Chennai. And it had little to do with regional loyalties. The battle of the ‘North and South’ to clinch the inaugural Indian Premier League trophy had a gargantuan number of cheerleaders who — after following their preferred team for a month and a half — finally chose either the Jaipur IPL team led by Australian Shane Warne or the Chennai IPL team led by ‘north Indian’ Mahendra Singh Dhoni. For all those naysayers who predicted the collapse of interest in the tournament after ‘regional clubs’ kept falling by the wayside, the overwhelming attention given to a Twenty20 cricket match final by a nation of cricket-nutters underlined the total success of the IPL format.
What the tournament showcased was that a well-oiled, terrifically publicised popular event like cricket, when tweaked to its maximum in terms of spectator sport capabilities, can be a blowaway entertainment. Everyone got more than their money’s worth in this tournament: the players — many of whom found a big-ticket platform to strut their stuff — the organisers who took on an arena spectacle without forgetting the clockwork micro-details, those who put their money where their enthusiastic mouths were, and, above all, the spectators who couldn’t do enough with their daily fix of four-hour cricket. For cricket purists who have kept muttering under their breaths about the end of a ‘noble’ sport, one can’t help but point out to them in as genteel a manner as possible that the third day of the second Test between West Indies and Australia in Antigua was verily enjoyed by those who preferred to follow that match.
Which brings us to the wonderful wizardry of multiple format cricket. For obvious reasons (time, glam quotient etc), Twenty20 cricket is a much more accessible version of the game. But like Dostoyevsky surviving side-by-side with Jeffrey Archer on the book shelves, Test cricket will not be driven under the pitch by Twenty20. Actually, the niche value of Test cricket could actually grow with the cricketing ulema always giving it the value that it deserves. As for the unwashed masses not chewing on the pleasures of multiple innings five-day cricket, we now have the ‘thwack’ version — which incidentally involves the same mechanics of hitting the ball or hitting the wicket as the ‘real’ sport. If there is a casualty, it will be the neither-here-nor-there 50-overs one-dayers. Just one note of caution for those rubbing their hands with glee with the success of IPL: the tournament is a golden goose. It would be terrible if someone starts sharpening the knife to get ‘more’ out of it.