x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 December 2017

Indian Premier League continues to unbalance the senses

Although the IPL ended in such thrilling fashion last night in Chennai, the cycle of Twenty20 tournaments means the the show never really ends.

Chennai Super Kings batsman Suresh Raina is wathched by Kolkata Knight Riders wicketkeeper Manvinder Bisla as he plays a shot during the IPL final. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP
Chennai Super Kings batsman Suresh Raina is wathched by Kolkata Knight Riders wicketkeeper Manvinder Bisla as he plays a shot during the IPL final. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

Last night the fifth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) ended in Chennai and if this sounds like the opening of a television show review, then, well, so it does. It lasted 53 days but in actual fact the IPL now never ends.

The constant soundtrack to cricket is more than ever before becoming just an echo of the IPL.

In just over two weeks the Friends Life T20 will begin in England, with a similarly global feel as far as international players are concerned, and will drag on until the end of August (with a month's break in between). By that time, the first edition of the Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) will have come and gone, a three-week gig beginning August 10.

In September will come the Champions League, an IPL spin-off (as successful a spin-off as Joey was to Friends). Then, Pakistan might launch their own premier league, not satisfied with running two wildly successful domestic T20 tournaments already.

In December Australia stages the Big Bash and in February next year it will all begin again with the Bangladesh Premier League.

Almost all are responses to, or imitators of, the IPL. Throw in the World T20 in September and the entire calendar can be calibrated and shrunk around the noise of T20.

But five years into the life of the biggest one, the senses remain unbalanced, that one of permanence outweighed by one that it is a passing fad.

The IPL is not actually going away anywhere of course, but it is difficult to avoid each season the suspicion that the product is being heartily raided just in case it isn't there next season; this year, the revelation that players were conducting under-the-table deals to better contracts and even promising spot-fixed no balls fit in with a cutting-corners carelessness.

Neither have the franchises, the Chennai Super Kings apart, really begun to offer any mooring. Players have switched franchises so often that teams are unrecognisable from previous incarnations.

The Kolkata Knight Riders XI that played the final, for example, had only Laxmi Shukla who played in their first game back in 2008. Chennai, on the other hand, are successful and have a healthy, committed following because of their continuity; four of those who played last night were in the franchise's first game.

Most revealing of this impermanence is that the tournament cannot just be. It remains too eagerly praised by its defenders, too rabidly criticised by its opponents. It must be better or worse than before, it will either kill cricket or revive it. It does not exist in and for itself. Perhaps it never will.

Some things, unfortunately, are well set. Television viewership - at the halfway stage- was down from previous seasons although stadium attendance was healthier than last year. That makes sense. Intentional or not, the IPL does more every year to shove you out of the lounge and into the stadium, because on television it can be excruciating.

The excessive advertising or the strategic timeouts are not the problem. For those we must be grateful for they provide sweet respite from the match-time commentary.

Cricket commentating has deteriorated steadily around much of the globe but can there really have been a barrel deep enough from which Danny Morrison was scraped? Just for him, and for Ravi Shastri (and maybe Sachin Tendulkar's hair), some amalgam of Oscar Wilde, Lester Bangs and Christopher Hitchens needs to come alive, so can emerge just the right put down.

The cricket? It has been exactly as the format decrees: frenzied, underpinned by a skein of the new macho cricket is rolling in, of men who might not amount to much anywhere other than in T20, and too much of everything, good and bad. Where once cricket savoured the rare, last-ball finish of a Javed Miandad six or a Michael Bevan boundary, there was one a day here to dull the thrill of even that.

And finally there was the exiled father of this spoilt, loud and bratty child, Lalit Modi tweeting away at 8.7 tweets per over; by turn proud, jealous, snarky, appalled, bored, thrilled. Much like the rest of us.


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