Spoilers, I suppose.
Well, the Indian Premiere League (IPL) is off to a flyer. The first match, between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Royal Challengers Bangalore was a rout. Bangalore lost by 140 runs. Since 140 runs isn’t a bad Twenty20 score on an Indian wicket, that’s like loosing by an entire game.
Not to denigrate the contribution of the other Knight Riders, but this victory can almost be handed solely to Brendon McCullum, the Kiwi wicketkeeper who carried his bat for 158 runs and bringing the Knight Riders’ score to a staggering 222. This man is an amazing striker of the ball and I still remember his pounding of Bangladesh last year when he kept hitting balls out of the grounds and onto runway of the nearby airport.
He certainly put on a hell of a show for the estimated 50,000+ spectators in Bagalore.
So, I suppose I’ll make a few comments about the IPL and, by extension, the Indian Cricket League ( ICL).
The ICL and the IPL are competing cricket leagues in India. Both use the controversial (but only to stick-in-mud, luddites) Twenty20 format. (I’ll go on record as saying it is the superior format of the game for spectators. It’s not without some problems that time should smooth out, but then it is a very new format of the game.) The ICL was created when a television conglomerate repeatedly lost bids for cricket television rights, even though they were the highest bidder. What the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had in mind by rejecting the bids, I won’t speculate on. Nonetheless, the ICL was formed trying to use a more football-like club system. International players were brought in (and in a fit of childish anger) subsequently banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) from playing in traditional international cricket.
The buzz for the ICL made the BCCI realize they’d possibly missed a colossal money-making opportunity, so they moved to create the IPL, using much the same format of the ICL. The main difference being that, with the BCCI and ICC’s nods of approval, international players weren’t necessarily struck from their home countries’ teams. This lead the way for current players of McCullum’s ilk to be in the IPL. (Not that there aren’t some top international players in the ICL, like Shane Bond, but they had to burn their bridges to sign.)
I watched through a significant number of the ICL games, and found that with no geographic support for any of the Indian cities, and not knowing virtually any of the players, I had trouble picking a team to support. I finally choose Hyderabad, simply because they did so poorly at first and turned themselves around. No one was more surprised than I was when they went into the semi-finals, then finals and then actually beating the seemingly unstoppable Lahore team in two nail-biting matches.
So, now we come to the first match of the IPL series and, despite the similarities, the contrast – in entirely superficial ways – is marked.
I’ll say that, having, once again no loyalty to any city in India, prior to the start of the series, I had decided to support the Knight Riders simply because of their name, which is ludicrous, and because McCullum is one of my favorite players. (I support New Zealand in all international cricket events.)
That was before I saw their uniforms – black with glittery gold fabric, and metallic gold-painted helmets and pads?!?! I think McCullum was just trying to prove he wasn’t a sissy-pants wearing that uniform.
In fact, the uniforms almost sums up the differences in a nutshell. The ICL played on smaller grounds, probably with a capacity of about 20,000 people. In some cases, the stands were packed, with people climbing onto roofs and every available spot to see the games. The commentators we good with a nice banter between the pairings. The uniforms were colorful, as is the norm in Twenty20, but not outlandish and they even had cheerleaders and Bollywood stars performing during the break between innings.
Now, switch to the IPL. The first match was in a stadium with a capacity of 55,000, and was nearly full. There were lasers and smoke, and hot cheerleaders (the ICL cheerleaders were pretty, but not what I’d expect for professional sports), performers, flashy gold uniforms, banners and streamers… it really did look like they were going for some form of 70′s glam rock concert. For the first time ever, I kind of saw what the test cricket snobs are talking about when they say it cheapens the image of the sport. This certainly looks like it is turning the game into a circus.
But then… have they never seen any Bollywood movies? We were at an Indian Bistro for dinner last night and they had the Zee Cinema network running. (Zee entertainment, by the way, are the people who bring us ICL cricket in the US and are the only network I know of that broadcasts cricket in the US, thank you very much!) The film was in Hindi, but typical of the Indian Films I’ve seen. A guy is in love with a beautiful woman. She’s in a car accident. She’s dying. Another woman is dying – she needs an organ transplant. The first dying woman gives up her organs to save the other. They break into a massive musical song and dance number with what appears to be people in traditional Greek outfits. Although we didn’t see the end of the film, I’m sure the man falls in love with the woman who received his lover’s organ transplant – along with a few other obligatory sound and dance numbers.
Why would they not expect this in Indian Cricket designed for showmanship?
Still, even in the few months I’ve been watching Twenty20 games, I’ve seen marked improvement in the tactics and the skills, as the players adapt to the new format. Who knows, maybe they will finally crack the US market?