The ongoing Indian Premier League Season 11 (IPL11) has a few more days to run; the final is going to be played on 27th May. So far it has been an interesting tournament with the fancied teams going down and some not-quite-fancied ones doing well. For instance, Bangalore Royal Challengers, a fancied team with the likes of Virat Kohli and A B De Villiers, are virtually scraping the bottom of the table this season along with Mumbai Indians. On the other hand, the non-fancied Sun Risers Hyderabad, from which much was not expected, was doing well by topping the points table.
One can see the craze for the shortest version of the game from the crowds in the stands. Thousands of cricket lovers collect at stadia unmindful of the beastly heat and other inconveniences faced in summer. The innovation in the game 11 years ago in India has met with resounding success. The Eden Gardens at Kolkata, by far the largest and most commodious of stadia in the country, announced one evening over the telecast that it had counted more than 67 thousand spectators entering the stands that evening. What cricket lovers find interesting are a quick game of cricket which is not only interesting, it also is exciting besides being brief, played during the cooler hours of a summer day. Remember, Cricket had earlier been only a winter game. The T20 League has converted it into a summer game. What they love are the colourful vestments of the teams, lusty hitting with the ball sailing over the boundary line, occasionally, several times in an over, landing in one of the upper tiers of the pavilion and top class fielding. Not only the groundwork of the fieldsmen is superb with the saves on the boundary line, on occasions, being spectacular, their acrobatic catches are to be seen to be believed. All the teams have great athletes among them who are frightfully fit. Reports say some of the players are so fitness-crazy that they hit the gym sometimes even after a game.
The shortest version of the game has become popular and league matches like those of IPL are being organized in numerous countries. What is out of the ordinary is that such tournaments are played in places like Brazil, the US and even Afghanistan as also in countries like Canada and Hong Kong. From such a survey one finds that cricket as a game has extended its tentacles to numerous countries, big or small. Obviously the shortest version of the game is found to be interesting, even exciting by those who had hardly ever seen a cricket match earlier.
And yet, the connoisseurs of the game look down upon the T20 matches that are played with white balls after sundown. They think that the only test of cricketing ability of a player is his performance in Test matches, each test being played over a period of unbroken five days. There is something in what they say. A five-day match not only tests a player’s ability to focus on the gruelling game during the day-light hours for five consecutive days, it also tests his endurance and ability to withstand the mental and physical strain with grit and determination. While professional players in the shorter versions are physically highly fit, the test players are no less. The great disadvantage in test matches, however, are its long duration during which as many as four innings are played out in a sedate and unhurried manner without the kind keen rivalries that sometimes can ruin the atmosphere in which the game is supposed to be played. Cricket has been known to be a “gentleman’s game” where acute and reckless competitiveness is discouraged, especially in test matches. Conventional courtesies shown to each other by opposing team members, coming down over the past couple of centuries, have been seen to have been observed, though, of late these are progressively witnessed less and less. The Tests, though considered the only hallmark of perfection in the game are witnessing progressively declining numbers of takers as evidenced by the largely empty stands in stadia where these are played.
Those who love test cricket call T20 matches bang-bang cricket in which the ball bowled by a bowler is meant to be hit and hit as hard as possible. No wonder there are sixes galore which would be a rarity in Test cricket. In the ongoing IPL matches as many as 700-odd sixes have been lobbed over the boundary line so far, a huge number of which have been hit by young Rishabh Pant, a Delhi Daredevil player. This is precisely what is held against such games by the lovers of test matches. They feel that such a display of brawn does not require the technical finesse of the game. It only needs power and timing to bang the ball hard so that it crosses the boundary before a fieldsman can intercept it or takes the aerial route to cross the boundary line. They say that is not what cricket is all about. It is a game of patience and perseverance and hitting boundaries or sixers are not the aim. The objective should be to play the game with technical perfection. Don Bradman is held out as an example of such kind of Cricket, He, it seems, never hit a six and yet has had the highest average of runs made in Test Cricket, a record which has not been beaten so far. And remember, he hardly had any protective gear - which included only leg-guards, an abdomen guard and a pair of gloves – and he used to play against fierce fast bowlers of his times who generally aimed at his body.
It is not that T20 games do not require perfection. They do and those who figure at the top work to attain that perfection. Yet they can fail in matches forcing them to work far more to become infallible. Since T20 games have now become a vehicle of drawing out the crowds the best of the country’s players, as also those who are being groomed to replace older ones are picked up for various teams and they are coached rigorously.
What is wonderful about the IPL is participation in each team of foreign players and some of them are the best in the business. Young Indian players rubbing shoulders with the best in the world does have an impact on our rising young men. They not only learn the technicalities, they also imbibe the attitudes that make one great. The infusion of foreigners is a great concept that not only fosters greater international understanding, it also promotes friendly relations among cricket playing-countries. I am sure those who watch the telecasts of the games feel exhilarated to see foreign players sharing spaces with their respective Indian team members and hordes of former cricket players from practically from all cricketing countries who have joined the efforts of the IPL management in the shape of experts, coaches, commentators, et al. This makes for not only a colourful atmosphere, it also builds life-long friendships. I am sure in other countries also such exquisite collection of cricketing greats takes place. But, here somehow it is different; IPL is a very good paymaster and pays well to attract the best in the world.
T20 Cricket has made many Indian players billionaires. In fact, in every season the tournaments have produced numerous billionaires. The payments being so high, there is an attraction to be “bought” as a player in the IPL. Almost all the recognized cricketing countries are represented in the IPL with the sole exception of Pakistani players. Cricketing ties with Pakistan came under strain because of infusion of militancy on the borders by Pakistani Army and now, for quite a long time, there has been no cricket between the two countries. On the other hand for the first time ever and quite curiously a distinguished player from Afghanistan is playing for one of the teams in the IPL. With the tough competition for being included in the IPL, cricketing standards have improved and one dares say that India’s bench-strength for every form of cricket and for every department of the game has become formidable.