Apr 21, 2008

Gaudy, Gaudy Nights

I am perhaps the person Lalit Modi's mom told him to beware of in life: sceptical to the point of cynicism, immune to his well-coffered slick Bollywoodised charms, perhaps just unreasonably biased against messiahs like him. But shrewd man that he is, he would have realised in a jiffy that the yelps from my kind can be easily disregarded :-). Anyway, we both must do what we must, and I must present the following annoyances about the recently rocket-launched Indian Premier League.

Branding So far, the franchises seem to be a branding fiasco. For an event of this size and depth, most of the team names have shown an appalling lack of creativity, typified by the defaulting of two teams to "Kings". Much of the livery seems straight out of a Warhol-Govinda joint venture and the batsmen of the Kolkata Knightriders in particular look as if King Midas ran amok and couldn't keep his hands to himself. Combine it with a fairly tacky TV production and you sometimes wish the floodlights would go out more often. What is also surprising is the inability of marketers to provide a local identity for the teams, given the putative city associations. Even hockey's PHL managed to do a better job, if only with the team names.

Moderation Though to expect any form of moderation in this event is as naive as expecting Ranjeet-of-the-movies to voluntarily ask the hero's sister to tie him a rakhi. All the investors have pumped in money times-multiple in the hope of making it back over a period of time, so it was inevitable that they'd go over the top wooing the cash home. In particular, this leads to an extremely uncomfortable TV viewing experience, with overs snipped off and virtually no time to see the next batsman trot up or to watch what the captains are trying to do. The ads crowding the screen real estate would embarass the local cablewallahs. Why aren't we ever able to strike an efficient balance between class and crass? The tragedy is that the silent viewing millions can be taken for granted. It's a shocker.

The lack of moderation is also evident in the almost frenzied insistence by all commentators and public figures involved that the event "rocks". Also, I find the relentless nature of the games (almost one each day) to be way too much. I'd have found it easier to whip up enthusiasm for a spaced out schedule leading upto big weekend games. The league, otherwise, is in danger of being one big blur over a duration that came in for criticism in a World Cup only last year.

The English news channels have devoted a large chunk of their daily coverage to covering such breaking news items such as the fall of the eight wicket. Lessons of ratio and proportion were last seen only in the 8th standard arithmetics textbook.

Differentiation If you leave aside the cosmopolitan squads, what's different about the cricket being played? I couldn't tell the difference between any ordinary one dayer or T20 match and these IPL matches. It hasn't quite revolutionised the game by itself - the only attempts at 'innovations' are in the marketing. Therefore, the cricket isn't compelling by itself. In addition to my favourite peeve about the fragmented TV coverage, I find myself drifting off very easily. An engrossing football match in comparison keeps you glued, because the action is seamless and momentum shifts can be engineered in seconds. The 4 minute over is a boon to advertisers, but the speed of the game on the field still does not translate well to the living room, with the content being 'filtered' so poorly.

Another reason why the IPL seems all too familiar is because the same band of bumbling commentators can be heard on the air. From Rameez Raja to Ranjit Fernando, it's the same pack of tired cliches and retired insights. The best of the lot seems to be the Zimbabwean Pommie Mbangwa who though mundane, can at least generate some zeal periodically.

What I've also realised that the game desperately needs to maintain its bag of contrasts: the true worth of an Andrew Symonds' muscular hitting can be realised only when set against a Katich driving down the ground; one can appreciate a fighting innings from Dravid only when Sehwag has been unable to stay alive on that spiteful pitch. For everything to disappear over long stop is to paint a picture only in greyscale.

Independent Voices And then there are the likes of the omnipresent Gavaskar and Shastri who seem to be doing everything in the IPL baaraat from organising to commentary to firefighting. The fact that almost everyone we hear opinions from is associated in some way or the other with the IPL hasn't been highlighted very prominently (read this cogent article by Ashok Malik on the topic). That many of these commentators now work directly for the BCCI can be seen to seriously compromise any objectivity they need to bring to their coverage. This may be selective memory, but I couldn't not recall hearing any expressions of shock about that beach of an Eden Gardens pitch by any of the commentators during the match.

It also doesn't augur well that over the last couple of years, Hindi and English news channels have completed some kind of self-identification exercise with cricket: witness the liberal use of "we" and "us" in referring to the Indian team. Granted that the IPL indeed is an event of gargantuan proportions, but what causes unease is a lack of all-round objective scepticism. (As an aside, I have been watching Marathi news channels these days to get my daily dose of news, and would heartily recommend them for old-fashioned current affairs).

All this said, in all fairness, there have been several good points so far: seeing McGrath land his very first ball on the spot, Shane Warne today, the chance to hear about and see the likes of Ojha, Saha, Dinda as well as some of the lesser-known Aussies, to name a few. I do not know if the razzmatazz has at least made proceedings interesting to the spectators at the grounds (perhaps some of these fellows will be able to tell me next week). Perhaps if you could simmer in those three hours without having to repeatedly watch a dog lick stamps every six balls, you might have a different view. The very nature of the form of the game is that teams can also be shut out of the match too easily if the sweet spot (from the audience's pov) of 150-180 runs isn't reached in the first innings. However, from an economic and sociological point of view, the IPL is immensely interesting.

And finally, ever notice how this is turning out to be quite a decade for Modis? You can't guarantee anything in sport or politics, but so far their brand of heavily engineered change, fuelled by self-importance, is on the ascendancy.


Harish Kumar said...

The coverage is horrible but I find the cricket interesting. It is a test of skills in the severest conditions - for bowlers and for batsmen. The players who have done well haven't done so because they have slogged. I feel Afridi will be a big flop. I have always thought watching sport on TV is much better than watching it live - distant/no commentary and no replays/angles but because of the horrible coverage I may want to watch the IPL matches live. If only we had Bond, Gillespie, Inzy, Lara, Razzaq and co. play for IPL.

Anonymous said...

The point on commentary is the most important. Apart from being mediocre, boring, cliche-ridden and irritating, it is also sycophantic, bcci-licking and general ass-licking. It is sickening. Same was teh case with ICL, which was worse because, I suspect, fixing must have been rife. There Zee Chandra owns all teams, all grounds and I suspect, all commentators.

BTW, just wanted to point to KKR's website which thanks to the incomparable bosey.co.in creator Anand, had some irreverent spoofs, unfrotunately since then removed thanks to the lack of humour of the Indian.

Anonymous said...

Afridi will be a flop. Amen.
Whatever littlce chance he had evaporated when he claimed that he can beat McCullum's record. Which incidentally Hussey has beaten already.

Unknown said...

"but because of the horrible coverage I may want to watch the IPL matches live."
Ditto here. I think Abhishek and gang have picked a good match (on sunday) to test the waters. Though I am still sceptical about it being 'worth it' - would rather prefer the comforts of the couch potato.

Also echo some of your other points. In particular, would have liked to have seen Shane Bond in action now that all these disagreements with NZ cricket have happened.

Raj: Exactly. No one seems inclined to take any criticisms, which could help improve it to a league of standing. BTW, I didn't quite understand what you mean by Hussey beating McCullum's record - how do you mean?

Abhishek said...

I'm going because I've never been to a live game. Ever. Who knows, may be the lack of commentary might be a boon :)

And I'll finally get to see what actually happens between overs, (unless the show large holographic ads even on the ground)

You should enjoy this article

I feel it sucks - but its probably one of the harshest criticisms of the IPL I have read.

Anonymous said...

quaint raman, (pardon the spoonerism, its deliberate and sot of tribute to your word play infested blog :-)

McCullum established the IPL record of fastest 100, and Hussey beat it. Sehwag came within one ball of obliterating Hussey's record but unfortunately, Laxman's boys hadnt scored enough for him to do that. I mean, Sehwag had 94 in 8 less balls than it took Hussey to score 100. He had seven chances to beat the record but Vaas cannily bowled a wide with just one run needed. One more ball, and Viru would have smashed the record...

Unknown said...

Abhishek: Nor have I been to a live game, not of that size/stature anyway. Whatever I remember of watching school/college matches in empty stadia, I always recall the various difficulties, some of which Harish has mentioned above. Let's hope you see a different dimension to it.

Raj: thanks - evidently, I am already way behind IPL trivia. As for "quaint raman", that's quite good for this 'infested' blog.

Anand said...

IPL--A-ha se O-oh tak !
What I cannot fathom is hordes of underwhelmed and prpb'ly out of work cricketers celebrating the brazen demise of a batsman failing to mindlessly slog his way as if they had won the World Cup. Also where you know exactly what colours the seats are co's nobody's on them at all !
anonymous is prob'ly Sehwag ki maa in disguise! Doesn't mentioned the 14 dropped catches in those 41 balls !!JR-Note that this is "sot" of tribute, OK ?