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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2735

Tweaking T20

By Chandramohan - Syndicate Features

If a media report is to be believed gamblers have a new obsession in the country. During the very inaugural week of the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 matches an astronomical amount—Rs 2000 billion—had changed hands through betting, which incidentally is illegal in the country. For those who generally don’t get to handle or see any amount beyond four or five figures it is impossible to imagine where that figure will reach by the time the tournament is over.

Even if the amount of betting is exaggerated, what is sure is that the IPL has shaken the world of cricket like never before. The ‘rebel’ series started by Australian Kerry Packer in the 1970s was nothing more than a storm in a tea cup. The ‘rebel’ cricketers earned peanuts compared to the money being earned by the T20 players participating in the IPL matches. Cricketers who would hardly earn a five-figure sum after toiling round the year will be taking home seven or eight figure sums for a workout that lasts about five weeks.

The once staid world of cricket, associated with five days of Test matches played by ‘gentlemen’ in white flannels, has been hit by a kind of storm that is bound to transform the leisurely game from one that tested spectators’ patience endlessly to one that is akin to the excitement of a fast-paced football match.

That the IPL tournament will be all about mega bucks was never in doubt when rich film stars and richer industrialists with apparently unlimited funds at their disposal stepped in to ‘buy’ players and sponsor teams. But it turns out the IPL is offering something more in addition to cricket that may be loosely called a combination of sex and violence.

The cricket stadiums come alive with imported cheerleaders whose skimpy dress code aroused anger among the moral brigade but clearly titillated the voyeuristic spectators who gladly sweat out in stifling heat for a double bonanza of fun on and off the field. The cheerleaders could not complain when they were forced to add more yards of cloth to their dress: they could well have been asked to wear a dress that covered them head to toe.

In the movies sex and violence go together to ensure box-office success of the film. The IPL may have secretly thanked off-spinner Harbhajan Singh for assaulting pacer S. Sreesanth and the latter obliging the viewers with uncontrollable sobs in front of the camera. ‘An emotional action-packed drama’ of the Bollywood style? The only thing missing was a suitable emotional dialogue that rounds up the violence sequence in the films. But, of course, the IPL could not have publicly greeted Harbhajan for assaulting Sreesanth because it has to follow the ICC code that governs players’ behaviour.

‘Purists’ and the ICC, cricket’s international body that allegedly watches the interests of the white cricket playing countries more keenly than that of the coloured upstarts, are not happy with the emergence of IPL. The future of Test cricket looks blurred because it can never match the appeal of the T20 version. But if the chief attraction of the T20 is its transient nature then the day may not be far when an even shorter version of the game makes its debut. Will it be T10? Or Five5?

It reminds one of a story one heard years ago from a fellow journalist. A sub-editor noticed a shop that said: ‘Fish Sold Here’. ‘Remove the word Fish. Anyone who passes in front of your shop will know what sells here’, he pronounced. Next day he realised that a board saying ‘Sold Here’ would look very odd. So his second instruction in as many days was: ‘Why put up any board at all when it is obvious that you sell fish.’ So the shop had its board removed.

An exact repetition of this will be impossible on the cricket field. There has to be cricket for some length of time, even if it is one hour, to attract spectators—and lure players. The point is where will the buck stop? The supporters of T20 point to the critics that many sports have seen transformation. Football has become a rich sport. It is played under floodlights and attracts the most glamorous. It has more than its share of violence—and scandals.

One thing that is clear is that the way football is played has not changed—the number of players and rules of the game are unchanged. If there was to be something like the T20 version of football it will probably mean that the 11 players are asked one by one to kick the ball from a certain distance into the rival’s goalpost, duly defended by the keeper. In the end the team that scores most goals wins. Will that be called football?

T20 supporters offer one argument that requires some consideration. Today cricket is played by only a handful of nations, chiefly because the majority of countries in the world will not take to a game that takes days to be completed and yet may end without any result—a drawn match.

Even a One Day International match between two teams with 50 overs each takes almost an entire day though it does yield a result. T20 is an effort in the direction of making cricket more appealing to a wider audience in the world. A still shorter version will presumably make cricket even more appealing, perhaps striking the Americans as a slightly different kind of baseball, their national sport.

Where it troubles the ‘purists’ is that the abridged versions of cricket do not test the players’ skill and talent as luck and pluck seem to play a greater part in deciding the outcome of the match. The techniques applied by Test players will not be suitable in slam-bang version of cricket, which in some ways does not look very different from the cricket played on the streets and parks across India.

Is all that money—millions and billions—being spent only to glorify the street version of cricket?

- Syndicate Features -

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