I’ve never really watched the IPL. In the 16 years since its’ creation, I don’t think I have ever sat through a complete game. I’ve tried to take an interest over the years but I just haven’t been able to. My views on it have been quite similar to Michael Holding’s. When asked why he had never commentated on the IPL, the West Indian legend simply replied “I only commentate on cricket”

However, today while idly wondering what to watch I thought perhaps I would give it a try, turning on the highlights of Tuesday’s game between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Lucknow Super Giants. (Why do IPL teams always have such long names?)

My first impression is that Holding may have been correct, this certainly doesn’t look like cricket or at least any version of it that I’m familiar with. In fact, what I witnessed resembled baseball more than cricket. The ball was pitched roughly in the same place every time, while the arc of the bat swung through the ball and repeatedly dispatched it into the crowd. Over and over again. Many commentators have discussed the extraordinary number of sixes hit in this season’s IPL, a staggering 1015 to date, but nothing can surely have come close to the events in Hyderabad this week. The scoreboard moved at a pace that seemed implausible, maybe even downright impossible. Sunrisers reached 126-0 off 7 overs, then 143-0 off 8. The run rate hovered around the 18 an over mark. 18 runs per over! And to think we used to consider a run a ball hundred remarkable. Sunrisers reached their target of 166 in a staggering 9.4 overs with Travis Head scoring 89 off 30 balls and young Indian all-rounder Abhishek Sharma unbeaten on 75 off 28 balls.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. In one sense it is exhilarating seeing such clean hitting, the ball sailing into the top tier of the stadium over and over again. In another sense it is repetitive simply because it happens over and over again. A six used to be a remarkable event in cricket, one that made us put down our pints and coffee cups and take notice. Now it is as regular as a dot ball used to be. If something happens all the time then it ceases to be special. The extraordinary has become mundane.

However, on the other hand I must admit the spectacle of the IPL is quite stirring. The entire stadium was a sea of orange with 55,000 fans in the distinctive orange and black Sunrisers kits. Almost all of them seem to have been given metallic orange flags to wave. If I didn’t know better I would have thought I was watching a Dutch football match. We often talk about the numerous T20 franchise teams with no history or fan base that spring up out of nowhere but the IPL has been around long enough now for this to not be the case here anymore. These teams have loyal supporters, fans who turn up to the ground every week in replica shirts, live the highs and lows of their team as completely as any English football fan and spend the off season debating transfers on social media. To all intents and purposes, the IPL is a bona fide sports league, and the second most lucrative in the world as well, with a TV deal that dwarfs all but the NFL in value.

The problem is that the IPL risks cannibalising the rest of the game. The ICC has already set apart a two and a half month window for it where no international cricket can be played. Those who think the competition has no plans to expand beyond this clearly have no understanding of how the BCCI works. The long form game is in danger of being subsumed by the T20 juggernaut and the IL in particular.

After the speedy conclusion of the game in Hyderabad I switched over to the live stream of Surrey v Warwickshire in the County Championship on YouTube. It was like I was watching two completely different sports. Is there a way for both to co-exist I wonder? I hope so for there is value in both. The fans in Hyderabad and the ones at The Oval are equally dedicated to their teams. It would be a great shame if one destroyed the other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *