Sat in front of the television yesterday evening watching Kolkata Knight Riders canter to victory over the Kings XI Punjab in their Indian Premier League tie at Mohali, I was overcome by an uneasy blend of disillusion and boredom. It was a feeling that crept up on me subtly over the course of the match and, by the time an eight-wicket win was secured for the visiting side, held me very tight. Now I realise how much everyone despises a depressive killjoy but trust me, this wasn’t in the script.
After all, two of the world’s most skilled batsmen – South Africa’s Jacques Kallis and Gautam Gambhir of India, were at the crease – toying with the bowlers nonchalantly in a partnership that oozed class and would eventually allow their team to saunter over the line. An hour previously, Kiwi keeper Brendan McCullum had performed a typically electric cameo, smashing the hapless Praveen Kumar through midwicket at will.
Before that, during the innings of the Kings XI, an intriguing duel between the Knight Riders’ West Indian mystery-spinner Sunil Narine and Adam Gilchrist, the most destructive batter of the last generation, was promised. Even when Gilchrist pulled his creaking hamstring and limped from the field, two more Aussies – David Hussey and Shaun Marsh – appeared and busily set about increasing the run-rate for Punjab.
On paper, there was plenty to be excited about over the course of the twenty-over contest. In reality, tuning into the ‘action’ left me in a state of grubby guilt. As Kallis went about his post-match interview with typically drab professionalism, stunning beau Shamone Jardim alongside him to invigorate his standard soundbites, I found myself wishing I had spent the previous couple of hours more productively.
Now in its fifth edition, the IPL circus remains a money-making, attention-grabbing juggernaut. It still fills stadiums around India with raucously enthusiastic crowds that greet almost every ball with delirium. The biggest names still rock up obediently for lucrative pay days – they shouldn’t be blamed for that. But the concept is stale. In fact, yesterday’s encounter, the 22nd of this season’s tournament, compelled a fleeting comparison with ITV’s other bastion of day-time television, The Jeremy Kyle Show. Hear me out.
Granted, the moral dilemmas of a cricket match are usually less taxing than “Should I leave my pregnant girlfriend” debates. Equally, though Matt Smith and Shonali Nagrani often blunder and bumble through broadcasts, their hosting style is nowhere near as annoying as Mr Kyle’s nauseating self-righteousness. However, both shows have managed to transform the sensational into the mundane.
“Stop cheating on me with my mother” storylines are nothing new. Sadly, though, neither is the spectacle of the world’s best cricketers competing against each other in the sport’s shortest, most exciting format. Rather, as a congested schedule of limited-over international brings them together with striking regularity anyway, there is very little mystique left.
Instead of teams gelling to form their own characteristics, individuals are wheeled out to appease the baying masses with very simple briefs – ‘hit some sixes’ and ‘get it in the block-hole’ among the most popular – as the awesome, idiosyncratic quality of Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga dissolve into anonymity as part of the financial conveyor belt. Indeed, with ‘Karbon Kamaal catches,’ ‘DLF Maximums’ and ‘Citi Moments of Success,’ knocking around, sponsorship never leaves the foreground.
Of course, this is all very cynical. It is undeniably refreshing to witness the emergence of young talent emerging on a very prominent stage. Stockpiling a shed-load of runs this month, Rajasthan Royals’ Ajinkya Rahane will surely soon be incorporated into the stellar Indian batting line-up. Narine’s reputation is rightly rocketing, too.
Naturally, such a helter-skelter environment means that the scope for innovation is huge. AB de Villers has this season unveiled his ‘360 shot,’ which effectively entails him sending a tennis backhand over the wicket-keeper’s head for six. The global game can only be better for such audacity. Closer to home, Owais Shah is making a mockery of his banishment to the England wilderness, the fidgety right-hander at his wristy best in the opening few fixtures.
Some fantastic matches still crop up as well – Chennai Super Kings’ successful chase of 205 against the Royal Challengers Bangalore a week ago was truly exhilarating, Dwayne Bravo sealing victory after a remarkable seven-ball 28 from Albie Morkel hauled the men in yellow back into contention. My issue, I suppose, is that you can certainly have too much of a good thing. Soon, seven-ball 28s may not be remarkable. Then where would we be?
Just one more thought to finish. Three days after that Chennai triumph, Middlesex and Surrey concluded an enthralling County Championship Division One clash at Lord’s by bowling out Rory Hamilton-Brown’s men for 137 to prevail by 3 runs. It had been a tumultuous game at the Home of Cricket that ended with a fittingly chaotic climax. Unfortunately, as the final wicket fell – Jade Dernbach mistiming a drive to be caught off Tim Murtagh – there were only a handful of spectators in the ground. The back-drop to Middlesex’s dramatic win was the sound of silence. It was a real shame.
Cricket’s priorities are in limbo, a situation that needs actions rather than inane promises to preserve the Holy Grail – Test matches. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I best get home in time for the end of Delhi against Deccan. Kevin Peitersen might face Dale Steyn at some point. Couldn't possibly miss that.