Suresh Menon is Editor, Wisden India Almanack, and author, most recently, of Bishan: Portrait of a Cricketer
Now that IPL is over, it's time for introspection
Posted on: 08:12 AM IST May 29, 2012 IST
A cavorting Shah Rukh Khan pulled off the impossible - much like his team, the previously pitiable Kolkata Knight Riders - by demonstrating that there is someone more unbearable than Navjot Sidhu on national television during a cricket match. Dignity was never a strong point of the IPL and it was appropriate that at the end of it all, one of the owners should out-Sidhu the commentator and give us a glimpse into one of our many blessings: that Shah Rukh Khan stays at home during a Test match.
Had the Chennai Super Kings won, would BCCI president Srinivasan have done a couple of near-cartwheels like SRK? The image kept me awake till early morning.
The message from its fifth edition is that the IPL is, for the moment, too big to fail. And Indians will have to live with it like they live with corruption, ill-treatment of women and the need to enroll an unborn child to get ahead in the race for school admissions. We raise our voices occasionally, but in the end we accept. It is the essence of Indianness.
The fan who looks beyond runs and wickets remains disappointed because two key elements of the IPL remain intact: lack of transparency and lack of accountability. A basic flaw has been nurtured over five tournaments now - the conflict of interests. The BCCI president is a team owner and the chief national selector is brand ambassador. Neither sees this as particularly worrying, and that is particularly worrying.
The first commissioner Lalit Modi may be gone but the system he put in place, which favoured the board, select franchises and a few players continues, which means there will be no serious boat-rocking. A sting operation by a television channel exposed the illegal payments made to young Indian players who have a salary cap. But demand outstrips supply. Three players were suspended, but there is no action against the teams that offered the temptation.
That unofficial money was available is one of the worst-kept secrets of the IPL. Royal Challengers Bangalore managed to retain Chris Gayle, the best batsman of the tournament by the simple expedient of making him a brand ambassador of one of the owner's companies. Whatever he earns there is outside the IPL salary cap. How much Mumbai pays Sachin Tendulkar would be interesting to know. But such things have a habit of teetering within the letter of the rules even if they violate the spirit.
Quite the remarkable thing about the IPL is that those who came to scoff have remained scoffers, and those who thought (or were paid to think) that it was the greatest thing in cricket since sandwiches at tea, have remained believers. There is no bridge across these two cultures.
Four years ago the BCCI oversold the IPL, granting it the kind of virtues that might have won it a Nobel Prize had it been a living, breathing soul. It will bring nations together, the board said, and reduce poor player behaviour since you cannot share dressing rooms in Chennai and Delhi and then shout and scream at one another in Sydney or Cape Town.
The IPL will change the way we support our cities and interact with our heroes, went another argument. The game lasts less than four hours, and we give the punters a choice: the implication being that apart from bringing nations together, the matches would also bring families together. It was almost Karan Johar-like in its soppiness.
None of these wonderful things came to pass; only the terminally naive believed they would, anyway. Money can't buy love.
Meanwhile, the fan base of the game itself might shrink. Gautam Gambhir plays for Delhi, then Kolkata, and so when he plays for India it feels like he is merely turning out for another franchise. When even top players pull out of Test series in order to be fit for the IPL, they kill something in the fan. Indifference destroys interest whether in love or in cricket.
At the end of five tournaments is the ideal time for stock-taking. How has the IPL benefited Indian cricket? Have the negatives overwhelmed? Most importantly of all, will the BCCI have the courage to undertake an honest survey among the stakeholders of the game in India? Introspect or perish.
(Suresh Menon is Editor, Wisden India Almanack and author most recently of Bishan: Portrait of a Cricketer)