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IPL, Entertainment Posing as a Game

15 January 2011.

India’s hopes of winning the forthcoming World Cup have been badly damaged by the latest IPL auction.

Of course the two are connected. Morale is critical in any team. Moreover a community with a compromised culture cannot expect to conquer.

The sight of respected men huddled alongside fripperies and jewels whilst bidding for players did little to advance Indian cricket’s reputation.

Perhaps they were unaware of the grotesque picture they painted to those watching. These were not cricketing folk. These were bees in a honey-pot.

Elders of the game were to be seen advising poseurs for whom an IPL team is as much a vanity as an expensive handbag. Conflicts of interest were not considered worth bothering about, fathers bid for sons, fortunes were paid for ancients with waning powers, money was bestowed upon underperforming locals and foreigners, and powerful sides were allowed to keep their champions.

Certainly it is the market place but it has been distorted beyond recognition. Money was foolishly splurged. Crassness crushed any lingering sense of dignity. Professional cricket was replaced by commercial cricket.

Indian Premier League match
A 2015 IPL season match in Hyderabad, India.
Photo © Jms1241 / CC BY-SA (

Question of priority

It’s a question of priority. Worse, domestic players of roughly the same standard were treated either with reckless generosity or else a meanness bound to leave a bitter aftertaste. Cricketers with a cap or two to their name became instant millionaires. The wrong dreams were fulfilled. Rewards are supposed to come after the deed has been done, not after a couple of lively spells or blistering blows.

How now to retain ambition? How now to hold first place in the rankings once the old guard has moved along – and that day is not far away?

Money running amok

Money is running amok. Wild parties are commonplace. Admittedly they are no longer compulsory but the scene is hardly going to change and young men love to swing.

Meanwhile uncapped players from the game’s suburbs were treated with barely concealed contempt. India does not have a players’ association to protect their interests.

It’s a situation that shames not so much the BCCI – it’s not the job of employers to protect workers – but men of the calibre of Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid.

By now these cricketing legends should have assisted those playing for provinces and enduring low wages often paid months late. By now every State player ought to have a binding contract. Instead the heroes have attended to their own affairs.

The vulnerability of domestic players could be told from events after the auction as franchise hirelings armed with MBAs and wearing gold watches ran around flourishing papers at gifted but relatively obscure cricketers forced to sign on the dotted line.

Of course it was a conversation between unequals. Inevitably these players imitated the drowning man and the rope. As a result IPL teams will express the rich and poor of Indian society.

In the end the stars are given their sugar and the rest feed off the scraps. India cannot expect to survive these disruptions to its production line.

Alas the sideshow has become the main attraction. Unless balance is restored its spell at the top will last as long as its senior players and thereafter decay will set in. Decadence does not work.

Nor can Australia take the trophy because it’s leading and emerging players are similarly tempted. No wonder the youngsters have struggled in Test cricket. Their heads have been turned.

IPL likes to present itself as cricket’s version of the EPL. It is a dangerous delusion. All soccer matches last 90 minutes. The EPL is the real thing. IPL is an entertainment posing as a game. It does not create life. It feeds and will ultimately devour.

This article was written for The Hindu.
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