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IPL is a Mixed Blessing

23 April 2011.

IPL’s fourth edition has been going along at a rollicking pace. Packed grounds, excited spectators, new teams and vibrant contests have been its hallmarks. The sight of Sachin Tendulkar at the top of the scoring list, too, confirms that truly great cricketers can meet all challenges.

Suffice it to say that IPL is a mixed blessing and that it is entirely possible to regard some parts with pleasure and others with consternation. Amongst its delights can be listed the opportunity to watch great players strut their stuff a little longer than expected.

Nothing is drearier in sport than the sight of yesterday’s champions pottering around on tennis courts or golf courses or cricket fields. It is an orgy of sentimentality that reduces them to circus acts in the manner of Buffalo Bill Hickock and other cowboys. Likewise the sight of Chief Sitting Bull putting on a show for children was depressing.

Shane Warne bowling

Shame Warne bowling at Lord’s for the Rajasthan Royals in a Twenty20 match against Middlesex in 2009.
Photo © Chris Brown / Flickr. cc-by-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Although they still look the part, aging sportsmen cannot sustain their intensity or standard. All too soon everything becomes a fraction slower. Of course the competitive instinct remains intact but the girth thickens slightly and the fire flickers. In truth they are going through the motions.

John McEnroe can scream at umpires but only in self-parody.

Although IPL also allows, even encourages, supposedly retired champions to play beyond their time, there is a crucial difference; the competition is genuine. The fastest bowlers and leading spinners take part in the IPL and all concerned need to be on guard. Wages are high, too, and players need to earn their corn or else the feedbag will be removed. The cricket is raw but real.

Accordingly, the cricket is a contest not a trip down memory lane. Indeed it is fascinating to watch fading heroes pit themselves against a new generation. Doubtless their inclusion was partly a marketing device but it has provided an opportunity to appreciate their extraordinary skills and exceptional entertainment.

Unless it is the sight of Adam Gilchrist in full flow, it was hard to imagine a better advertisement for the game than Shane Warne weaving one of his spells.

Battle to relish

Sometimes, too, the great men exchange blows on the field. During the week Warne locked horns with his old comrade Gilchrist. Here was a battle to relish, between attacking spinner and dashing batsman, rogue and clean cut kid. Like Paul McCartney and John Lennon, whom they much resemble, the pair did their best work together and yet remained forever apart.

Warne worked hard before this IPL. Previously his idea of preparation was to reduce his intake of pizza. Over the years he never shirked bowling but took a dimmer view of gyms and running tracks. But his returns slipped last year, wounding a proud warrior.

Before this tournament he vowed to improve. Warne has kept his word and the only regret is that Rajasthan Royals lacks the money and backing needed to build a strong side. Gilchrist has been patchy because batsmen only get one chance besides which the slide begins earlier and is harder to stop.

Periodically, though, he has smacked the ball around with gusto and doubtless the youngsters are learning.

Happily these champions have not outstayed their welcome.

However the time will come and, like Matt Hayden and Anil Kumble, they need to recognise its arrival.

This article was written for The Hindu.
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