The IPL: International and American

There was quite the lively debate on Twitter last night after I put up my post about the IPL, and it inspired one subject that is worthy of further discussion:

Is the IPL an international tournament, or a domestic tournament?

And if it is a domestic tournament, why does it receive the kind of negative attention that it does, while other domestic T20 tournaments, the FLt20 and the BBL for instance, do not?

My opinion is that it is an international tournament.

It is international because of its worldwide appeal; an appeal which exists, for the most part, thanks to the players it attracts – these are not just your run of the mill cricketing mercenaries, in other words, these are the best players in the world, and therefore the whole world is going to tune in to watch, despite the fact that the teams are, for the most part, Indian.

And just speaking anecdotally, as Twitter user Jamie Harrison put it, the FLt20 feels like county cricket, and I agree. I will also add that the IPL feels like the World Cup, the BBL, as one example, does not.

And because it is an international tournament, not a domestic one, it leaves itself open to the kind of abuse and hand wringing and posts like mine last night that all big international tournaments receive.

See also:

The Champions Trophy
The 2007 World Cup

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I have been watching the replay of the opening IPL match in the background tonight as I wrote this post and did some other work, and here a couple quickfire thoughts:

1. The cricket itself has this sloppy feel to it that, in a lot of ways, I like sometimes. Test cricket can feel very rigid occasionally, the IPL has a bit of swagger.

2. Great atmosphere in the ground.

3. Brett Lee’s ball to get Unmukt Chand was something very, very special.

4. Hoping things get better for Chand. I have had my eye on him since the U19s last year. Part of me feels that the IPL is going to hurt his young career, not help it, despite the exposure.

5. Love watching Sunil Narine bowl. Barely 24 years old. Bright future ahead of him.

6. A lot of cricket fans outside of India lament the pop music and the theatrics and the dancers and the light shows that the IPL employs. What a lot of cricket fans do not realize however is that these are not conventions merely of the IPL, these are American sporting conventions, as well. Every professional American sport, all four of the big ones anyway, play pop music between every break in play, and often times during play itself. There are light shows and mascots and dance troupes – even during the most important games. Attending a game in America is more about the overall experience and less about the actual match.

Therefore, in that respect, the IPL feels very, well, American.

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All of the above said, I am still counting the days until Test cricket is back.

This is the year.

To watch the IPL, or to not watch the IPL, that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of countless DLF maximums,
Or take arms against a sea of meaningless matches,
And by opposing end them? To watch baseball instead; to sleep.

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Every year, for the past six years, I think to myself: this is the year. This is the year I watch the IPL. This is the year I pick a team to support, that I watch more than just the final, that I actually immerse myself in the IPL experience.

All 76 matches will be available live on Willow.TV and in “HD” (what that means exactly, I am not sure). The matches are all on at very reasonable hours here in the states. And the tournament features the vast majority of the very best and most exciting cricketers on the planet.

But for some reason, I can’t do it. I just cannot bring  myself to tune in.
The tournament just feels so daunting at first. 76 matches? 76!? Does there really need to be that many? And then there is the pop music and the dancers and the shouting commentators and the sloppy batting and the useless bowling.

But it’s not like I dislike the T20 as a format; I think it has its merits and belongs in the same league as the ODI and the Test formats, and I think there is room for all three to co-exist peacefully.

I don’t think that the T20, or the IPL specifically, is killing cricket. In fact, I think it is doing the opposite, I think it is propping cricket up, allowing us to continue to have the sort of Test matches and series that we love to salivate over. But I think it is more than just some sort of necessary evil, I think it is an unnecessary positive – like a chocolate chip cookie or a cold pint of beer. T20 cricket is popular for a reason, and the reason is not just that the Twitter generation has a short attention span, it is because T20 cricket is fun to watch.

The India vs Pakistan T20 series this past December was some of the most exciting and thrilling cricket I had ever seen.

So why can’t I get on board with the IPL?

Is it because I am unable to connect with any of the teams? Surely this has not been a problem for me before, ever, in my entire life.

I have been to London a grand total of one time yet I live and die with the Arsenal, and I do not support any particular cricket playing nation but find almost all cricket matches thrilling and interesting and stimulating.

Here’s what I think the problem is: it’s new.

One of the reasons I fell in love with cricket all those years ago was because of its long and storied history. And the IPL has no roots.

Even when two Test nations are playing a T20, there is still history between the sides. And the ODI has been around long enough to form its own roots outside of the Test format.

But the IPL, and the SLPL, and the BPL, and the Big Bash League, just all feel so…purposeful in their invention. And that purpose was to make a shitload of money, money, money. They feel chemical. Corporate. Mercenary. Plastic.

The pop-up T20 league is the test tube baby of world cricket.

Cricket’s other competitions have a more organic and natural feel to them. They have been allowed to breath, to grow, to contract, like ivy on a brick wall. I am speaking specifically of County Cricket, and other older domestic competitions, and of course all those matches on the international calendar.

The West Indies vs Australia is organic; the Melbourne Renegades vs the Brisbane Heat is genetically modified.

But all the competitions had to start somewhere. And the IPL has been around for six seasons now. It isn’t going anywhere. And I really should just stop my moaning and embrace it.

And so this year, I am really going to watch. I really am. I mean it.

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