The IPL is happening right now, but I probably didn’t need to tell you that. It used to run in the background like a virus scan but now it is more akin to those constant Adobe software update reminders. Cricinfo, which used to more or less ignore it, is all in, with headline coverage every single day. They treat it now like it is an important cricket league, as opposed to the side show it actually is.
Okay, despite the cheerleaders and the pop music,”side show” is harsh. But really in the end it is just another domestic T20 league, awash in a side of domestic leagues, T20, 50 over or otherwise. Here’s a look at all the other domestic leagues having matches today, just today:
Dhaka Premier Division Cricket League
Royal London One Day Cup
Super Provicinial One Day Cup
Malaysian Premier League
Million Cricket League
Of course, those leagues don’t feature (some of) the best T20 players in the world and aren’t played in the most cricketing mad country of all cricketing mad countries. And so I get it. But the IPL–whether it’s the style of the T20 played or the uniforms or the bombastic television coverage or the money or the corruption–has always bugged me. But it has also always been there. I am not only one of the rare cricket fans who has only known a cricketing world with the T20, I’ve also only known a cricketing world with the IPL. I started following the game in 2007, the first IPL was in 2008. And so it’s always been there, and so it would follow that, unlike old time fans of the game, I would be more accepting of it. And while this is true for the format, it is not true for the IPL.
I think one of my major complaints about the league is that all other international cricket pauses for seven weeks while the tournament is taking place. Not only is it the only domestic league in cricket in which international cricket pauses so it can take place, I think it is the only such league in any sport in the world that takes precedent over their international cousin. Could you imagine UEFA taking a hiatus from its endless series of friendlies and qualifiers because the English Premier League was deemed more important? Me either.
But bringing up the English Premier League brings up the point that cricket is also the only team sport where the international game is top dog and the domestic game is loved but that love is localized. There very few fans of County Cricket who exist outside England or Wales, and fans of specific county teams rarely exist outside of their county. And maybe the IPL is a sign that cricket is finally starting to move to a format that more closely resembles other team sports, where the domestic game is on top of the pile except for every four years when the World Cup happens (except if the trend continues I think it will be, for cricket, as it is for basketball, the Olympics which become the most important international tournament).
I don’t think this is a good thing.
If this happens, if domestic cricket taking precedent becomes the rule instead of the exception, and we are heading in that direction, then cricket will become a brood of international mercenaries flitting from league to league to league every few weeks. Never wearing the same shirt twice, constantly switching allegiances, with all the money going into the pockets of cricketing bureaucrats instead of back into the game. Meanwhile the international game–yes, even The Ashes–will suffer and, slowly, quietly pass it into the past. And lots of people that work at Cricinfo seem already resigned to this fate, which is why they have latched onto the IPL with both barrels. But if the international game loses out to the domestic game, then I think that will be what finally kills off cricket for good. And that, I think, more than any other reason, is why the IPL leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. It’s a harbinger of doom.
That is not to say that domestic leagues shouldn’t exist or should be weak. I believe the opposite is true. Domestic leagues in every cricket playing country on earth should be rock solid and entertaining and popular. They should just take a backseat to the international format, for the good of the game.
But all of that said, all the doomsday rhetoric and anti-IPL musings, I also believe–and I know this negates everything above–that you can’t kill cricket. Cricket is bulletproof. Cricket is like our current buffoon of a President in that every time we all think it’s down for the count, it comes raging back to life. I hope that’s true forever. And that’s why every time I write about the death of the game, I add one simple caveat: I hope I’m wrong.
For instance: Yesterday was Sachin Tendulkar’s 44th birthday. He’s only 44! He played so long that if you had told me he was 50 or even older I wouldn’t have batted an eye. I was reading about him yesterday and realized that he was only 19 when he played that one season for Yorkshire. He was their first player of color, and one of a very players that didn’t come Yorkshire proper. It was 1992, and that makes this the 25th anniversary of that summer he spent making waves across England. And while 25 years might seem like a lifetime, it is also yesterday. But so much has changed in the last 25 years, in domestic cricket, in international cricket, in England, in India, the world over. As Oliver Brown put it in this wonderful piece on that summer Sachin spent in Yorkshire, it made be only a handful of years, but the photos are already “bathed in sepia.” So much has changed, but cricket has soldiered on, bow beating against the waves. In fact it is one of the few constants in a world that lacks them also completely. And that is something worth celebrating, and that’s why I am not going to worry too much about the IPL. QED.
A domestic USA television/streaming update: a lot of sites out there list Willow TV as the network that’s covering the Champions Trophy in the USA. This is only half true. Willow TV will be showing the matches on its television channel, but the matches will be streamed on ESPN3, not on Willow dot TV, Willow TV’s online component.