I equivocate almost daily on the IPL. Part of me wants to tell every American sports fan I know to watch the IPL, That it will change their mind about the game, make them a convert. And that’s not hyperbole, it will, it’s great theater. Some of the best in sport.
Unfortunately, though, it’s just that: theater. It has its moments of course, but mostly it’s utterly lacking in substance, while other formats and competitions literally have substance dripping over their edges. I was listening to the BBC radio coverage of the Championship yesterday at work and I was awash in all that depth, all that substance, all that history. It was everything I loved and love about the game. Pastoral yet with a bit of teeth and history. But I could never use that as an introduction to the game for an American sports fan. They would be bored to tears. “What is this nonsense?” They would ask. “It’s like listening to golf on the radio,” they would say.
And I can’t blame them,
And so I drift back to the IPL. It’s big and loud and, well, American. Big hits and highlight reel catches, two things you don’t see as much in the longer, older formats. It’s all rock n roll and lights on the bails and cheerleaders. But there are some aspects of the game that exist across all formats. The bowling, for instance. In the IPL, you still get a taste of the bowling you would see in non-IPL cricket. Quicks and spins and balls that move like you wouldn’t believe. And when the sixes aren’t coming, you can sometimes see great running between the wickets; I do love aggressive running between the wickets. And crowds. That’s something great about the IPL. The stadiums are full and loud, and prove just how insane Indians are for cricket. It’s like a religion only more. And while the IPL can legimitately called Americanized Cricket, it’s also steeped in the rich culture of India — a culture most Americans are rarely exposed to. In that sense, just like all cricket, the IPL can make us better global citizens. But you miss out on so much. Yeah, the stadiums are full, but you miss out on the nuances of cricket crowds. Like when a small section of the crowd applauds a bowler returning to his fielding position near them after a productive spell with the ball. Or fans lazing about on green grass having a beer and a nap in the sun as the game drones on across the lawn. And fielding arrangements. You miss out on those too. Slips and gullys and silly point. In the IPL, and most T20, it’s just the same boring field over after over after over. Can I in good conscience use the IPL as an introduction to cricket when it is lacking in some of the best things about the game?
I can. It’s a great cricket starter pack. And despite its flaws, I think it will serve not as barrier to the rest of the game, but as a big toe in the water. A great way to get to know the game’s basic rules, see some great cricket, see the game’s biggest stars, and get lost in the Big Show the IPL is. And, so, American sports fans: watch the IPL. The entire tournament is on Hotstar which you can access for free with a subscription to Willow. Matches are almost every morning. Be sure to tune when Royal Challenges Bangalore are playing. They are not a good side, but they do have Virat Kohli, the best batsman in the world right now and maybe ever (them’s fightin’ words, I know).
Watch the IPL, and think of it as the appetizer of a three course meal, with the other two, far more substantive, courses happening this summer in England: the 50 over World Cup, and the Ashes. In the former you will see the best in the world compete across England and Wales in pursuit of cricket’s biggest one day prize. And then later in the summer, the Ashes, which is test cricket at its zenith. Watch the IPL so you’re well versed and ready to be entertained by the best the game has to offer.
Watch the IPL. And listen to the BBC radio coverage of the County Championship. Do that too.