24-30 May 2013 #657

It’s not cricket

The Indian Premier League corrodes the base on which the historical memory of cricket is built
Ajaz Ashraf
There has been a conspiracy of silence around the Indian Premier League (IPL) even though most people know that the very way it is structured could encourage corruption in cricket. So it is hypocritical of us to howl in horror at the charges of spot-fixing against S Sreesanth (pic, right) and two other cricketers.

Forget, for the moment, morality. Let’s focus on the design of the IPL tournament. It is anti-memory, undermining the very process through which we sift and slot happenings for remembering them in the future. No doubt, IPL is memory-proof, partially because of the flurry of Twenty20.

Speed is anathema to memory, requiring as it does a degree of slowness, a lingering over on a piece of sublime, thrilling action. It is also true that we linger over those moments which are unique, in contrast to the relative ordinariness of other frames constituting a match, whether football or cricket.

However, T20 aborts the process that creates memory. Its speed, unlike that of a football match, is artificial, manufactured through a mutilating abbreviation of the sport and invention of new rules.? It consequently corrodes the base on which the historical memory of the sport is erected, quite unlike, say, football, where the rapidity of the game depends on the skills of contending teams.

Worse, the rules of T20 encourage repetition, for instance, field restrictions induce players to score runs in typically the same manner. Even improvisations become routine as others imitate and perfect such skills over time. Thus, even an extraordinary innings comprises strokes similar to each other.

The IPL has only aggravated the problems arising from the routine and repetitive aspects of Twenty20. For one, the rule restricting a team from fielding more than four foreigners brings into play several domestic-level players who are mostly mediocre. This rule was initially hailed for encouraging indigenous talent. We are now wiser: we know domestic players are lambs marked for slaughter, for feeding the skilful with juicy half-volleys at a friendly pace. It entertains the neo-cricket crowds, whose sense of cricket history is dim, but it also turns a prolonged stroke-play repetitive and routine and, therefore, anti-memory.

More significantly, IPL is a tournament in which two matches are played almost daily, over two long months, turning the cricket on display into a blur, a potent antidote to remembering and doomed to be forgotten. Routine, repetition, and mediocrity together constitute cricket’s black hole into which IPL matches disappear. The tournament requires black holes because it needs audiences for another two matches the following day.

IPL’s overkill lies at the roots of its corruption. In a long drawn out league, you know well, a loss here and there doesn’t matter. A format dependent on risks taken – in the strokes played, cheeky singles run, and inexplicable bowling changes – provides a dubious dismissal or a shockingly poor over a justifiable context. A no-ball deliberately delivered can always be redeemed in another match the day after.

Add to this the fact that we were never expected to take IPL seriously, billed as it had always been as ‘cricketainment.’ Persistent rumours about fixing in the IPL had been treated, until this week, as item numbers.

It is apposite that the IPL should have spawned a scandal at the time the nation’s political class is reeling under corruption charges. Cricketers don’t live outside the social system, making it inevitable that the bug of corruption would bite the players, more so as owners of IPL teams are no paragons of virtue.

The Rajasthan Royals, to which the three players belong, has been served six notices for violations of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).

Subrata Roy, owner of Pune Warriors, has been accused of routing funds of dubious origin into two of his companies. You have Vijay Mallya, owner of Royal Challengers Bangalore, whose financial profligacy has led to the grounding of his Kingfisher Airline. Waywardness constitutes the default of the surreal world of IPL.

The ultimate prize for hypocrisy, though, should go to the media. There was always the whiff of corruption arising from the IPL but we blithely ignored it, hoping our praise for IPL would bring to us a percentage of advertisement revenue spent on it.

With the trio accused of fixing, we will now talk of new prescriptions, other than the structural flaws of IPL. Tomorrow will herald a new beginning for the IPL, as if it never had a past.

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