Sledging with the Hammer

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CAN WE PLEASE not have live coverage of the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction henceforth? All the cattle jokes have been used up, and onion jokes don’t have the same zing. We know what rhymes with ‘botox’ and fake accents. And, somehow, watching the scions of business families strut on stage is not same as watching a Tendulkar or a Dravid bat. And middle India has been educated on the number of zeroes in a crore after a crash course following the Commonwealth Games and 2G scam.

And watching sidekicks who depend on Mrs Ambani for their livelihood shake her hand after yet another expensive buy somehow lacks entertainment value. Unless, like King Canute, she takes her courtiers to the sea shore and orders the tide to roll back. Now that would be good television.

Worst of all, the live coverage fools the daily newspapers into thinking the auction is important news, which means banner headlines follow. There is something obscene about an auction like this ( just as there is something obscene about a 27-storey private residence). If the money hurts the players’ pride, they are happy to swallow it anyway. But we who are so keen to hide from public view the depths of depletion and destitution (for example, the treatment of slums during the Commonwealth Games), must learn to push offstage and away from live television the spectacles of excess.

The IPL auction is to sport what the moon landing was to the tea industry. It is about businessmen introducing their successors to a captive audience. It is about movie stars shedding fake tears through their fake eyelashes and onto their fake bosoms. It is about foreign coaches helping men from their region make some easy money. It is a platform for insulting former greats. It is about former greats not reading the tea leaves right and offering themselves up to be insulted. It is about jumping onto the gravy train from different directions. It is about pitting billionaires against one another and letting their egos speak.

It is — and that is saying a lot — worse than the IPL itself. At least there you get to see the players doing what they are best at.

So why are we given two full days of expert commentary on our leading news channels, as if the world has come to a standstill? From a screeching Navjot Sidhu (who once again got himself all tangled up in his ‘monkey’ joke) to a sober Sanjay Manjrekar, everybody was plugging the event as if in preparation for the six weeks when they are allowed to speak only in superlatives. Yuvraj Singh (or whoever hits the most sixes) will be honoured alongside the commentator who uses the most superlatives.

The auction wasn’t about who made what. The real story centred on how N Srinivasan continues to run Indian cricket like his personal fiefdom

The media has focussed on the wrong story. The IPL auction was not about who made what or how many young people became millionaires overnight. The real story centred on how one man, N Srinivasan, continues to run Indian cricket like his personal fiefdom. Unembarrassed by suggestions of impropriety and clash of interests, this secretary of the cricket board (and its president-elect), governing council member and owner of the Chennai franchise might be less flamboyant than Lalit Modi but he has the IPL by the vitals. And he is loth to let go.

Illustration: Anand Naorem

Much was made of city loyalty and icon players in the first auction three years ago. According to this theory, Dravid would inspire Bengaluru to support Royal Challengers, VVS Laxman would do likewise to the Hyderabadis and so on. After two days of auction, local stars hardly mattered. Chennai alone have three local stars —Murali Vijay, Badrinath and Ashwin. Hyderabad have Pragyan Ojha, Kolkata Manoj Tewary, Mumbai Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma, Delhi Virender Sehwag (retained), Rajasthan Pankaj Singh, Bengaluru Abhimanyu Mithun and new team Kochi have Sreesanth.

The uncapped players will have to provide the balance in more senses than one. In terms of team composition, money spent, local presence and cricketing common sense. And there will not be too many zeroes in their cheques.

“I will support Rajasthan Royals,” a Bengaluru fan of Dravid’s has said. He will not be alone.

This is the divide between the teams and their supporters. For business houses, the exercise is about the bottom line, victory and public relations. For the fan it is about supporting the team that contains his favourite player. If the two are different, he is willing to give up the team in favour of the player. This is not unusual anywhere.

SPORT OUGHT not to be clinical and business-like. It must have place for sentiment, for nostalgia, for connecting with heroes. Despite what his more voluble fans think, Kolkata letting go of Sourav Ganguly is probably a sound cricketing decision, but he should not have left it to market forces. While foreign players might come detached from sentiment (although Shane Warne might be an exception in Rajasthan), Indian players, especially the big stars, come with such baggage.

Dravid and Laxman might have teetered on the edge; both had to make do with less than the four crores and more they were paid the last time. But a couple of crores for six weeks’ work at this stage of their careers is not to be sneezed at. Anil Kumble probably read the signs right. At 40, he is older than the other two, and anyway he has his hands full as president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, vice-chairman of Karnataka Wildlife Board and chairman of the National Cricket Academy.

Cricketing millionaires are getting younger, the IPL is a career even for those who have no Test experience, and Indian players are benefiting. Which is all to the good. But can we not have live coverage of the auction please? Alternatively, let us also have live coverage of the bids politicians like Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and others make to retain or buy legislators and keep their ministry alive. Now that would be fun.

talmenon@yahoo.com

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