Soap opera after the epic

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Fatigued players and sub-standard cricket. The IPL is a dour postscript to our World Cup triumph

By Vaibhav Vats 

Illustration: Anand Naorem

A LITTLE OVER an hour after hitting that imperious six into the stands in the final, MS Dhoni was asked how he planned to celebrate winning the World Cup. His reply was instructive. “Well, tomorrow I go to Delhi for a friend’s function,” he said. “And then, I have to report for IPL.” Whenever he switched on the television, he said with a tone bordering on resignation, some channel or the other would end up reminding him of how many days to go before the IPL began.

It was precisely why the Indian team chose to opt out of an open bus-top parade, one of those iconic emblems of celebration, despite winning the World Cup after nearly three decades. Three days later, with the nation still in the throes of euphoria-induced stupor, Dhoni was back in press conference mode, this time wearing the garish yellow of the Chennai Super Kings. Not surprisingly, he spoke of player fatigue, warning that some players may fall along the way during the grind of India’s crammed cricket season. One felt for him as he walked out for the toss in the IPL’s opening match, six days after lifting the ultimate prize of all.

One glance at the schedule, and one is inclined to think it would be a feat if the Indian team doesn’t collapse in a heap. The seven-week, 74-game IPL ends on 28 May and, shortly after, India travel to the West Indies for a Test and ODI series that runs from 4 June to 10 July. From there, they fly straight on to England, for a two-month tour beginning 16 July. And then there is the Champions League, followed by back-to-back home series against West Indies and England, all the way until the tour to Australia in the winter.

What is true of players applies to fans too. If sport supplies our age with grand narratives, then it is also defined by a need for closure. Sports fans need release — after the emotional roller-coaster of the World Cup, we needed space to soak it all in, to absorb the triumph, to retreat into mundane existence. Going away from sport is essential to renewing the appetite for it once again. The off-season is vital for any sport’s long-term health; it is why, after nine months of intense competition, the football season ends in May for a summer-long break, not resuming until three months later.

It is something Indian cricket’s heedless administrators, driven by greed above all, may fail to understand. But the signs of flagging spectator interest are already apparent elsewhere. Big-budget films, which stayed away from cinemas during previous IPL seasons, have decided to go ahead this time, guessing that a cricket saturated public was more likely to flock to the theatres. The IPL’s opening game, at the Chepauk, did not draw a full house. Two new teams, Kochi and Pune, made their debuts, but their opening games were played in front of a crowd well short of capacity.

Yet, of all the accusations levelled at the IPL, subtlety cannot be one of them. In any season, it is an assault on the senses — in its shrillness, overheated commercialism, excitable commentators advertising purely sub-standard cricket.

Given the schedule, it would be a feat if the entire Indian team doesn’t collapse in a heap

For once, it would have suited the IPL to play it a little low. But that would be to misunderstand its existence, ever-dependent on the hot air balloon of hype. Instead, the hyperbole went up a notch.  Bharat Bandh, the adverts said, missing the irony that this was more a fact of the recent past than a future prospect. India only ever closes when India plays.

Indian fans still hold amidst them the residue of that winning feeling — the highs of Ahmedabad, Mohali and Mumbai — which, in time, are certain to be part of cricket folklore. Cricket writer Dileep Premachandran, writing in Cricinfo, recently asked the question, “How do you top a World Cup win?” You don’t. Not when the follow-up is a soul-deadening, mindnumbing slogfest that intends to go on and on, for weeks on end. Indian fans already know that the best is past.

Vaibhav Vats is a Correspondent with Tehelka
vaibhav@tehelka.com

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