The IPL continues to do more harm than good

2013-04-27 00:00

ALMOST on top of a farcical finish, in which one of the teams contrived to lose its last six wickets on a flat pitch when requiring just 19 runs to win in more than three overs, comes an innings from Chris Gayle in which he scored a 100 off only 30 balls. Gayle went on to score 175 off 66 balls.

I have watched less IPL cricket this season than before, but I did take in enough of these two matches to have serious doubts about the veracity of this whole noisy circus that is becoming more threatening to the wider game with each passing year.

During Gayle’s innings, it almost seemed that the bowlers were in on the plan to create the biggest display of hitting ever seen in professional cricket. Ball after ball was delivered on a perfect length for Gayle to swing his gigantic bat.

The result was an orgy of boundaries. Over a quarter of the balls that Gayle received were hit for “maximums”, as the dim-witted television commentators prefer to call sixes in deference to commercial interests. The yorker, delivered wide of the crease to a packed off-side field, was nowhere in evidence.

It was as if the whole show had been orchestrated to demonstrate that the IPL has become the ultimate in cricket entertainment. Those of my racier friends who actually admit to having attended an orgy, all say the same thing: that once the romp’s fours and sixes were on liberal display, passion departed the scene and their overwhelming reaction was a desire to leave the premises as soon as possible. For television viewers, this is achieved by switching off, secure in the knowledge that nothing of substance will be missed. Gayle’s performance was probably perfectly legitimate but, performed within the circus of the IPL, it lacked context.

My real concern is what the gentlemen of the ICC are thinking, if they think at all, about the future of the game and particularly that of its most compelling product, Test-match cricket, in the face of the rise and rise of the IPL.

Last year was a good one for Test cricket. There were a number of intriguing series, several of which involved South Africa, the best team in the world. This year looks anything but promising. Within 10 months, the Poms and Aussies will have played each other 10 times in what will probably be the most lopsided Ashes series since the famous bail was cremated in memory of English cricket.

South Africa has also been given another three-match series against India. After that, the Indians gorge themselves on a glut of cricket against England and Australia, whereas the Proteas will be testing themselves against the minnows.

This is not the kind of menu that the ICC should be putting before its stakeholders, unless it wants to shed its de jure control of the game to the Indians. The de facto control was surrendered the moment that England and Australia were blackmailed into surrendering their vetoes over the affairs of the ICC.

The first item on the next agenda of the ICC should be a proposal to abandon forthwith the ICC’s future tours programme and replace it with something that ensures Jacques Kallis and company can play some meaningful Test matches before they retire. That South Africa should be so little extended over the coming years is a disgrace, but I am not holding my breath. Nor do I anticipate that India’s hegemony over the game will be imperiled by relegating both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to the diminished status that their dire playing ability warrants.

Enough of the ICC, but while I am on the rant, there is something else that is bothering me. It is that the freedom of speech, which is regarded by sensible people as the cornerstone of any democratic society, is coming under threat from the surprising quarter of sport.

All hell broke loose recently when the eccentric fascist, Paolo di Canio, was appointed manager of Sunderland Football Club. Di Canio, who sports a tattoo of Benito Mussolini next to the chip on his right shoulder, enjoys celebrating various bright moments in his life with the infamous straight-arm salute of the Nazis. Many people, including myself, find this and Di Canio’s fascist warblings to be distasteful. Voltaire would have encouraged us, however, to defend with our lives his right to behave and talk like a bloody fool.

Society is stronger, not weaker, for tolerating clowns such as Di Canio who, to the chagrin of his critics, has been an immediate success. Those left-wing commentators who were outraged that he was given such a high-profile position, would not have given it a second thought had Sunderland appointed a self-confessed Stalinist to be their manager.

Just last week, cricket found itself embroiled in a similar problem when John Mooney, the Irish batsman, was punished for an offensive tweet in which he said that he hoped Margaret Thatcher had “died a slow and painful death”. Mooney was given a three-match ban for contravening a standard code of behaviour which is designed to stop sportspeople making snide remarks about administrators and other matters.

When will officials learn that the most effective sanctions against a sportsperson who makes a fool of himself or herself are almost invariably administered by team-mates who are far less tolerant of idiots in the dressing room than might be supposed? I am not advocating that officials ignore players who say and behave stupidly, but rather that they think twice before acting in a manner that inhibits free speech.

There is more at stake than the reputation of sport and its blazered bureaucrats.

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