The gifted vs the humdrum

2011-04-23 00:00

IPL’s fourth edition has been going along at a high pace. Packed grounds, excited spectators, new teams and tight matches played on fair pitches have combined to produce rich entertainment.

It has been a reminder that there are two sorts of cricketers, gifted and humdrum. The sight of Sachin Tendulkar at the top of the scoring list reinforces the point.

Evidently IPL has survived the departure of Lalit Modi, one of those entrepreneurs inclined to fly too close to the sun. Modi did not bother much with accounts or any of that nonsense (apparently he intends to run for council), but he provided the energy and imagination to get the project off the ground. After that it was taken over by the responsible. It’s a pity the same does not happen to newly liberated nations.

Now and then the IPL has been criticised in this column, whereupon it has found itself cast among the condemners. Nuanced positions are dismissed in an age in which speculation passes for fact and gossip poses as truth. Modern liberation begins with the new media. Alas, it is also a haven for the credulous and resentful.

Suffice it to say, then, that IPL is a mixed blessing and that it is entirely possible to regard some parts with pleasure and others with consternation. Among its delights can be listed the opportunity to watch the great players of the game strut their stuff a little longer than expected.

Nothing is drearier in sport, it is submitted, than the sight of yesterday’s champions pottering around on tennis courts or golf courses or cricket fields. By all means, let them keep playing, but let them not be reduced to circus acts in the manner of Buffalo Bill Hickok and other cowboys.

The sight of these gentlemen, who had defied Geronimo and even John Wayne, putting on a show for children is depressing.

Although they still look the part, ageing sportsmen cannot sustain their intensity or standard. All too soon everything becomes a fraction slower. Doubtless the competitive instinct remains, but the girth thickens slightly and the fire flickers. Failure no longer haunts them. In truth, they are going through the motions. John McEnroe can scream at umpires, but it is the merest self-parody.

At first sight it might seem that IPL also allows former champions to play beyond their time and so suffers from the same sentimentality. But there is a crucial difference; the competition is genuine. The fastest bowlers and leading spinners take part in IPL and all concerned need to be on guard. Wages are high too, and players need to earn their corn or else the feedbag will be removed. The cricket is raw but real. Players can get hurt.

Accordingly, the old champions are worth watching as they pit themselves against another generation. Doubtless their inclusion was partly a marketing device, but it has given the public and newcomers an opportunity to appreciate their extraordinary skill. Unless it is the sight of Adam Gilchrist in full flow, it is hard to imagine a better advertisement for the game than Shane Warne weaving one of his spells.

Sometimes, too, the great men exchange blows on the field. During the week, Warne locked horns with his old comrade Gilchrist. Here was a battle to relish, between attacking spinner and dashing batsman, rogue and clean-cut kid. Like Paul McCartney and John Lennon, the pair did their best work together and yet remained forever apart.

Warne worked hard before this IPL. Previously his idea of preparation was to reduce his intake of pizza. Over the years he never shirked bowling, but took a dimmer view of gyms and running tracks. Nor were salad and tofu to his taste. But his standards fell in last year’s IPL and, despite the showmanship, he is a proud warrior. Before the tournament he admitted that his last campaign had been poor, but added with that glint in his eye, “Watch me this time”.

Warne has been superb and the only regret is that Rajasthan lacked the money and backing needed to build a strong side.

Favours bestowed on Chennai and Mumbai were denied the rest. Still, the leg-spinner remains larger than life and no less prone to calamity. Anyhow, sport is played by the spirited — let the bloodless run the game.

Gilchrist has been patchy as batsmen only get one chance — besides which, the slide begins earlier and is harder to stop.

Moreover opponents know that he does not like facing spin before he has settled.

Still, he smacked the ball around with gusto. And he did so not amongst pals, but in the face of stiff and sincere opposition­.

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