Sorry, but this just isn’t cricket !
Think about it. A very popular cricket tournament runs into trouble when the government decides it cannot offer security. The tournament’s organizers decide to take it abroad. The BJP attacks the government. It says that the message this sends out is that India is not safe. No foreign teams will come here now.
A while later, after the tournament has been shifted to South Africa, Australia declares that it will not come to India to play its Davis Cup matches. India, it says, is unsafe.
The BJP makes we-told you-so noises. But strangely enough, there is no answering chorus from the public or the media. Why should this be so? Surely, the BJP has been vindicated? The government has been shown up.
So why don’t we care more? The answers have to do with many factors. One of these is the way in which we regard this year’s IPL. There are those, like myself, who believe that the Cricket Board behaved with great arrogance. It had no business scheduling the tournament in a month when we were certain to hold elections. It should have realized that this would stretch our security apparatus to the limit.
When the government said it would happily provide security if the tournament was rescheduled, the board refused, preferring to stick to the original dates and shift it abroad. In the process it — and not the government — sent out the signal that India was unsafe.
Some people regard this as anti-national. I wouldn’t go so far. But elections in the world’s greatest democracy are more important than potential losses incurred by the rich people who own IPL teams. So I think the cricket board behaved irresponsibly and arrogantly.
Mine is still a minority view but fewer and fewer people blame the government for the IPL’s shift abroad. So that’s one reason why there is less outrage.
A second reason has to do with the IPL itself. The organizers may tell us that more people tuned in for the first matches of this year’s tournament than last year, but the figures suggest that people watched those matches for less time than last year. So far at least, IPL has not been the ratings juggernaut that its organizers had hoped.
Moreover, there have been other problems. The strategy breaks aimed at making even more money from advertisers have annoyed viewers. Too many matches have been disappointing. Others have been rained out. There aren’t that many spectators in the stadium so those that do turn up are herded into a single stand for the benefit of TV cameras.
Plus, there’s the pride factor. Somehow it is harder to identify with say, a Delhi team when it is playing in Durban and Capetown than if the team was playing in Delhi or Bombay. In some cases, the owners have shorn off the city affiliations anyway. In the case of the Kolkata Knight Riders, the connection with Kolkata is now increasingly tenuous. The city’s favourite sporting icon has been humiliated, an Australian mafia calls the shots and Kolkata has been dropped from the name of the team.
The consequence of all this is that IPL has much less of an emotional connect with viewers this time. Even if they enjoy watching the matches, viewers are less passionate about them. It is a sign of the times that the biggest story to come out of this year’s IPL is not Unsafe India. It is the saga of the un-named blogger whose posts are unremittingly hostile to the entire tournament.
That blogger captures the spirit of this IPL. We watch it not as we watch a match where India is playing but as we watch a Hindi movie – as pure tamasha and fodder for gossip.