At exactly eight PM last night the inaugural game of the Indian Premier League unfolded in a packed Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore. Team Kolkata batted first, with New Zealander Brendan McCullum putting on a clinic, batting for 158 off 73 balls and leading his team to a 222 for 3 score for the twenty over inning. McCullum seemed invincible, with ten fours and an astonishing thirteen sixes. In his last over he has three sixes, including a powerful upper-deck shot on the final ball of the inning. The Bangalore Royal Challengers simply had no chance. Ishant Sharma, playing for Team Kolkata, took a wicket on his first pitch. And it was all downhill from there as Bangalore went all out at 82 runs scored.
The coming of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been much discussed here in India as well as in other cricket countries around the world. Depending upon who you talk to, the Twenty20 cricket format (one inning for each team with twenty overs for each) is the downfall or the bright future of cricket. IPL teams are made up of star players from India, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. The lords of English cricket appear to feel that the league is not in the best interests of their players, and so they have been forbidden-even though players are saying that if they could, they would join league. Who would blame them? For IPL is a genuine professional league, with a draft and big salaries, and players are making more in the six week season than they make in a year on their national teams. Fans, too, can now turn on the television every night for the next six weeks and catch a 2-3 hour cricket game.
The big question for the cricket pundits appears to be whether or not the national game will suffer. What will happen to the antional team? Will fans support the city-based teams? Will the crowds fill the stadiums? Will the TV advertising revenues increase? One writers points out that before the IPL becomes the NBA, time will need to play its part, as professional sports leagues in the US (NBA, MLB, NFL) and in Europe (Football) have evolved, and fans are now born as well as made. The other question is whether the Twenty20 format will eclipse the extended drama of test cricket or the one-dayer. This is a sensible concern, as the range of athletic skills required to play Test Cricket, not only power and finesse, but endurance and patience, falls away when the team has only twenty overs to bat. One imagines that training regimes will change, players will adopt different styles, and there is always the possiblity that the more agressive play of Twenty20 will result in more injuries sustained by national team players.
Every sport I’ve ever been serious about has evolved over time. In the 70s it was the change from longer surfboards to shorter boards with multiple fins, from graceful carving to a more aggressive style of a Larry Bertleman; skateboarding, at the same time, and the move to urethane wheels and then from spillway slopes and vertical pool concrete to air and flips and acrobatics; nordic skiing in the late 70s and early 80s, and the move from diagonal stride to skating and then the sprint race; rock climbing and the mmove from the hip belay on crags and alpine granite to bolts and the stich plate and the climbing gym; and in the 80s, ski mountaineering on light gear to the recreation of the alpine style in what has come to be called telemarking. In every one of these cases, sport has changed, for better and for worse, leading anyone who has lived through the changes, and has reached the proper age where nostalgia kicks in, will most likely be heard sighing over a cold beer, “Things just aren’t like they used to be.”
The pre-game show, the frantic Indian spectators packed into the stadium, the cheerleaders in tight hot pants and high boots gyrating to loud music, the media stars-including the overly-enthusiastic owner of Team Kolkata, the mediocre actor Shah Rukh Khan, dancing and high-fiving members of his entourage-are all too familiar trappings of professional sports. It’s all rather depressing, really, though everyone sure seemed to be having a hell of a time. Entertainment for sure. And some damn cool cricket, too.