Today Alex Ferguson explains why, after initial scepticism and hesitancy, he’s fallen in love with the greatest show on cricketing turf…
The IPL wasn’t the first of the big T20 competitions. That was the T20 Blast in England, replete with its late-into-the-evening revelry, closed-in boundaries, and fun shots galore. Finals Day at Edgbaston remains a staple of the cricket season. Whether the four-day or five-day gamers like it or not, it’s the best cricketing atmosphere in England (I saw Worcestershire win their first trophy since Tom Moody demolished Lancashire’s bowling at the Natwest Final in 1994).
For me, the IPL is a cleaner version of that….and Finals Day seems to be every day.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t a lover of the IPL at the start. Maybe it was Danny Morrison and the fact that he sounded more like a WWE commentator, waiting for the Hulk to get into the ring, and less about Virat Kohli in his prime. Maybe it was the constant ‘time outs’. Or the cricketers given mics during a game, where they seemed to laugh and enjoy themselves. Or the batters themselves throwing themselves into contortions for a strange pull/chip shot, that sometimes worked. Or even the shitty fielding, which brought up most of my biases against fielding ‘down there’. Or it was the owners on their massive couches, looking down at the swarms of people who were screaming at anything, while I – the cynic – watched on with a Lord’s like stodginess without the tie and free entry into The Pavilion. This was cricket, for God’s sake. Take it seriously. Please.
But as the seasons wore on, it grew on me.
Firstly, it fills a nice time during the Test season when….there aren’t any Test matches. It means that you can watch your favourite game, without the likes of Dom Sibley boring your behind off for a marathon 25 run, 210 balls innings. And as an England fan, it’s a holiday away from injury.
Secondly – and speaking of England – you get to keep an eye on your favourite players. This year you’re in awe of Jos Buttler and Liam Livingstone, although it’s nice to see Moeen and Johnny do OK, too. Because of Buttler’s performances, I find myself talking him into an England role as a batsman/fielder, because he’s tremendous at both. Just don’t put him at three or let him open.
Thirdly, you deal with the ad breaks. If you don’t like the ads, mute the telly with Harshan Bogle starts mentioning the car company that sponsor the time out. You become acutely aware that the Indian companies who paid the IPL an awful lot of money for the coverage need to get their pound of flesh, too, as well as the bidi on top for good measure. And also, you really, really want the windscreen of the bloody car to get smashed. Every innings. And for the batter to be seen mouthing: “Crap car anyway”.
The ad breaks dissolve in the mind when you’re watching the best-of-the-best play. Where else can you have the cream of most countries’ crops (apart from Stokes, who chose to stay at home to club sixes at county level, and every Pakistani player because both sides can’t get on)? There’s Quinton, KL…and Jos. You find yourself questioning whether Adil Rashid would have been an option on Indian shores, or how well Alex Hales might do. Then you get reminded that Alex Hales’ off-the-field activities – as well as his average of 24.66 wasn’t going to set the Crore-givers alight.
For me, I find it less about the cities I’ve never been to or the teams I’ve never seen, but more about the players. For the purposes of cricket in the sub-continent, I’m like the Korean kid turning up to a game in Paris with a Neymar shirt because he loves the player. Except my shirt would be a collection, and rainbow-colored, because I find myself appreciating a player from every team. I’m also attached enough that finding out ‘the latest’ on Twitter doesn’t matter so much, because the game’s flowing, and the news isn’t going anywhere.
You learn to love the crowd. During this year I find myself worrying that very few are wearing masks and they are crammed in like sardines, but I find the continuing roars and bubbles somewhat comforting. The fans are having fun, so why shouldn’t you? Every bomb from the square is cheered, and bizarrely, so is every wicket. But as the tournament goes on, you can see a crowd in Bangalore become less measured about their cheering, because now, it’s about delivering their first-ever IPL win. They’ve been the bridesmaid three times, after all.
And also, you learn to love the mental break. I’m a stay-at-home with no conversation apart from ‘Goo Goo’ and ‘Da Dad’, and sometimes Harshan and Graeme and the cheering of 40,000 crazy Indians makes me smile a bit. And for those of you who don’t watch it, I can assure you it’s a great break from the utter depression of a world that is more self-hating every day.
Unfortunately it has the opposite effect for me: I’d have to get serious help if I was made to watch the IPL, the T20 or worst of all the 100. I gave up on this hit and giggle cricket about 6 years ago because it had become one long bore. I get why people like it, but doesn’t it mirror the McDonald’s instant society. Sorry not for me – ever.
Maybe so, but it’s bringing a ton more people to the game. And isn’t that what we want as cricket fans?
That depends what and how much the format cannibalises on its way to doing that. Personally if it “saves” cricket by destroying red-ball cricket then no I don’t want it. I’m thinking of things like the report I read a couple of years ago already that one county (which is now playing in division 1) was investing 80% of its training time into white-ball.
It’s also worth considering that franchise competitions in some countries–notably India, England and South Africa–are by definition elitist since they seriously reduce the number of teams. That might be fine if you’re a white-ball specialist who can get as much money for six weeks’ work as you used to get for six months, less so if you’re a red-ball player for Sussex or Uttar Pradesh who risks being put of work in the long-term by the franchisation of cricket.
Ah yes, but while the IPL is all fun and games, countries take more pride in winning the 50-over World Cup and I have a feeling that the World Test Championship will get bigger and bigger as we go on, too.
This might not be wonderful for the County Championship, but I think the way that it’s worked has benefitted England in the short run (ie the last four days!!).
Never mind, keep taking the tablets.
Like channel 4’s forays into American football in the 90’s and Football Italia in the naughties I quite enjoyed the initial coverage but it all became very samey after a while. With the IPL everyone’s trying too hard to overhype and it all becomes one dimensional and boring pretty quickly. There’s just so many spectacular sixes you can hit. The idea that it’s attacking cricket is of course an urban myth as if you watch any fielding captain it’s all about damage limitation. Hence there’s very little real drama building, which is what makes test cricket so much more interesting. It’s the big picture, like the battle after the skirmish. It’s why 5 a side soccer hasn’t caught on as a spectator sport or sevens rugby. With the IPL it’s also difficult to identify with a team as there’s so many personnel changes every season. It’s why our city based ‘Hundred’ won’t survive alongside the county circuit. You can’t split the sport and retain the fan base. If you don’t care who wins it takes any tension away, so there’s no real drama, just the prompted hysteria of the punters in the stadium.
I think of me that I love cricket, and it’s fun seeing players – like Joss – doing so well. I don’t have any affiliation with the teams because I’ve never been to them, although family friends like in Mumbai, Delhi, Rajasthan and Bangalore. But I do like the players.
The notion of damage limitation is an interesting one for me. I think that takes a certain amount of skill against the world’s top batters.
Also: I love Test cricket and country cricket too.
I meant I think of myself…
I’m not detracting from the white ball skill sets, which are considerable, but we need balance in the game’s formats and that is clearly lacking. Buttler is a great timer and hitter but technically still weak. The white ball doesn’t swing or seam much and pitches are prepared for batting. There’s no close fielders and bowlers rarely seem to bowl at the stumps. The IPL is certainly benefitting the Indians but apart from individual bank balances it’s hard to see where the benefits lie for English cricket.
Players worldwide still seem to see test cricket as the ultimate challenge and the county game is the only format in this country to furnish the necessary training ground, yet this is actively sabotaged by white ball.
Very few of these allegedly tons of new people coming to watch the game, something I would dispute given the amount of freebies The Hundred organisers here had to give away to get the crowds in last season, are not new atall, just recycled, and most will never go to county or test matches.
Are you really implying, Marc, that (say) the 2019 World Cup final was devoid of drama if you weren’t an England or NZ fan?! I’m almost never that bothered about who wins a game of cricket, but there’s plenty of tension and plenty of interest–that comes from the game itself.
It’s rare to find that kind of drama in ant sport, but it’s hardly typical. Most one dayers end well before the last over, many being effectively over before the last 10. Every test match has greater drama generally, brought about by fluctuations in fortunes that 2 innings matches will always have.
I largely agree about the fluctuating fortunes–and it’s the subtle rhythms of the red-ball game that I like about it. However I would still say–which was the point in your originally post that I was querying–that that comes not (or at least not mainly) from how much you’re invested in one of the teams but from the game itself.
I liked the BBL initially – but soon drifted away from it because of the sameyness and one-dimensional nature of the play.
As for being concerned about Indian fans not wearing masks, you always have to slip the propaganda in, don’t you? Anyone with a genuine knowledge of what’s going on in India would be more concerned about the potential for mass starvation. A combination of big corporations’ attacks on Indian farmers and a heatwave have led to India ceasing wheat exports and a similar ban on rice is expected shortly. A few IPL players have spoken out in defence of the farmers but nowhere near enough (more spoke out about foreigners not butting into Indian affairs which isn’t quite the same thing).
Indian cities did not see mass deaths from so-called covid. The footage in Western media of “so may dead the funeral pyres can’t cope” happens every year in peak pollution season.
You really are staggeringly lacking in self-awareness Simon, if you’re so sanctimoniously having a go at someone for “slipping in propaganda”. Maybe take the beam out of your own eye before you seek to remove the speck of dust from someone else’s!
(And of course you don’t know any more accurately than Alex does how many people did or didn’t die of Covid in India).
What’s so incredibly stupid about your comment is the fact that I never mentioned COVID or politics anywhere in it. All I mentioned were fat-cats on couches, which seem to be much more chilled-out than they were when it all started!!
So please, I’m talking about cricket and not wanting to talk about farmers etc.
Oh, and talking about people wearing masks, I am always – post COVID – thinking about big crowds and masks, and this happens all over the world. If you think that this is a simple attack on the Modi Government from the ‘Western Media’, then quite simply…it isn’t. And I’m not ‘the media’, I’m a writer.
I actually agree with Alex and enjoy the occasional game of IPL, normally watching when an England man is playing. I enjoy the hype, whilst also recognising it for what it is. I also enjoy the Blast and wish that was marketed and promoted as well as the IPL.
On the notion of attacking cricket v damage limitation – there is a theory that the team that bowls best wins, in days of new bats and short boundaries there is no shortage of players who are capable of hitting/slogging/improvising sixes BUT bowlers who take key wickets…
At last! Some support!
I love it too. I live on my own and sometimes can get a bit down and I find it great company. I like Morrison, I think he is an honest. Commentator and I have even grown to be fond of Swan who seems to be having a great time in the box. KP can get a tad over excited mind…
And I get to see du Plessis, Kohli, Rahul, et all. Just sheer fun
Thank you Elaine!
And for the record, I think Danny Morrison yells too much. Swann’s also having a great time. But these guys are paid to be ‘happy-clappy’ in the box, and it works rather well. As for KP, I don’t know what planet he’s on.
Used to watch the IPL when it first started but don’t really watch it anymore as the T20 league goes on for too long for my liking and they is too many T20 leagues across the world including two hundred ball competions that includes last man stands which has been around since 2005 and now the hundred which launched in 2021, for me cricket is to much of a batsmen game and the bowlers are getting wallop all over the ground it’s a bit like watching paint dry to be honest with you.