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.