‘Play, play, faster, faster!’
The Indian Premier League has its critics. There is no doubt about the fact that the landscape of Indian Cricket has taken wild form ever since the advent of this adventurous league. But nobody, not even the greatest of fanboys or the most cynical of critics, can truly explain the extent of harm or advantage this T20 blitzkreig seems to have on ‘real’ cricket.
IPL is now in its fifth edition, and has not so much as creeped upon us as stamped itself brutally on us demoralized, spent Indian fans. Ironically, it may be a slight relief- after the most catastrophic 8 months for Team India…1.5 months of bam-bam, semi-pornographic, no-holds barred, non-International competition is exactly what the Doctor ordered (a medicine that probably caused this allergic reaction in first place?)
We can go on and on about how the current young generation of players will never value Test Cricket or match up to the divine standards set by the Holy Trio, but the fact: Team India rose to the top of the Test Rankings in 2008, a year after the first IPL edition. Dhoni was at his peak, and so were the seniors (IPL or not, you guess), and even though there was no Kohli or Yadav back then, there was a group of individuals at the very peak of their confidence and skill-set.
Fairytales and Winning Scripts
With the first edition way back in 2007, sample the other major events that have taken place in Indian cricket: The first T20 World Cup Win, The first tri-series win Down Under, The Asia Cup win, the BIG ONE- The World Cup win in 2011, and a couple of other dominant ODI series wins over Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand. What was missing, and might always remain missing- Series wins in South Africa (Tests OR ODIs) and a Test Series win in Australia.
Also, as IPL picked up steam, and games rose from 51 to 72 per season, India lost its Test Ranking with crushing defeats in England and Australia, India failed to defend its tri-series and Asia Cup titles by not even reaching the final, and now lie in a period of uncertainty with respect to their long term future.
In short, Team India began from the bottom, scraped the barrel, rose gradually to the top, stayed there for two years, and crashed dramatically back to the bottom- a full circle in four sensationally dramatic years of Cricket. The fact is- the IPL made something happen. It gave a bit of direction- whether good or bad in the long run- to Indian Cricket, and gave them a purpose. It may not prove to be ideal in the long run, but where else was the team supposed to look after the heart-crushing early World Cup exit back in 2007? Everybody needed an outlet, not least the players who suffered the ignominy of that exit.
The Night is Darkest before the Dawn
Lalit Modi, all said and done, proved to be the visionary- not entirely unselfish, of course- but his impact has been phenomenal on the sub-continental game. The Rise wasn’t instantaneous, and the fall was brutal. What transpired in between, though, is stuff of history. Records fell, Players were reborn, players were destroyed, careers were made, attitudes were created, and life was turned upside down.
By 2011, though, what the IPL may have given, the IPL took away too- and now it comes down to individual players and their priorities…because this tournament is going nowhere, and is here to STAY.
Players like Ricky Ponting stayed away from the tournament, and we can’t really say if his single-minded focus on international cricket has served him well…but he seems to be getting a final wind in Test Cricket.
Michael Clarke, meanwhile, rose to the top, in no small measure due to his repeated absence from this T20 tournament, and is now in charge of an erratic team that has 90% of its players playing at various T20 editions across the globe.
Yusuf Pathan came, went and came back again. R. Ashwin is on yet another false start, and players like Asnodkar, Dinda and Jakati never scaled level 2. Raina, though, is a strength and casualty, with the IPL effect probably ending his Test Career in England. He has been exposed severely, and he will be aching to get a few lusty blows off those same bowlers back at the Chidambaram Stadium.
Dhoni, the boy who could do no wrong- not in the IPL either, looks a jaded man. The IPL sucked him, swished him around, cleansed him, took him to the top of the pile, and cruelly- has kept him there. The Super Kings are still the team to beat, but their captain is a beaten man. Will another win really matter to him? Will another century really matter to Sachin?
But we do know that the momentary rise in class and form will matter to players like Raina, Rohit Sharma, Uthappa and the others struggling to stay in the main team. They probably need this tournament as much as they don’t, but who’s to stop them?
Men in White, Coloured heroes?
One can’t deny the fact that Test Cricket has scaled another peak- as far as series results and close matches go- with the maximum decisive results (no 0-0 draws) in the last 4 decades occurring over the last 5 years. Even Sri Lanka has started to win or lose a Test Series in their own backyard, which is saying a lot. Bloodied Competitiveness, or a collective fall of standard? It may not matter, because the field is level enough to save the game from extinction.
Would we see scores of 434, 348, 320 (Down Under), 330, and other outlandish targets being hunted down like it was just an extended T20 game? Maybe not, not before 2005 atleast. The bowlers are not always paying, because the maximum number of sub-100 scores in Test Cricket over the last century has been recorded in the last 4.5 years, with Australia doling out quite a few of those themselves.
20 years from now, when we look back at the history of Indian Cricket, we will- in no uncertain terms- refer to the rise and fall of Team India. The Indian Premier League will be mentioned, to an extent where pre-IPL and post-IPL will be the eras in the new millennium.
Before that, Indian Cricket was neither shaken, nor stirred.
Welcome, IPL 2012. Ready or not, here it comes.