When the two-piece swimsuit bikini was launched in 1946 it was presciently named after the Bikini atoll in the Pacific where the first atom bombs were being tested. What the atom bomb did to warfare and thus to politics the bikini did to swimwear, public sexuality and modernity. The IPL has not been given a prescient name but its impact on cricket and sports in general, and on Indian capitalism will prove to be as far reaching as the bikini or the Bomb.
Is IPL a good thing or a bad thing? Despite bouts of bad press IPL is going from strength to strength. It began with Lalit Modi`s outrageous genius and it has galvanized Indian and world cricket, refilled ageing and abandoned stadia, skyrocketed TRPs of TV, brought in an avalanche of glamour, money, women, fashion, cars, booze, parties, media and a whole new buzz into the art and business of cricket. Inevitably it has also brought in new varieties of sleaze and scandal replacing old varieties.
Exactly like what happened when the bikini first came, a lot of ageing and spinsterly voices are getting scandalized over IPL, and in their outrage are getting their knickers in a twist. MPs want to ban IPL, worried about nobility of sport, morality, and the chastity of Indian culture being threatened by IPL`s hedonism. Cultural pontiffs are shaking their heads in wise I-told-you-so manner. Some say the sport itself is getting defiled. All this just because of some extra booze, broads and moolah? Rubbish. Truth is IPL has started a new cricketing era with a bang. Let us set the record straight.
First the Puritanism. What after all is the source of sacredness in the 5 day, 2 innings version of the game? Tracing it back we find it located in its origin and pedigree, in the form of cricket that was played among the counties in the feudalera of England – in short, in imperial snobbery. As the name of county cricket itself indicates it was the game of counts, dukes, and earls and their lads whacking around the leather all day during lazy, long summer months with bouts of boozing and wenching thrown in. It inevitably palled by the fifth day. In essence this is the fountainhead of cricket`s purity.
Next, what of test cricket? What exactly is the testing element in test cricket? All games are a contest but no other game is called a test. There are no football tests, hockey tests, baseball or basketball tests. Why? A little reflection will trace the origins again to England`s imperialism.
When did test cricket start? After decolonization, and in the times of national independence movements. On the imperial side the attitude was, okay you coolies may have learnt to ape us but your mimicry of cricket needs to pass the test, preferably at the Lord`s. On the colonized side the attitude was, beat the sahibs in their cricket and that will stop their strutting and preening. Cricket too was an arena of national independence movement of the people. The testing element was not in the art of batting or bowling but in the national aspect of the pro- and anti-imperialism in the colonies. Public interest in cricket even now is, not surprisingly, confined to ex-colonies of England.
Much water has flowed down the Ganga since. The empire has struck back with vengeance, and all nations are now equal supplicants at the Yankee high table. So in the Post-Everything 21st century let the whining about test cricket be finally laid to rest.
In India the prime test cricket era was the heyday of BCCI, a club of ex maharajahs of Thispur and Thatpur apeing the counts of England and overseeing their sons and dependants playing the stately game. It absentmindedly managed Ranji and national cricket, helped along with benign patronage of the State. Ranji trophy itself was named after a princeling who swung a mean bat in county cricket. Overwhelmingly male, sexist, upper caste, and deeply feudal that pre-IPL cricket of India was preeminently crony-feudalism.
Truth is pre-IPL cricket was actually savarna-dominated matrices of patronage produced by Nehruvian State-feudalism, not some democratic harvester of cricketing talent. Once you passed the Kafkaesque meshes of patronage and got into the Team you played, regardless of your performance till you could even lift the bat. Very much like and parallel to the “golden” age of bollywood music when only less than half dozen artists sang for thousands of films till they croaked.
In that era cricket in India had no money, or hope of a future to offer to the talented boys of UP, MP, AP, etc except through the narrow and chancy stranglehold of patronage politics which excluded nearly all of them from the outset. That cricket belonged to the constellation of Doordarshan, fountain pens, industrial licences, celluloid films, Bakelite telephones, Ambassador cars, Bata shoes, and carbon copying. People were interested in test cricket because of the evaporating but still residual freedom-struggle nationalism which was totally unlike today`s combative market-brand nationalism. The older nationalism was inward, bound up with self-discovery – if you won or scored a good shot you were modest about it while exulting inwardly. Today`s market-brand nationalism is aggressive, a vehicle for self-assertion – players and even spectators ( who buy Rs. 1000 stadium ticket each day) in victorious moments pump the sky violently and roar and rage with wide open carnivorous mouths like predators.
It was the good fortune of India and global cricket that capitalism caught up with cricket not in England but in India. And it luckily happened precisely when, unleashed by Manmohan Singh, India was given its chance of connecting with a global capitalism going viral in the post- Soviet era space. And like wherever capitalism goes IPL too is tearing apart all shibboleth and also holy verities.
It is only IPL 5 yet but already it is the Mecca of the best players of the world. It is seen by the talented boys of small town India as a democratic and viable career option despite their humble status of caste or connections. It is keeping alive cable television industry in India otherwise deadened by the advertising mughals. It has created city-clubs of teams with some real social allegiances for the first time in history. It has set in motion huge hoards of money comparable to other major branches of industry. Soon women’s IPL too will see light of the day. In short, IPL will transform Indian and world cricket beyond recognition. We are seeing just the opening overs now. The prophets of Manmohanist globalization are a tad embarrassed to claim it yet, but things like IPL are about all that they have to offer to India’s youth, alongwith Kaun Banega Crorepati and BPO call centres.
These are early days yet. But IPL has already undermined the all powerful BCCI fundamentally. Already some voices are talking about delinking the two. Soon BCCI will be history when IPL will have attained puberty. It is not insignificant that some far-seeing elements of the BCCI itself have already started owning or investing in IPL teams.
What of the art of the game itself? When power tennis first came with the likes of John McEnroe serving highly angled serves to the amiable Arthur Ashe, there was much tut-tutting. But who remembers the amiable tennis now? Sad but true.
Moreover, focusing on the craft itself, what is inherently “true” about bowling or batting endlessly without limitations of time or overs? Close examination of the game reveals that one gets out eventually mainly because of fatigue-driven lapses. What does it test? Endurance, or stamina, but that is all. Instead, T-20`s tightened framework of overs` limitation, field restrictions, no ball and bouncer management, etc makes the game a much sharper “test” of a larger number of cricketing skills actually. Anyway, games evolve, driven by the needs of players and spectators. Always have.
But sleaze? Of course there is sleaze. But capitalism is like that. Why single out cricket alone? Does it not exist in industry, medicine, military, politics, judiciary…? Give this cricket some time. It too will sanitize the risible side of it, and stabilize it. Capitalism does that too.
IPL-25, News report: Silver jubilee IPL had its opening ceremony in Srinagar yesterday. Art and Gym show was followed by a spectacular march past by girls and boys of all IPL Cricket Academies including from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia. This follows the successful end of the one-day World Cup Test Trophy last month. The historical section, sparsely attended, had films and posters of cricket`s past including items like BCCI, ICC, 5-day tests, Dhoni, Pietersen. The Lalit Modi torch was lit by Bhola Pasi, captain of the last year’s winners Patna Panthers.