Yesterday afternoon, and again this afternoon, my hopes of getting a day’s worth of stuff done in a day, and then another day’s stuff in another day, were dashed by cricket, on the television. This was no ordinary cricket. This was not, for example, English county cricket, which has just begun again, and whose first round of matches concluded today, mostly in draws made inevitable by the gloomy, drizzly English weather. I did not get to see those two test match under-achievers but county supremos, Mark Ramprakash and Graham Hick, score their inevitable opening match centuries, in front of the usual tiny smattering of chilled spectators. No, what I saw was something quite different to all that. What I saw were two games on the first two days of something called the Indian Premier League.
On the face of it, this was not cricket of any great profundity, being twenty-overs-each-way slogfests, quite lacking in the long-drawn-out subtleties of five day test cricket or four day English county cricket or Australian Sheffield Shield matches. Nevertheless the Indian Premier League is something extremely profound. It signals the emergence of India as the superpower of cricket that it now is. Everyone in cricket agrees. It’s a new era.
India is not the cricket superpower because of its players, excellent though those players are. Yes, Sachin Tendulkar will soon become the greatest run-getter in test match history, when he overtakes the West Indian Brian Lara. But Australia are still, despite the recent retirements of Warne and McGrath, what they have long been, the best international side in the world. No, what makes India special is the number of its fans. I am fond of saying that there are more cricket fans in India than there are people in Europe, and my friend and fellow Samizdatista Michael Jennings would have corrected me long ago if this was wrong. And now, these fans are starting seriously to shift the centre of gravity of cricket.
The Indian Premier League doesn’t just feature Indian players. Their plan is to make the IPL have a place in cricket much like that the of the English Premier League in soccer, namely something played by the best players in the world, and watched and followed all over the world. And now, it has started. The atmosphere I got from watching these two games on my television was of a big, big country, self-confident enough not just to offer the world a compelling sporting product but to share the glory of it all with whoever in the world has the nerve and the determination to grab it.
And it so happens that the visitors are seizing their chances, so far rather better than the locals. Perhaps the Indians are weighed down a little by the burden of what they must be telling themselves is cricket history in the making, and are taking it just that much too seriously, whereas the visitors just see it as the chance of some fun and some (in some cases a lot of) highly welcome cash. Warne and McGrath have both forced their tired old bodies to have one final outing, I notice.
In the opening game, the Kolkata Knight Riders crushed the Bangalore Royal Challengers, from whom there was alas not much of a challenge, and the result was settled long before the end of the game, as often happens in these types of games. But New Zealander Brendon McCullum nevertheless got the IPL off to a suitably headline grabbing start by making the biggest individual score ever recorded in a twenty-twenty game. And today, another rapid not out century by Australian run-machine Mike Hussey was also the difference between the two sides, as the Chennai Super Kings set an even bigger target, which the Kings XI Punjab made a decent stab at but in the end couldn’t match. The Punjab side would have got closer if their top scorer, another Australian, had hung around longer and hit some more boundaries.
No wonder the best of England’s county cricketers are envious. They can hardly wait to get involved.
There are genuine fears that cricket is not so much being played as used up, and that spectators may in due course get bored with all this vulgar slogging, and instead of turning to more refined and antique versions of cricket, may instead switch their allegiances to other sports. But good or bad, this is certainly an event, not just in the history of cricket, but, because of the emergence-of-India-as-a-superpower angle, in the very history of the world.
I chanced upon these excitements (by coincidence immediately after posting this about the IPL at my personal blog) on something called Setanta Sports 1, channel number 34 on my digital TV, which is sometimes “encrypted” (i.e. it doesn’t work), but sometimes not (i.e. it does!). Can anyone tell me what further games I might be able to watch here in England on Setanta, given that I am not a subscriber to Setanta and do not plan to be? I get very little live cricket in England to watch, unless I visit a pub. I would love to be able to watch more of this tournament in my home.