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The IPL's inverse relationship


The IPL 2009 has been a huge success but not quite in the way Lalit Modi or most of the mainstream stakeholders and media would see it. It has been a success because it has brokered a completely unexpected peace between two contradictory parties.

A peaceful co-existence between pure, classical, competitive cricket, and the brash, crass, commercial side of the game was never thought possible - it was always going to be survival of one of the two. Since T20 brought in the money, we had begun resigning ourselves to a world of Yousuf Pathan's and Sunny Sohal's, and a world without Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis.

Wow, that is a  scary situation, now when you look back at it.

But here, then, is the irony, the paradox that summarizes the massive conflicts the game has being going through in its evolution over the last few years.

In a cricketing sense, on almost every count, IPL 09 has been better than IPL 08, and overwhelmingly so. It is difficult to hide the unbridled delight that comes with watching Dravid, Kumble and Kallis show the world of fluff and two-minute mazaa the middle finger. But the ratings are much lower; on the 'buzz barometer' in the mainstream media it has registered lower indexes. IPL 08 is referred to as the IPL's 'glory days', IPL 2 has still done very well, but nowhere as near as it did last time.

There are non cricketing reasons that make up part of the story, of course - the tournament wasn't held in India so there can't possibly the same hype despite the good turnouts in SA, the novelty is bound to die down, and so on. But there is one strong cricketing reason - on the face of it, it wasn’t a slug-fest, the 200 run innings are limited, batsmen are 'building innings'. Hell, bowlers are regularly clocking 6 per over figures.

Have we then arrived at a curious inverse relation - good cricket leads to lower ratings and lower responses?

Does it mean you possibly can't become a mass hit without completely selling out on your core product? IPL 2 has still been 'rocking', and has done better on the ratings than any other entertainment offering on TV. It is still a 'big deal'. The general success of IPL 09 when seen on its own is an indication that you can still be pretty well off without entirely selling out.

The home truth that emerges, perhaps, is this. The core qualities that define cricket in its most 'classic', unadulterated form - long drawn out battles, strategies, patient batting, working a batsmen out, wearing the opposition down - are all qualities that the modern popcorn world is rapidly abandoning - they don't belong here anymore (no, not hinting that Tests will die, they won’t, but that’s a different story). The world, however, is ready to buy these if presented in smaller doses, and with the right packaging. All (or most) of these ‘classic qualities’ were seen to certain degrees in the IPL 09.

It all boils down, then, to finding the right balance, the fine line where both sides of the seemingly inverse proportion are in equilibrium, and are comfortable with each other. A touch of class, a shade of madness, building a careful innings but peppered with the wild slog-sweep over mid-wicket when needed. Dravid at one end, Pathan at the other.

If Lalit Modi (amazing how he has become the one-man epitome of all that is crass and capitalist in the world, the beacon of bastardization, if you will) had to pick between IPL 08 and IPL 09 without external factors such as success in South Africa, it is possible he will pick 08. Therein lies a threat.

IPL 08 skews the proportion towards the mass to an extent where the game will have no shelf life. The pouring of sixes and the mindless slogging has no durability. IPL 09, on the other hand, presents a more wholesome fare (keeping in mind that 'wholesome' is seen in the context of the popcorn world), one that has just a little more depth, is rooted in the core cricketing skills, one where men of substance like Dravid, Kumble, Haydos are heroes.

Following on the heels of World T20 07, despite its basic capitalist DNA structure, IPL 09 has been a solid example of the perfect balance. Let us hope the World T20 that is set to start in two weeks time in England reinforces this path as the one cricket should follow. There is some promise already of this hope being realized - World T20 09 will be free of strategic time outs, DLF Maximums and other silly moments of success.

(Click here to know more about Sreeram)

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