Sunday, June 5, 2011

Boycott v. IPL

If the earthly globe revolved, men with opposable thumbs built satellites to circumnavigate it. Because the Sun raises its halcyon fa├žade above the eastern horizon every morning, fitness freaks know when to put on their jogging shoes. As frothy rivulets cascade down the rocky walls of the Niagara Falls, a screaming white-water rafter plunges down it in mirthful hysteria. As Gravity pulls with ease on the proverbial apple, Chris Gayle mocks at Its attractive force as he scythes low screamers that refuse to come down to terra firma till they have crossed the boundary ropes.

In all this, you can see Nature was meant to be plied by human intelligence.

It takes all sorts to make Nature. Nature revels in its diversity and vastness. To make peace with this otherwise intimidating vastness – Nature keeps telling those who will listen – what you need is a little perspective.

Perspective, incidentally, is also something the embattled debaters trying to establish the superiority of Test cricket over T20 cricket, and vice versa, could do with a pinch of.

A lot of people seem to think that Test Cricket and Twenty20 cricket are antipodal and mutually antagonistic. Some feel that a point scored by the Testies (pardon the delinquent abbreviation) is a point lost by the T20ians (yep, it is meant to make them sound like otherworldly aliens; what else would you call Chris Gayle at the moment?). Others feel Test Cricket is too boring not to be an anachronism, and would not mind were it to be done away with. Both sides have fought long and hard. If only, however, they could see that they are both but brothers from one-and-the-same mother.

The primary error afflicting this petty spat is that of equating Twenty20 with the IPL, and Test Cricket with someone like Geoffrey Boycott. Both these examples represent extremes; while the IPL is the brashest instance of a ‘gentleman’s game’ selling itself out for the fast buck, Mr. Boycott’s past cricketing exploits were such as to put the sturdiest tortoise to shame. Neither of these poles is representative of what is good and healthy in each format.

The sad part about how proponents of Test Cricket choose to defend their case is that they make it out to be all about glory, timelessness, nostalgia – all of which, although true, can sound a little sanctimonious and heavy, at the Testies’ own risk. The diligent tribe of the Testies loves to peel its own banana, skin its own groundnut, and finds joy in toiling for its discerned entertainment. But the rowdy T20ians demand, and find, in front of them a peeled banana, packaged macadamia nuts, and a platter offering rarefied entertainment; no wonder Test Cricket has such a hard time selling itself (no one likes to scrub a cow, holy though it may be!)

Everyone knows that no good ever came from extremism, but Testies will harp on about how the tedium which Boycott put the world through was in fact the essence of Cricket, where a Man wears his tenacity on his sleeve, his character dripping freely out of his nose. And, says the Testie, if you are bored by this glorious spectacle, you are a cricket-philistine and are to be pitied. Think the free-thinking T20ian will be inclined to take this kind of condescension on the chin and walk away? Nah, he will probably launch his own T20 league in retaliation.

Faced with T20’s colourful jerseys and glistening paraphernalia, all Test Cricket can flaunt is a plain, ragged white and, at best, maybe the gleaming pates of Hashim Amla and Jonathan Trott when they doff their helmet after ticking off another milestone. In times of desperation, Testies will point to the rare titillating episodes Test Cricket has managed to produce on occasion, namely, the recent genocide of the Sri Lankan batting in the Cardiff Test; even as they ignore the fact that this match tickled people only because the last session moved at a pace T20 matches pride themselves on, Lankan wickets falling at the rate of knots).

The T20ians, however, are not any less culpable of perspectivelessness. They will absolutely pounce at the slightest chance to point out that the desolate stands during Test matches point to sparseness of interest in the format. If they could have seen the sprawling emptiness in the stands for some of the Kings XI Punjab matches, they’d realise that packed stadiums are not a function of how much money has been pumped into the enterprise, nor of how much colour is splashed on the players’ jerseys, but rather of the levels of saturation fans’ interest can sustain. There is only so much energy a man can expend on cheering on a team, and only so much cash a rational consumer’s indifference curve will allow him to spend on tickets for a cricket match. The reason matches these days get skimpy spectatorship is probably that cricket-lovers have come to realise the joys of HDTV and Bumble Lloyd’s commentary.

The T20ians are in a position of power at present. They know that at some point, the rational Testie will have to face the fact that his beloved game is only as good as the masses deem it to be. If a cracking cover drive is essayed at Lord’s, and no spectator, bohemian or monocled, is there to applaud it to the boundary, was the cover drive ever essayed? The Testie would be inclined to say, ‘Well, yes, it was; if your eyes have missed out on the aesthetic sculpture that is Ian Bell’s post-cover-drive pose, it is really your loss.” But the T20ian would retaliate, justifiably, with: “If I want to drool over raw beauty, I need not sit through eons. I could just gaze at Preity Zinta oohing and aahing and why-isn’t-he-sixering-like-usual-ing with her dupatta all askew over her cutely dishevelled hair every ten seconds. No offence, Testie, but you need to walk out of that time-machine and come smell the chrome-plated daisies.”

Cricket is ultimately a man-made game (although classicists will insist the hand of divinity) in which Nature conspires - using elements such as aerodynamics, gravity, soil science - with man to produce fodder for the sporting soul. In the end, I guess, each person needs to come to terms with what they want out of the game, and humbly enjoy it for theirself. If you want cricket to be another ersatz of tinsel-townery with bat and ball, go right ahead. If someone watches Test Match cricket because it affiliates them with the purest form of the ancient sport, it’s no one’s fancy but their own. If you watch it because it gives you that same tingly feeling you get in the solar plexus when a juicy morsel of mother-made lasagne flirts with your tongue, you’re probably on to good thing. Let’s bury the hatchet in the battle-strewn wicket, extend an olive branch to the opposition, and be thankful that some shirking shepherd in the English highland got bored and invented the Ball and the Bat!