Wednesday, April 23, 2008

INDIAN PREMIER LEAGUE: THE FUTURE IS GLAMRICKET


BCCI’s billion dollar baby, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has kicked off in spectacular fashion, with a scintillating opening ceremony masterminded by the larger-than-life Vijay Mallya, owner of the Royal Challengers Bangalore team. The few matches already played have been exciting, both for some great batting and the generous sprinkling of tight “heavenly bodies” flown into India to gyrate to every boundary and six scored, and every wicket taken, with well rehearsed joy, even ecstasy!

This new and exciting dimension of getting young white girls (Indians are fixated with the fair and lovely!), cheerleaders, as the Americans call them, to swing and sway to Indian numbers in the stadium was first added by the rival Indian Cricket League (ICL). That really helped draw crowds to watch matches and also ‘lock on’ those surfing channels on their TV sets at home. But in the IPL, the entertainment element has been taken to a different level altogether, what with the full might of Bollywood led by King Khan himself getting fully involved in a manner never seen ever before in any sport in India, perhaps the world.

The whole affair now seems to be one big glamorous Bollywood/Industrialist party, with cricket matches thrown in as the competitive ‘play offs’ between the rich and beautiful through purchased players who were once the real and independent stars of their own show which was called cricket.

The show on now is “Glamricket”.

Is this development good? Well, if one looks at it purely form an entertainment angle and the multidimensional joy and excitement, even titillation, that it will provide to viewers, this one is a real winner. But if one views it from a relatively traditional cricketing angle, it may not be all good news.

First, soon there is going to be a massive overload of cricket, which will lead to drastically diminishing viewer interest. It is already beginning to happen in some IPL matches, despite its novelty, glamour and pretty white girls. A little while back there were the ICL tournaments. Now we have the IPL one going on. Then it will be back to normal international cricket, with the same faces doing the same tricks in slow motion. That is what Test cricket, not to mention One Day cricket, is going to feel like after the breathless pace set in the T20 matches that are currently being played

Till yesterday, was it? players were talking of ‘burn outs’ due to the hectic schedules of the normal international cricket that has been played so far. Then came the T20 World Cup and now we have the IPL. Both have added to the workload of players, in the IPL off the field too, to please and amuse their new owners! But with the kind of money they are going to make, no one is going to complain, at least about this tournament. More than the players, followers of the game are going to begin yawning and losing interest soon, with the next match/tour starting before the first one ends, making even keeping track of the itinerary a daunting task.

Some thing will have to give way. The amount of cricket played will have to be drastically reduced if the BCCI and other boards want to continue to generate funds to keep at least themselves afloat! Will it be Test cricket or One Day cricket, or IPL? You know the answer. The new Maharajas of cricket will not let their ‘game’ get away; even the latter will be happy living the really good life that their owners will continue to provide, till they continue to perform on the field too! For this very reason, a compromise with the ICL will have to be reached sooner rather than later.

Since the concept of club loyalty and fan following is new and totally alien to Indian cricket, don’t be surprised if the entertainment package gets bigger and more exciting with every passing match/tournament, to keep spectators and viewers hooked.

I will not be surprised if we see some additions which may appear outlandish now. Be prepared to see proper catwalks by scantily clad models before the start of a match and between innings. The number of predominantly white Cheerleaders will also go up, with groups of them strategically placed in different parts of the stadium bang among spectators, suitably protected from physical abuse, of course. Their cheering and dancing frequency will also be increased to cover almost every pause in the game which is blocked for TV viewers by ads. And yes, all around the boundary ropes will be leggy girls in mini skirts to retrieve balls, wave to spectators and also give refreshments to fielders on the boundary! Performances by hot Bollywood stars will also continue but their titillation quotient will go up substantially.

The list of such value additions to keep spectators and viewers hooked for reasons other than cricket will keep growing and pleasantly surprising all of us. The key question is: Will this take away from the competitiveness that playing for one’s country brings out in players? Will the quality of the game suffer? To me, the answer is unequivocally in the negative. In fact, given the huge financial stakes involved, on both counts a qualitative jump can be expected. Players will also be really wary of getting involved in match fixing to make a quick buck, because the penalty, even on reliable rumors will be swift. If, however, the owners themselves get into this sordid game, little can be done. But considering the names in the business now, such a disgraceful behaviour is unlikely.

But, the amount of traditional nation-to-nation cricket being played now will have to be reduced to make time and space for the IPL and smaller such tournaments that will soon be born in all cricket playing countries. My guess is that the biggest axe is going to fall on the One Day version of the game. 50 over match? Too long and boring, people are soon going to say.

Unless, of course, the new Shahehnshahs of glamricket discover that a T20 match is too short to fully exploit the entertainment potential and the moolah that a longer game can bring in! Though such a scenario appears unlikely at the moment, if it does come about, IPL may well morph into a 50 over tournament and T20 may die prematurely!

Either way, glamricket, the new star on the horizon, is going to change the way sport, particularly cricket, is played, watched and viewed in India forever. Fly Kingfisher!