IPL doesn't need outside validation

Is there too much money in the IPL? Who is to be the judge of that? If the argument is that fat pay cheques have made players complacent and focused only on the short form, I'd have to disagree.

Updated: March 28, 2013 13:16 IST
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The headline for an article on The Guardian's website says it all - "The IPL is back. Do we still need to be afraid?" The comments below it illustrate the chasm between those that see the five-day game as the pinnacle and those more attuned to the rhythms and beats of Twenty20. There is almost no common ground, and the coverage you read of cricket's richest event over the next two months is also likely to be black-and-white, with no shades of grey.

In the first three seasons of IPL, encompassing games in India and South Africa, I must have reported on about 60. And while I'd be lying if I said that I have any Kolkata 2001-style memories of games, they were fun to watch and write about. If you were there to make comparisons with Test cricket, you could find a lot that was wrong. But if you watched it as a separate entity - the cricket equivalent of Futsal or Rugby Sevens - there was much to enjoy.

Ultimately, the worth of any sport as a spectacle depends on the quality of those on the field. The IPL had plenty of that. Even if the skirmish was restricted to just eight balls, there was much to savour in a Warne-Tendulkar contest - the inside-out cover-drive and the perfectly pitched legbreak that turned subtly enough to beat the flamboyant flick. How could you not watch Dale Steyn squaring up to Graeme Smith, or Brett Lee steaming in to Matthew Hayden?

I'm a sceptic when it comes to the theory that the IPL is destroying the game and eating away at its foundations. No league can do that. Only those entrusted with steering a sport can. If there's a perception that Twenty20 is swallowing up the other forms of the game, it's for the administrators to correct that. The Ashes aside, however, I seldom see a Test series promoted in the way that the IPL is.

Test cricket will never attract the same eyeballs, but the declining numbers at stadiums are not so much an indicator of lack of interest as they are an indictment of the lack of context in the five-day game. If a two-Test series between two of the best sides in the world feels like a filler, that's because it is. What Test cricket needs is not a championship but sensible scheduling. When a board sees fit to run its Twenty20 competition alongside the marquee Test series of the summer, it's only fair to question its priorities. And no, India doesn't do that.

Is there too much money in the IPL? Who is to be the judge of that? If the argument is that fat pay cheques have made players complacent and focused only on the short form, I'd have to disagree. Every generation has had its share of those that took the easy way out, content with a 20-year county career or a dozen Tests in the sun. For every Tendulkar, there's a Kambli.

If you look at India's new generation of Test players, each of them, from Cheteshwar Pujara to Ravindra Jadeja, has an IPL deal. Has that affected their desire to play Tests? Did you see Jadeja's celebrations every time he picked up a wicket against Australia, each time he embarrassed those of us who had suggested he would be out of place in whites? Have you heard Virat Kohli speak about how desperate he was to make amends after a nightmare start to his Test career? These players are out there instead of you and me not just because they have greater skill, but because they hate losing, whether it's a Test match, T20 or tiddlywinks.

If the argument is that the IPL infatuation has made India forget Test cricket, that too doesn't hold. In the five years before the IPL began, India played 53 Tests, winning 20 and losing 12. In the five years since, they have played 54, winning 25 and losing 15. Apart from the tour of England in 2011, there's not been an Indian loss that can be even partially attributed to the IPL.

As for other countries, it takes a vivid imagination to attribute their problems to what happens in India in April and May. It's not like West Indies cricket was in rude health before the IPL came along. When they won the World Twenty20 last year, some of the players spoke of the confidence gained from extensive IPL experience. New Zealand, with IPL stars like Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor in the mix, just outplayed England in a three-Test series.

Despite sending a huge contingent to the IPL every year - Hashim Amla is the only worthy missing - South Africa are Test cricket's dominant side by a distance. The IPL riches also ensure that Cricket South Africa will not have to face the sort of contract crisis soon to afflict English cricket. If Matt Prior and others are unhappy, it's not without reason. You would be too if someone with one-tenth your ability swanned off with ten times the money.

India's maligned administrators have also ensured that the IPL doesn't affect the domestic season. Unlike in Australia or England, where the Twenty20 competition coincides with the summer of Tests, the IPL takes place only after every other Indian tournament is over. The timing also suits southern hemisphere players, who tend to have off-seasons then.

At the end of the Guardian article, Barney Ronay writes: "All things considered, as the IPL comes crunching up the gravel driveway, playing its stereo too loud outside your bedroom window and clanging the door chimes, it is perhaps time to put aside any lingering reverse-colonial anxieties, maybe even to simply enjoy it a little."

A few of his compatriots will. Many won't. To those in India, that shouldn't matter. The IPL is a domestic tournament, just like Spanish football's La Liga. Millions outside the country's borders may watch it, but it doesn't need validation from them. The hundreds of thousands coming through the turnstiles are all the endorsement that it needs.

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