The relevance of IPL

I no longer question the relevance of the IPL. It was, it is and it always will be very relevant.

I am a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to the IPL. I have been in love with the game of cricket for as long as I remember and yet I have tried to convince myself and everybody who cares to listen to me that the IPL does not excite me. There were many reasons for this. While I have nothing to justify this tag that I have bestowed upon myself, I consider myself a purist and consider test match cricket as the ultimate form of the game. Test cricket has always excited me. My favorite players, the likes of VVS Laxman, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Dravid are masters of the longer version of the game but have never quite been considered as essential ingredients when it came to the IPL (To be fair Dravid and Rahane have been pretty successful in the IPL). Test cricket has a rhythm, a narrative, a story that the shortest version in the game of cricket can never replicate. Why get excited in watching Virat Kohli bat for twenty overs when I can have the option of watching him bat for over two days. Can any twenty-twenty game replicate the drama and excitement that was witnessed over five days during the test match at Brisbane between India and Australia?

I have always asked myself and wondered about the relevance of the IPL. Does anybody, apart from the franchisees and their owners and some supporters, really care about the IPL, I used to ask myself. Will the cricketing history books talk about an IPL champion in the same breath as other great cricketing teams and recognize IPL achievements. There are chapters and books written about great test match victories? Has any literature been dedicated to any IPL game or season? Often I used to find reasons to convince myself that the IPL is really not relevant.

And yet year after year, I have followed and watched the IPL. Not perhaps with the same passion and enthusiasm that I follow and watch the Indian cricket team. Not perhaps with the same enthusiasm that some people do – my brother in law is a Mumbai Indian supporter and while I was enjoying Fakhar Zaman’s brilliant onslaught on Sunday he was more concerned as to whether Quinton De Kock had injured his hand while collecting a throw and whether he will be fit enough for the IPL opener - but I do regularly switch on the television during the evenings and watch as much cricket as possible when the IPL is on.  And I do recollect watching some great cricket over the years. I remember Adam Gilchrist’s wonderful hundred against the Mumbai Indians in the first edition of the tournament and the brilliance of Shane Warne and the Rajasthan Royals in the same edition.

I remember the Hyderabad Deccan Chargers winning the second edition after finishing bottom in the first.  Yusuf Pathan’s hundred in 2009, Malinga and Bumrah’s spells, Dhoni’s last over heroics at Dharamsala, Virat Kohli’s brilliance in the 2016 edition, AB De Villiers and his innovations have all stayed in memory. I guess, if it was not relevant then I would not be drawn towards it.

The last six months have further enforced the relevance of the IPL. The Indian cricket team has enjoyed a wonderful last six months and has achieved perhaps its greatest ever overseas test series victory in Australia.  The test series victory, which I celebrated long and hard, was achieved thanks to the brilliance of Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill, Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur- all cricketers who have developed their skills and reputations at various IPL’s.

Even the veterans, Cheteshwar Pujara apart, who contributed- Ajinkya Rahane and Ravichandran Ashwin- two cricketers who largely play red ball cricket these days and are very rarely seen in white ball cricket- first made their mark in the IPL before being accelerated to the Indian cricket team- Rahane with the Mumbai Indians in 2008 and then with the Rajasthan Royals and Ashwin with the Chennai Super Kings. Throughout the last six months India kept introducing new cricketers on the international stage. Each of those cricketers looked unfazed and confident under the spotlight of International cricket.

Sharp contrast with what used to happen in the nineties when a young India debutant with a few exceptions, used to look out of place and out of depth.  The IPL has something to do with that. Young Indian crickets who make their international debut these days have already rubbed their shoulders and played with or against the likes of Pat Cummins, Kagiso Rabada, Ben Stokes, Steve Smith etc. Why will they be worried about international cricket? There is the relevance of the IPL.

Actually the world has recognized the relevance of the IPL. This year the English cricket board, a board which was not too much in favour of the IPL in its first year, allowed some of its key players to miss test matches so that they could participate in the IPL. Some Australians are staying back but their best players i.e. Smith, Warner and Cummins are part of the IPL. And South Africa have allowed their players to miss the final one day international against Pakistan and join their respective IPL teams. Kevin Pietersen has called it the best cricket tournament in the world. It has a global relevance this tournament.

And this year for some Indians it will be more relevant than other things. Some of us have been asked to stay at home. We are not allowed to step out of our homes unless it is essential. Some have lost jobs during the last one year. Some, very unfortunately have lost near and dear ones. Cricket can never compensate but it may heal wounds. We may get excited after watching Rohit Sharma hit a straight six. Some of us may fall over in admiration after Virat threads a cover drive.  We might jump in joy when Bumrah shatters the sumps and Williamson may make us write words in appreciation of the purity in his batting.  Hopefully this IPL will bring a lot of joy and smile on the faces of many people.

I no longer question the relevance of the IPL. It was, it is and it always will be very relevant.