Monday, April 21, 2008

We're only in it for the money

I really can't get excited about the Indian Premier League. (IPL)

To my mind, strip away the lights, noise and action, and when you get down to it, it's really just one group of mercenary all-stars playing against another. That's not using 'mercenary' in it's perjorative form, just simply stating fact. That sort of format is alright as a one off - maybe as a charity game for Tsunami relief as we saw at The Oval a few years ago, but 59 games over six weeks just smacks of complete and utter overkill.

Believe me, I've tried, and I'm prepared to admit that it's early days yet and as the tournament moves to a climax I might start booking time with the remote control, but I somehow doubt it because deep down, I don't think I really care.

Maybe I need to try harder. Maybe I need to get deeply involved in the fortunes of one or other of the teams. After all - I've no problem supporting Millwall, Kent, Fiorentina, Barcelona, Paris St German, St Pauli, Boston Bruins Celtics and Red Sox, Hawthorne and Harlequins in their various sports and league set-ups. I've often woken up in the early hours during the summer and put the TV on to see how the Red Sox are getting on. Tonight I'll set the alarm for one a.m. because the Bruins have a huge 'game seven' against the hated Canadiens. If Hawthorne stay the pace in the AFL I'll make a point of watching any of their games that are on Setanta. Because of an attraction to those teams, I can also watch other games in the same leagues with more than a passing interest. Roma vs Milan - yes please. St Kilda vs Geelong - certainly.

I actually care about how all those teams get on. Not to the point of irraitonality, but just enough to make me want to watch, or check online or in the paper to see how they are doing. Of course it works at different levels for different teams. When the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, I was walking on air for a week (and just typing those words gives me a nice warm feeling!) whereas I'll get over Fiorentina losing to Juventus in the time it takes to open the next bottle of Valpollicella - Barcelona losing to Franco Madrid takes a little longer....

The thing about all of those teams is that there's a history to the team, a geographic and cultural identity that supporters can relate to - even from 12,000 miles away - and a historical background to the league or cup they are competing in. With the IPL there's no 'connection' whatsover. Teams have effectively been airlifted in to big cities, with only the big star as connection to the home town. When it's all over, they'll pack up the tents, the the players will be helicoptered out and the circus will leave town.

Before I start sounding too much like an old traditionalist, let me be clear that I've nothing against the 20/20 format. The 20/20 World Cup was fantastic viewing, and I've had some cracking evenings watching the county version, but there there's actually some identity and it's not all about the money. Of course, the prizes are handy for the country and county, but they're not the be all and end all. In the IPL, it's all about the money - full stop.

The IPL reminds me, slightly, of the early days of the US Football league, when Pele, Beckenbauer, George Best, Rodney Marsh (no, not that one - the other one!) and so on, were lured by big dollars to strut their stuff in front of American audiences. There, they played to large crowds, and everyone got very excited for a short time - and then gradually the attraction died.

Admittedly it's a step up from the self-congratulatory 'All Star Games' each American sport has in it's mid-season, but barely.

Now there's talk of a 20 million dollar challenge organised by Allen Stanford. Yes, I suppose it'll be exciting. But if a team loses, what the heck, there'll be another one the year after. Now, if the losing team had to pay the winners 20 million out of their own pocket - or even 20 thousand, that would be worth watching. Imagine the cut-away shots seeking out the looks on the player's wives faces as their husband has to score twenty off the last over or they'll end up on the street...

The history books might mention Stanfords big challenge, but who's going to remember a few months or years down the line? There's nothing intriniscally wrong with big cash rewards, but they have to be prepared to accept that the big cash prizes strip all emotion out of the game so you're left with an empty shell.

To be fair to Stanford is using the 20/20 format to help rebuild West Indies cricket. Yes, there's money involved, but deep down there's some altruism as well.

Of course, it helps the IPL that Indians are cricket mad. Also helps that the pricing of tickets seems to be realistic. It also helps that it's currently the next 'big thing', and that the amount of money spent means that it mustn't fail, so therefore it won't - but is it really going to hold the interest of the cricketing world for TEN YEARS?

I suppose it might help from an English perspective if there were a smattering of English players, but probably not. if Freddie and KP were on opposing sides I suppose the one or two overs when Freddie is bowling to KP might be quite interesting - but that's about it really - and that's about ten minutes. To any Australians reading this, is Ponting v McGrath or Warne v Gilchrist really going to be that gripping?

In a test match format, opposing batsman can be worked over by a bowler utilising a longer term strategy than that provided in the 20/20 format. It's like comparing a seven course meal (served with appropriate wine of course...) in one of the finest restaurants with a Big Mac and fries. Both, effectively, do the same job - but how long are you going to remember the Bg Mac for? Maybe up until you have another one the day after, and then another one the day after that - and so on.

Here's the bottomline. It's all about the money, and it's all totally manufactured, totally artificial, and therefore - beneath all the hype and hyerbole, totally sterile.

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