Act 5 of the IPL is in its closing stages and it would be fair to say that it has been the most eventful chapter in the tournament’s brief history. Even taking into account serious financial irregularities that had surfaced earlier, a dramatic shift of venue (successfully, to South Africa one year, because of security concerns) and an absconding but hardly quiet former commissioner, what’s happened this year is hard to top — but, somehow, easy to understand.
Briefly, in Act 5, there have been allegations of spot-fixing; revelations that black money is one of the tournament’s drivers. Superstar franchise owners have brawled in public. Other owners, through Twitter, have let the world know that their mental age is about the same as the vintage of the grandest venture in cricket (five years). Add a sexual assault charge — and a few last ball finishes, lest we forget there are cricket matches going on — and you really have an unbeatable passage of play.
The question isn’t so much why all of this happened this year, as much as why it didn’t happen earlier. Perhaps, it is difficult to clear the stubborn crust of glitter and make-up to get down to the first layers of skin. The thing is, though, nobody has to make the effort to do this — it peels off on its own. It reveals itself in its own (short) time because what is underneath has been dying to come out all along.
Let’s look at the ingredients that made the IPL in the first place: some of India’s best known industrialists; some of its most famous filmstars; and a few of its highest-ranking fixers — people who personify the very Indian meme of ‘jugaad’. Millions of dollars required in a few hours? No problem. A rule to be bent? Never been a problem. A delicate matter to be covered up? Of course.
Let’s start playing cricket — forget the pitch we’ve prepared — consequences ‘baad mein dekh lenge’.
There’s a laudable ‘can do’ quality about this attitude, of which the IPL is the most in-your-face symbol. But it will poke at the conscience of an emerging India as long as we have the service of one. It will tell us that this India isn’t really that different from the one we’re supposed to have left behind. The differences are on the surface and apparently well managed by super fixers.
The ‘old’ India is full of disparity. The most obvious one being of wealth: of the poorest versus the richest. The IPL has crafted a new niche in this area. It has made the middle class look and feel poor. Within its own system are players from such families who have a salary cap of Rs30 lakh. This is a substantial sum of money and could support a very comfortable lifestyle. Most people accept that they will never be covered in the riches that come with playing for India and they might have been satisfied with this except for the couple of million another guy in the same dressing room is getting. Is there, therefore, a way to dip a slightly larger ladle into the gravy train — just to close the gap? That’s how middle-class Indians think.
The rich — like the owners of the franchises — know this and feed the need. A salary cap works very well for them. It offers room in negotiations and puts undeclared money to good use. Above all, it makes the minion a willing accomplice in the crime. It keeps him in his place.
The IPL offers the fortunate middle-class Indian entry into a world he covets. A couple of seasons ago, the tournament organisers put out quiet advertisements telling fans they could “meet the cheerleaders”. (To seek an autograph — or get a ball signed?) These ads disappeared but the controversial after-parties continue, as they should — there cannot be a ban on people enjoying themselves. But they do have cost, occasionally: like an embarrassing sexual assault charge. For most local cricketers, the after parties are mind-altering experiences. They are also reminders of disparity. Some of them can handle this. Some of them can’t. For those that can, their cricket might well improve — mental strength training cannot be overemphasised.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2012.
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