Kartikeya Date wrote a piece titled ‘Why I won’t watch IPL6’. Like most things he writes, the piece is analytical, scathing and brutally honest. I agree with a lot of what Kartikeya says in this piece and about the IPL and T-20 cricket. I just disagree with him on his conclusion here. I think an individual can process all of the reasons behind Kartikeya’s conclusion and still disagree on the ending and choose to watch the IPL. Here below are my reasons why. In short, all of the reasons I have for liking, following and watching the IPL have to do with the value it has placed on labor and how much it has rewarded the most important individuals in the sport I love – cricketers.
1) A great triumph for labor – The most important person/thing in all of cricket is the cricketer. The cricketer toils and hones his (apologies for use of the male pronoun) talent in the hope of performing at a high level some day. The odds that said cricketer will get a chance to play at the highest level and/or make enough money for himself and his family are astronomically low. This is truer in India than in most test playing nations where the path to succeed in cricket goes thru competition versus a few million at the expense of one’s education, career and many adolescent and teenage years. If you were a batsman of mediocre talent at age 24 in the 80’s and 90’s, your doors were all mostly shut. Playing for your state team which was the second highest level you could climb to, fetched you about a lakh a year with no real chance of a future financial windfall.
The IPL has changed this.
The IPL has so far gotten cricketers and cricket a market value income more in tune with the popularity and reach of the sport than anything before it or after it. And miraculously, some of this massive windfall has trickled down to other levels of cricket and to international cricketers either past their prime or past their national team’s use-by date. This is important. Cricketers have to already go thru the physical and mental grind of years of practice, the loneliness of travel and touring, the vagaries of umpiring and administrations and the good luck-bad luck of bowlers and fielders of extreme variance. A Sujith Somasunder wears the India cap twice while a Kanwaljit Singh never does. Brad Haddin is made to wait for years for an opportunity while Ajit Agarkar leverages one good spell for a decade of relevance. Life is very unfair to cricketers
The IPL has helped alleviate this.
Today there is a market for cricketers with unique talents suited to a unique format of the game. This market pays the cricketers very well. This market encourages parents and kids of today to take risks they would not have. This format gives the individual most responsible for the sport, a chance at a nest egg and slightly better odds at a life where he can monetize his passion. Above everything else and outside of all things that one finds vile about the IPL, this is a reason to watch. Who cares if the format is not really cricket or if the corporate intervention kills your country’s test and ODI related talents? This format may be responsible for helping the next Kanwaljit Singh or Amol Muzumdar to pursue cricket in the heat of the college exams?
Kartikeya in his piece says,“I won’t watch the IPL. I won’t watch it because it is boring, of poor quality, reduces great players to caricatures, wastes new talent, and is structurally incapable of producing high quality cricket (see the facts about the IPL above).” Ask Kanwaljit Singh or Amol Muzumdar or Brad Haddin if they think the IPL or a clone would have wasted their talent if it had shown up in the 80’s. Ask them if the visibility and the money would have made existing structures worse in producing high quality cricket? Ask Steve Tikolo or Dhruv Pandove’s dad if their careers wouldn’t have been better with the IPL around?
2) Different does not necessarily make it mediocre or wrong – One of the points Kartikeya repeatedly makes in his post is that the talent levels and skill levels needed for succeeding in the IPL are way inferior to those required by test and ODI cricket calling the format’s quality mediocre. I find the use of the word mediocre here very perplexing. Say that we lived in a world today where T-20 cricket was the format that proliferated first thanks to a 19’th century Kerry Packer. And that test match cricket is something a hipster billionaire popularized in the 2000s. Would we then have called the latter mediocre because it tainted the original format with ridiculous breaks such as lunch or tea and ensured middle order batsmen would rarely face the new ball? Would we call the format low intelligence because it removes much strategy from the captains by giving them unlimited access to their prime bowling resources?
We would find a way to value whatever is unique about each format and enjoy them all. Or we would dislike one of the formats based on the amount of time we have available to us and the values we value. Calling test cricket mediocre would not have been our default reaction.
So while I subjectively agree with Kartikeya on the format I enjoy and I value what test cricket tests and values, it does not mean I think T-20 cricketers are mediocre. They are different. I do not blame them for brandishing what are still very unique skills that most of us will never possess. I do not hate them for the money they make for these very unique skills. I wouldn’t want Manvinder Bisla walking in at 0/1 at Trent Bridge on a July Thursday. But I respect the hell out of him for marching outside the crease at 7/1 on the sultriest of May evenings in the biggest of national stages. He is not mediocre in life or in cricket. He is just different.
3) Lastly I cringe at statements that worry about the impact of money on labor – Kartikeya says,”Would the next guy care about bowling good off spin if he saw you make a million bucks? If I was the next guy, I wouldn’t. Not unless I was some kind of masochistic yogi.” As long as participating adults are over 18 why should anyone care/cringe about how much money they make? Why should we worry about how money affects someone’s incentives? When cable TV invaded India, a lot of prospective bank tellers became models and actresses. Did we worry about the impact money would have on these women? Should we? Why then should we care about the impact of money on young cricketers? After all it is the cricketer’s labor that makes everything tick. If you profess to care about labor and the negative impacts of corporations you have to not wonder about high salaries for labor. It is contradictory and paternalistic.
While my life’s bucket list includes stops at several test venues for test matches (hopeful for a few that match the scenes at Auckland last week (below)) and while the memories of Kolkata ’01 and Adelaide ’03 will never be surpassed, I will watch IPL 6. I will watch it while feeling happy that the most important individuals in the cricket industrial complex are being paid better than ever. I will watch it knowing the skills needed are very different from those needed for test matches but still very challenging. I will watch it hoping it spurs on every borderline talent at every level of the game to pursue his passion. I will watch it because it is good for the cricketer. And I hope you will too!