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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.

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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.

Former Hyderabad off-spinner Kanwaljeet Singh

Former Hyderabad off-spinner Kanwaljeet Singh

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?

Obviously not!

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.

Image of Manvinder Bisla courtesy Yahoo

Image of Manvinder Bisla courtesy Yahoo

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!

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3 Responses to “Why I will watch IPL6”

  1. Kartikeya

    I won’t debate you point by point, since nearly every issue you raise has been raised piece meal. I appreciate the effort you have put in to organize your thoughts together and build an extended argument. That, as I have discovered when it comes to substantive things like T20 or DRS, is a rare thing. The numbering below refers to numbered points in your post.

    The basic core cricket based point that underlies my reasoning is that the laws of cricket are designed for the 5 day game. These have been lazily transported into a 20 over game – an act of remarkable disregard and contempt for the intelligence of the cricket. I assume you don’t dispute any of the three facts that I listed in my post. Hence, it is a mediocre contest. Test Cricket is a quality contest precisely because of the combination of rules and time produces such a finely balanced contest between bat and ball – where bowlers try to get batsmen out and batsmen try to prevent this. The laws are designed to enable this balance over this period of time. The subterfuge in T20 cricket is to transfer these laws to a ridiculously short contest. I find that incredibly boring. Not only is it boring, it is also very sly. In order to make T20 work, it had to look as much as possible as Test Cricket – same rules for dismissal, same rules for counting runs, same rules for umpires, same rules for team composition. Other formats which tried to be innovative (like Martin Crowe’s in NZ), didn’t take off because they tried to actually produce a game (in the mathematical sense) honestly and this, over an evening, meant changing a lot of rules. This goes to your second point to an extent.

    If you think T20 cricket is “different”, then how is it different? What is different about it? What other than the time factor is different about it? And how can there be a quality contest between bat and ball, when the clock and the imbalance between resources available to bat and ball are so obviously determining factors? What other than – Bowler delivers the ball, field set to save runs, batsman gets out taking a chances, or batsman gets away with taking a chances – happens ball after ball in 20 over game? Why should anything else happen, unless the batsman is stupid and actually decides to respect line and length and defend his off stump? Why are 30% of the overs in the IPL delivered by part timers?

    I’ll address your last point first.

    (3) Should we care? Of course we should care. If we are thinking people, we should care. If we are to behave the way the model consumer in some economics textbooks behaves, then perhaps not. But we are not such an individual, and I hope we will never be. I care about the question, whats more, I know that what I do as a viewer, an observer and as a fan of cricket, will affect to what extent the obvious to that question will affect cricket. The IPL exists because people watch it. Hence, if I think it is boring, then obviously, I ought to make an argument as to why it is boring (which I have) and tell people why they ought not to watch it. Now, they may disagree, but that’s fine.

    (1) On the Labor question: Here I think you are on strong ground. The IPL has brought more cash into the game (but still draws almost exclusively from BCCI’s age group teams and Ranji Trophy teams) . But I disagree with your point about first class cricket. Well before the IPL, since the earlier revolution in cricket which began with the 1987 and 1996 World Cups, first class cricket in India presented a viable professionial career. As did being a club cricketer. If what you say about earning a living from cricket (as opposed to being a very rich man as a professional cricketer, which players who are successful India players definitely are) before the IPL was true, there wouldn’t be a talent pool big enough for the best cricketers to hone their craft in. The BCCI already had enough money, and even had a pension scheme for first class cricketers as early as 2003. The IPL has generated more cash, in my view, at massive cost.

    I have nothing against an evening’s cricket. It has to however be cricket – i.e. it has to be a well balanced contest between bat and ball. This will actually produce better cricketers and do actually all the things that you say the IPL has done. Until this happens, the IPL is basically mooching off cricket’s legacy. It is contributing nothing to the game other than a little extra cash – cash which is small change compared to revenues and profits made by the franchise owners, and cash which BCCI was not short of before the IPL.

    Absent this, I won’t watch it, because it is presently counter productive to the interests of Test Cricket – which is actually cricket – actually a contest between bat and ball. I don’t think others should watch it either.

    Reply
  2. kartikeyadate

    Several problems in my comment. This seems to be an early version of the comment. I’ve fixed some of them below.

    I won’t debate you point by point, since nearly every issue you raise has been raised piece meal by lots of people. I’ll respond to the three broad points that you make. I appreciate the effort you have put in to organize your thoughts together and build an extended argument. That, as I have discovered when it comes to substantive things like T20 or DRS, is a rare thing. The numbering below refers to numbered points in your post.

    The basic core cricket based point that underlies my reasoning is that the laws of cricket are designed for the 5 day game. These have been lazily transported into a 20 over game – an act of remarkable disregard and contempt for the intelligence of the cricket fan. I assume you don’t dispute any of the three facts that I listed in my post. Hence, it is a mediocre contest. Test Cricket is a quality contest precisely because of the combination of rules and time produces such a finely balanced contest between bat and ball – where bowlers try to get batsmen out and batsmen try to prevent this. It is not so because the players in Test Cricket are better or superior sporting beings. The laws are designed to enable this balance over a specific period of time. The subterfuge in T20 cricket is to transfer these laws as a whole to a ridiculously short contest. I find that it produces incredibly boring contests between batsmen and bowlers. Not only is it boring, it is also very sly. In order to make T20 work, it had to look as much as possible as Test Cricket – same rules for dismissal, same rules for counting runs, same rules for umpires, same rules for team composition. Other formats which tried to be innovative (like Martin Crowe’s in NZ), didn’t take off because they tried to actually produce a game (in the mathematical sense) honestly and this, over an evening, meant changing a lot of rules. This goes to your second point to an extent.

    If you think T20 cricket is “different”, then how is it different? What is different about it? What other than the time factor is different about it? And how can there be a quality contest between bat and ball, when the clock and the imbalance between resources available to bat and ball are so obviously determining factors? What other than – Bowler delivers the ball, field is set to save runs, batsman gets out taking a chance, or batsman gets away with taking a chance – happens ball after ball in 20 over game? Why should anything else happen, unless the batsman is stupid and actually decides to respect line and length and defend his off stump? Why are 30% of the overs in the IPL delivered by part timers?

    I’ll address your last point next.

    (3) Should we care? Of course we should care. If we are thinking people, we should care. If we are to behave the way the model consumer in some economics textbooks behaves, then perhaps not. But we are not such an individual, and I hope we will never be. I care about the question, whats more, I know that what I (and you) do as a viewer, an observer, a consumer, and as a fan of cricket, will affect the future of the IPL. The IPL exists because people watch it. Hence, if I think it is boring, then obviously, I ought to make an argument as to why it is boring (which I have) and tell people why they ought not to watch it. Now, they may disagree, but that’s fine. The ones among them who care about arguments will at least try to engage with the arguments.

    (1) On the Labor question: Here I think you are on strong ground. The IPL has brought more cash into the game (but still draws almost exclusively from BCCI’s age group teams and Ranji Trophy teams. How much cash, is an open question. I would like to know the figures.). But I disagree with your point about first class cricket. Well before the IPL, since the earlier revolution in cricket which began with the 1987 and 1996 World Cups, first class cricket in India presented a viable professionial career. As did being a club cricketer. If what you say about earning a living from cricket (as opposed to being a very rich man as a professional cricketer, which players who are successful India players definitely are) before the IPL was true, there wouldn’t be a talent pool big enough for the best cricketers to hone their craft in. The BCCI already had enough money, and even had a pension scheme for first class cricketers as early as 2003. The IPL has generated more cash, in my view, at massive cost.

    I have nothing against an evening’s cricket. It has to however be cricket – i.e. it has to be a well balanced contest between bat and ball. This will actually produce better cricketers and do actually all the things that you say the IPL has done. Until this happens, the IPL is basically mooching off cricket’s legacy. It is contributing nothing to the game other than a little extra cash – cash which is small change compared to revenues and profits made by the franchise owners, and cash which BCCI was not short of before the IPL.

    Absent this, I won’t watch it, because it is presently counter productive to the interests of Test Cricket – which is actually cricket – actually a contest between bat and ball. I don’t think others should watch it either.

    Reply
  3. Sathish

    @Karthikeya – I am able to see T20 as a contest between bat and ball. You say that in Test cricket “bowlers try to get batsmen out and batsmen try to prevent this”. In T20 batsmen try to hit bowlers for runs(more 4s and 6s) and bowlers try and prevent this. Isn’t that a contest? I know, next you will say “well balanced”. Not all Test matches are well balanced contests. I can give you a list of predictable, boring, one-sided Test matches where the contest between bat and ball was very poor. I never went around discouraging people from watching Test cricket.

    The nature of the T20 format is such that 1 over or a few poor deliveries could turn the match the other way. This might irritate a Test cricket fan like you but for T20 fans this feature makes it more interesting. A fine Test bowler can be an average T20 bowler and a great T20 bowler could find it difficult in Tests. I can accept that and I don’t judge a Test bowler based on his T20 stats.

    Now what is this?: “an act of remarkable disregard and contempt for the intelligence of the cricket fan”. Do you think you own the players or the rules associated with Test cricket? They are not your resources. People like Dravid, Kallis, Steyn are willing to play in IPL. Ponting decided not to play till last year. Amla is not playing. You want people like Harsha to take a stance and why don’t you ask Dravid or Sachin to take a stance?

    No, I am not even comparing T20 with Test Cricket or Domestic Cricket. You do that and in the process you are blaming the IPL. Here I am saying it. I am a Test cricket fan and I also enjoy watching T20. And I am sure there are millions of fans like me who can comfortably watch both Tests and IPL.

    IPL is not perfect. The length of the tournament, the music, dance and other Bollywood related stuff doesn’t impress me. It can always be improved. But even Ranji Trophy has its flaws. There are always things that can be improved.

    Like you said if you are a thinking person, you should care. You should care about the cricketers and their families, other T20 fans, kids and families who come and watch the game.

    Reply

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