Monday, 22 March 2010

Reasons to watch the IPL: How many do you need?

Readers in the UK will be very familiar with the output of ITV. For those with either the good sense or the good fortune not to witness the televisual fare on the channel, ITV's programming is often so spectacularly piss-poor it almost looks like satire.

Every day millions of British people - among them your friends, family members and generally law-abiding citizens - take leave of their senses and tune into ITV's moronic chat-show/fly-on-the-wall-celebrity-documentary/regional-soap-opera formats. These are interspersed with intervals where advertisers really put the boot in, by demonstrating how brainless they think we really are. 

(A particular favourite at the moment is an advert for Just For Men, which requires no comment. Just watch it and weep.)

But, lo and behold, in the last week ITV have hit upon a winning formula - the Indian Premier League cricket. This is the first cricket shown free-to-air in the UK for nearly five years (since the 2005 Ashes, which was shown to much acclaim on Channel 4), and it's been a thrill a minute. The Cynical Challenge is truly chastened.

The IPL has its detractors: for the lack of quality it is perceived to encourage, for the damage it may wreak on cricket's power politics, even for its speed. But watching the first week or so of IPL coverage on ITV has been truly compulsive viewing. 

Partly that's because the channel has brought its own inimitable style to televising the tournament. The studio line-up of Matt Smith, one of a long line of mediocre British sports presenters (headed by Matthew Lorenzo - google him if you like) and, in his own words, a gay icon, and Bollywood actress Mandira Bedi, has all the chemistry of arsenic. Smith in particular has excelled, demonstrating that lack of knowledge is no barrier to employment. For more on this look no further than Barney Ronay's superbly funny article in Saturday's Guardian.

Fortunately there is more to the IPL than watching John Emburey and Graeme Hick battle for the title of most boring cricket pundit on TV. The cricket played in the tournament's first week has been, frankly, excellent.

Praveen Kumar bagged a hat-trick for the Bangalore Royal Challengers - with a slow yorker, a bouncer and an off-cutter - in their match against the Rajasthan Royals. Matthew Hayden showcased his mongoose bat, which everyone laughed at until he started launching balls into the stands. Hayden ended up with 93 from 43 in the match against Delhi Daredevils. And speaking of big hits, how about Irfan Pathan clearing the grandstand in Cuttack against Deccan Chargers?

Meanwhile, in answer to those who say Twenty20 is all about power at the expense of technique, it has been cricket's technicians who have led the way with run-scoring - in particular, Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis. To most Indians (and some English cricket fans too, I might add), Tendulkar is something akin to a deity - indeed, 'Tendulkar is God' was number one trending topic on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. But even with such a reputation, it has been astounding to watch a player score big in the IPL without going for "big" shots. Tendulkar has hardly altered his naturally patient game from the 5-day format to 20 over cricket, yet cracked a breathtaking innings of 63 off 32 against Delhi. Kallis, meanwhile, has allowed his figures to do the talking - 4 innings, 4 not outs, 264 runs scored. That puts the South African top of the IPL batting rankings.

The tournament has also given British viewers a firsthand view of some of the up-and-coming stars of Indian cricket. Particularly impressive in the early matches in 2010 have been a pair of batsmen, Bangalore's Manish Pandey and Saurabh Tiwary of the Mumbai Indians. 

Pandey made a name for himself last year, aged just 19, after becoming the first Indian to score an IPL century. He subsequently grabbed the headlines in India with an incredible catch in the final of the Ranji Trophy (India's domestic 5-day competition). This year Pandey has scored 120 runs at an average of 40, and is looking every bit a future Test star. Tiwary has recorded similar figures - 139 runs at 46.33 - and one innings of 61 from 37 in partnership with Tendulkar was reminiscent of India's current Test captain MS Dhoni. Tiwary, like Dhoni, plays state cricket for Jharkhand, and with his long straight hair bears more than a passing resemblance to him. Coincidence? I think not.

But if the young guns are less your thing, the IPL also gives viewers the chance to see former Test greats for possibly the very last time. At 40 you'd think perhaps we'd seen the back of Shane Warne, but there he is, still lugging his "bulky" frame around the field for Rajasthan. Leading the Deccan Chargers, and doing a fine job too, is 38-year-old Adam Gilchrist. And there's even room for a berth in the starting XI at Rajasthan for Damien Martyn, who was last seen in the 2006 Ashes series. Safe to say he won't be making a shock comeback in Test cricket though - he was out for 19 from 24 balls in his side's crushing 10 wicket defeat to Bangalore.

The lesson is this - watching the IPL is rewarding on a number of levels. Great cricket from great players, young and old, in a format accessible to all. Besides, even if you don't like the cricket, you can still derive perverse enjoyment from watching ITV's often laughable coverage. And what's not to like about that?

3 comments:

Not A Textbook said...

James, if the quality of blog posts remains this high you'll get hired as leading writer in no time. And then....

....you'll need more TIES!!!! MWAHAHAHAHA!

H. van Smeiter said...

I find it disgusting that you are devoting so much time to an irrelevant sport which does little for the British economy when a great national treasure like The BIll has been axed by the Tory, tree-hugging toffs at ITV.

Its the MSM (Mainstream media) types like yourself that are destroying the very fabric of Britain. I hope you are proud.

Terry said...

Yeah, thanks to you those Bill actors are going to... need more TIES!!

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Always glad to hear your thoughts. Be nice now! James