20 is better than 50!

What is most striking about the way T20 has evolved — thanks mainly to IPL — is that it is no longer looked upon as a frivolous game, where the reckless and the artless alone can flourish. What we saw during the past few weeks of IPL 2 were professionalism and cricketing discipline at their best, writes R. K. Raghavan.

I wonder how many would have settled for the Bristol ODI between England and West Indies on that Sunday evening if it had been played at about the same time as the IPL final. The latter’s visual attraction was undoubtedly far greater. In any case, the ODI has lost out to T20 to become its poor cousin. The ODI is now widely viewed as boring and too slow! Just in its second year, the IPL has bowled over even its bitterest critics and sceptics. Lalit Modi and his band have done a remarkable job in selling the format, which is likely to spread its wings across the globe, including the U.S.

The question is how judicious and sensible are they going to be in resisting an overkill (of the golden goose). I already hear that a ‘subsidiary’ IPL is on the anvil. There is yet another proposal of an expansion of the league to accommodate two more teams, taking the number to 10.

Many would agree that such moves could take the lustre out of what has proved to be a fast-paced wholesome entertainer for the entire family. ‘Hasten slowly’ is an adage whose import the Modi team will have to keep in mind if the phenomenal interest in the event has to sustain itself. The IPL is already stretched, and two more entrants would make it a six-week affair and result in a loss of focus that the event can hardly afford.

The cap on foreigners should also stay. Having more than four in each team would be a damper on domestic talent. Already, many local lads find themselves benched despite their immense potential. The morale of Indian cricketers is more important than all the tickets you can sell. Talking of tickets, there is a complaint that they are overpriced. Is there anything that Modi and company can do about this, at least to help students and senior citizens get a concessional entry?

What is most striking about the way T20 has evolved — thanks mainly to IPL — is that it is no longer looked upon as a frivolous game, where the reckless and the artless alone can flourish. What we saw during the past few weeks of IPL 2 were professionalism and cricketing discipline at their best. This is why Kumble, Dravid, Warne, Muralitharan and their ilk made the difference, at least in some matches. Anyone who said that T20 destroyed skills has possibly spoken too early.

Fielding (barring a few sitters dropped by all teams) and running between the wickets reached new heights in South Africa. One blinder taken by Badrinath and the amazing scoops by Manish Pandey in the final will remain green in my memory for ever.

What should impress even the priggish amongst us was that the matches were played in the best of spirits. There was hardly any display of ugly temper or remonstrance against umpiring decisions. These are likely to be infectious not merely for the near future. The impact should last longer.

The IPL influence on our relations with South Africa is difficult to exaggerate. Wherever we — a group of Chennai Super Kings’s loyalists — went, there was visible goodwill for India. This is much more than what our Foreign Service babus could do over decades. No doubt Pretoria has a lot to be delighted about.

The boost to the country’s travel industry and trade was beyond its wildest dream. It was not for nothing that President Zuma himself was present at the final. When he said he was not averse to the IPL’s return to his country, “if need be”, he was possibly echoing the sentiment of a majority of his citizens. Some of us in India believe there is a case for staging IPL in alternate years in South Africa. This should be welcome to most on both sides of the Indian Ocean. Such a move frees the IPL from a possible caprice of a government in place. More than this, security issues pose fewer problems in a country like South Africa.

It was nice to see minimum number of policemen in the grounds and shorter barricades between spectators and the playing area. Not that the South African Police took their job lightly. Security was tight but incredibly unobtrusive. This is something the Indian Police will have to learn. Durban Police Commissioner Bala Naidoo went out of the way to explain to me how he had laid on quality security without infringing on spectator comfort. I was deeply struck by his professionalism and love for the country of his ancestors.

The new External Affairs Minister, S. M. Krishna, a sports buff himself, may pitch for the IPL visiting South Africa, at least once in a few years, to promote relations with the most important nation in Africa, with which we have had good ties, after it had shed racism.

When I was at the Phoenix Settlement outside Durban, which perpetuates the memory of the Mahatma, I wondered how time has come a full circle from the day when an unpretentious Indian barrister was thrown out of the first class of a train merely on grounds of his colour. Indians are now most welcome in the country, and the IPL has only strengthened the existing bonhomie. Nothing would have warmed the Mahatma more, if only he were alive!

One final thought. Does the IPL need the crude display of female skin by the so-called ‘cheer leaders’ to prop up the tournament? Why should Indian organisers of the event ape the U.S? Even without this vulgar spectacle at each match, the IPL will be a sell-out.

This is food for thought not only for Modi and company, but for women spectators at the next IPL in India. Will they take up the issue with Modi? After all Sivamani with his drums provides such clean and delightful entertainment. Ask him. I am sure he will prefer to perform undistracted by such dubious company!