Beefy’s IPL thoughts

As Ian Botham says, IPL is possibly the root of all cricket’s evil even if there is little corruption within that form of cricket; but there would be a revolt if IPL finished, writes Ted Corbett.

So Sir Ian Botham thinks the world would be better off without IPL. You know something — he’s probably right but the truth is that India loves IPL the way a drunk loves whisky and just look what happened when the Americans tried to ban alcohol.

Prohibition was a disaster and had to be repealed.

Yes, as Beefy says, IPL is possibly the root of all cricket’s evil even if there is little corruption within that form of cricket; but there would be a revolt if IPL finished. What’s not to like? Masses of sixes hit by some of the greatest players the world has ever known off its finest bowlers, the chance to see the stars bat and bowl in the space of four hours and the frantic, sensational fielding and running and catching by cricketers who will go home that night with a pocketful of gold dust.

If they succeed, that is. It is all about winning and losing, entertaining massive crowds, and capturing not just the full screen HD television, but the attention of the radio commentator and the headlines in the newspapers the next day.

It is the finest publicity for the game at large, it sometimes persuades a young man to try his hand at more orthodox forms of cricket — Tests and ODIs are the only way into IPL — and, besides, what is wrong with making cricketers rich?

We can all make the mistake of thinking that because the old-timers from W. G. Grace onwards were poor — they were not, by the way — that they were honest. They were just as capable of cheating, those wretched county cricketers earning a pittance for playing six days a week and working in a factory during the winter, as the rich guys inhabiting the game today.

So what should we do for the greatest form of entertainment cricket has ever known? ICC should embrace IPL — that is not a crossword clue, it is a sincere suggestion — and straighten it out, add it to the game’s calendar and make it even greater.

Do not think for a moment that I am criticising Botham. I have known him since 1982 and I can tell you that even if his mouth is not always under control his heart is in the right place.

He dotes on cricket — and sport in general, by the way — and he has been everywhere and done pretty nearly everything and raised so much money for his special charity which is concerned with childhood leukaemia that he can almost claim to have cured the disease on his own.

Not that he would dream of doing so because Botham is a serious man. When he saw — as a young cricketer — a hospital ward of children destined to die in a day or two, his immediate reaction was to help. A man who has so much good in him can be excused a great deal and, being the impulsive, good natured, family man, Botham wanted to give these unfortunate children a chance.

He did what any sportsman would do. He got a bunch of pals together and arranged to walk the length of the British Isles — John O’Groats in northern Scotland to Land’s End at the tip of Cornwall, a well-trodden route — to raise money. It was a staggering success and to say it helped those young kids is to cheapen the words.

You may be thinking, “Oh, it was easy for him, a sportsman in his prime to walk 1,000 miles in a month at a time when he had nothing better to do, during the cricket downtime.” Well, if you believe that, you should have been in my shoes when I drove half that distance to interview him at the end of his first great walk.

I saw the exhaustion in his face, the bloody wraps on his feet, and pain in his eyes that evening in a small country hotel just 20 miles from his destination and, although at the time he was working for a different paper, he still found time to give me that interview. At the end of it I had nothing but admiration for his charity work and a great deal of admiration for the man.

As a cricketer he was the player you would love to have in your side. They used to say that no one stayed drinking in a bar when Botham was batting with his six hits on that little ground at Taunton where he played his county cricket and certainly not at Headingley where he played one of the greatest Test innings.

(Did you know that he was qualified to play for Yorkshire during the years when only men born in the county could? He began life in Somerset but there was a special exemption: for men whose father had to leave Yorkshire to serve in the forces. His father was in the Fleet Air Arm when Botham was born.)

The last time we exchanged handshakes was on the day I decided that I had had enough to reporting, travelling and, well, talking to cricketers. I told him I was finished with the game after nearly 30 years and he laughed.

“No, Ted,” he said. “You’ll be here again next season. Once you are in cricket you can’t leave it.”

Now I have to tell you we have another all-rounder who will take his place one day. This fortnight Ben Stokes of Durham and England played a cup semifinal innings that must have made Botham proud.

Sometime in the future Stokes may be as great as Botham on the field. I hope he is half as great in the rest of his life.