Light-hearted and weighty

Rajasthan Royals skipper Shane Warne and his team-mates celebrate the dismissal of Mark Boucher of Royal Challengers. The IPL is striving to entertain previously neglected crowds.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Indian Premier League is a reminder that the game can take many forms without losing its spirit. Test cricket will survive for the same reason movies have survived so many supposed challengers, writes Peter Roebuck.

Admittedly it is early days but so far the Indian Premier League has been a rip-roaring success. Certainly the novelty will wear off but T20 has caught on. All sorts of long forgotten fuddy duddies have condemned it but the crowds have spoken and the cricket has been vibrant. Somehow the matches have managed to be both light-hearted and weighty, not unlike George Clooney.

The opening ceremony set the tone, with chaps walking around on stilts and glamorous girls nonchalantly pottering around inside large balloons amidst a cacophony of exuberant music. Presently fellows descended on ropes and eventually all and sundry put on their solemn faces, introductions were made, rousing speeches were unleashed and dubious types from the ICC tried to sound enlightened. It was a party.

Then the fun began! Throughout the spectators were agog. India likes to suspend disbelief. Kitchen sink drama never had a chance hereabouts. IPL wisely avoided mundanity. And it is working hard to entertain previously neglected crowds.

But even T20 is mere smoke and mirrors without stirring cricket. Modern crowds demand the best and ignore the rest. They see the top notchers on TV and it makes lesser fare seem dull. IPL grasped that point and set out to sign the best players around and to pit them against each other in a reasonably meaningful contest. Really there is no other way to hold a large audience. During the week viewers were offered Matthew Hayden, Andrew Symonds, Virender Sehwag and company or Manchester United and Chelsea. At least cricket is putting up a fight.

Happily the great players have delivered the goods. No cricket match could be too long or too short for them. Also they never go through the motions. Shane Warne dominated his team’s second match with a canny stint that brought three prized wickets. Not the least attraction of T20 has been the part played by spin. They keep trying to write its obituary but spin keeps bouncing back. Really the critical point is not pace or style but quality.

Meanwhile Glenn McGrath has been his old niggardly self, landing the ball on a thought and making it dart about. Rivals should watch him. More tripe has been served up than at a roadside butchery. Half the art of batting is to put the bowler off his game. Great sportsmen upset their opponents, make them think their usual game is not good enough. Forced to reach for more, these opponents make mistakes and succumb easily.

High scores have also helped to entertain the crowds. It is not so very long ago that teams aimed to score 80 in the first 20 overs of an ODI. In those days the idea was to keep wickets intact for a late charge. Now ambitions are altogether higher. In T20 sides expect to reach 200 on a reliable pitch. Commentators talk about striking three boundaries an over. Great Scott, I was happy to hit three before lunch!

Obviously the boundaries are shorter, batsmen are stronger and more imaginative and their bats are thicker yet lighter. Bowlers are less accurate, skilful and mean. But the deeper truth is that teams believe they can score 200 or so in almost any number of overs so long as the pitch is flat.

IPL is a reminder that the game can take many forms without losing its spirit. Test cricket will survive for the same reason movies have survived so many supposed challengers. Because it has enduring appeal. But it cannot pretend that Queen Victoria remains upon her throne.