The Dark Side of the Indian Pyjama League

Since we are busy protesting the contruction of a childrens playground in a sacred area where we play cricket Left_Arm_Shite has offered to fill in the holes for a little while. First up he deals with the Evil IPL.

The Dark Side of the Indian Pyjama League

I must confess to being far too much of an optimist for my own good.

When I first heard of the IPL I was filled with hope. Franchise cricket would blur national boundaries, break new grounds and capture new markets. Cricket could find it’s own Yao Ming, and

suddenly a billion Chinese would stand up and pay attention to our quirky game. There could even be a visionary evangelist in the USA who would grow the game in one of the toughest international sporting markets, and cricket would step out of the shadow of the commonwealth and genuinely take it’s rightful place on the world stage, and never again would I have to answer the most awkward of questions: Does this game REALLY go for five days?

Fast forward to the fifth edition of the IPL and things are looking significantly less rosy. The tournament itself continues to be embroiled in allegations of corruption, both on and off the field. The supposed cricketing evangelist of America, Allen Stanford, is serving some serious time after illegally procuring a lapdance from Matty Prior’s wife, and Lasith Malinga, the only decent Sri Lankan fast bowler produced in over 2500 years of recorded history, has decided to throw in his lot with the IPL and retire from Test cricket in order to prolong his Twenty20 career.

We have a predictable formula: Four well paid internationals, a couple of Indians on the gravy train, and four nuff nuffs get together in a park in India for a bit of hit and giggle. Bright lights, colourful outfits and faux hysteria from the commentary box, together with cheerleaders in skimpy outfits and a barrage of advertising complete the picture. Here is cricket – in the 21st century, for a consumerist TV audience, reduced to little more than a dramatic soap opera, for those with a short attention span, and a guarantee that an indian team can’t lose. Gideon Haigh was the first to use the term ‘Cricketainment‘ (hyperlink 1) to describe the scripted nature and the inane sameness of the entire spectacle, and while my original reaction was to dismiss it as cynical and resistant to change, the sage words of a brilliant cricketing mind have shone through.

So what of Test Cricket? The most destructive West Indian batman of his generation, Chris Gayle, was plying his trade in the pyjamas while his compatriots were engaged in a tough series against Australia. Malinga was preserving himself for the IPL since the 3rd CB series final in Australia in early March. As Damith wrote, the only worthy contribution from a Sri Lankan fast bowler in the recently concluded series against England was Prasad’s 34 runs at the top of the order when opening as a nightwatchman. Sri Lankan test cricket is crying out for a genuine strike bowler, and not just someone who will rough up the ball until the spinners are ready to bowl.

Of more concern to me is the recent fiasco involving Angelo Mathews. After much speculation that he should stop bowling in order to prevent his body from breaking down, he then proceeded to trundle away in the pyjamas, much to my chagrin. A few press releases and some stage managed PR have doused that fire somewhat, but the embers still glow ominously. Here is the future of Sri Lankan cricket willing to put himself and his country’s success at risk…for a paycheck.

Not to be entirely unreasonable – a paycheck for a Sri Lankan cricketer in recent times hasn’t necessarily been all that forthcoming. Sri Lankans, like many others, have a strong sense of family, and for a poor boy from the southern coast such as Lasith Malinga, the bright lights of the IPL and the prospect of being able to look after his family for life are strong motivating factors. This is not a matter of greed, but rather a simple risk/reward proposition, and after weighting the factors, test cricket is hardly going to come up trumps. This is evidenced by the recent English tour being truncated after two tests, where a third would have been a riveting spectacle for fans of the longer form of the game.

The ECB did well to identify the threat to Test cricket and headed it off by incentivising their central contracts to ensure that there was a much higher weighting for the longer form of the game. Cook, Strauss and Trott may not be top exponents of the reverse Dilscoop or the Switch-paddle, but I consider them to be the best top 3 in world cricket. Sadly, financial incentives are unlikely to work in Sri Lanka. Generally, an increase in a Sri Lankan player contract is proportionate to the level of disappointment they feel on pay day when nothing hits their account.

At my best friend’s wedding last week I promised him that we would travel to Sri Lanka for the next test series against England, stand on the old fort in Galle, have some good old fashioned banter with the Barmy army and get happy on arrack and Lion beer. His wife’s permission notwithstanding, I fear that there may not be another Lanka-England tour to go to, as the Asian bloc continue to question the relevance of Test cricket in the brave new world of pyjamas and DLF maximums.

But I’m an optimist, and I’ll always have hope.

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