In previous years, I have never taken much notice of the Indian Premier League.
During normal times, already sated by a summer of fascinating County Cricket, and usually with an overseas tour to look forward to, in the past the thought of watching the IPL has not really carried much interest.
However – as some of you may have noticed – this year has been ever so slightly different.
A complete dearth of live County cricket: televised Tests with no crowd: no overseas tours looking possible: indeed, a veritable live cricket drought.
Add to this the acute misery of a Tier 3 Corona virus lockdown in my area and it will soon become apparent, dear reader, why I have suddenly developed a febrile interest in all things Sub-Continental. After all, one needs something to do once the cupboards have been fully stocked with toilet rolls!
I also have to admit it makes a pleasant change to watch cricket with no threat of rain or bad light, and there is a further benefit – as yet, like certain other ‘Premier Leagues’, Sky Sports have not decided to charge £14-95 to watch IPL games on pay per view.
This year’s tournament has been moved from India to the more sanitised and sterile UAE and all games take place at the same three grounds, ostensibly behind closed doors:
Dubai. A magnificent stadium in the middle of nowhere. I sampled this ground several years ago with Freddie, Tremers and Mr Blade whilst watching England lose a Test match heavily to Pakistan. There was no crowd in the stadium then, either! All things considered, possibly the world’s best venue for spectator free cricket matches.
Sharjah. A compact ground with tiny boundaries where mis-hits invariably carry for six. Adding to the viewing interest here is a busy dual carriageway outside the cow corner boundary, where locals wait across the road in their face masks for sixes to clear the low roof and then make kamikaze dashes into the busy road to retrieve the ball. My God, they don’t even do that in Yorkshire. Given the volume of speedy traffic evident, that bruised white ball could prove to be a costly souvenir..……as Goldfinger might say, “It won’t be the Covid 19 that kills you, Mr Bond…” Can you imagine UK Health and Safety giving their blessing to that type of set-up? I know the oil price is depressed, but surely Sharjah could afford to put up a net!
Abu Dhabi. A spectacular looking stadium, once again in the middle of nowhere. My favourite of the three, given the designer must have been a Star Trek fan like myself.
On the plus side, all three grounds seem to have provided excellent wickets for T20 matches.
One important tip if tuning in – watch a ‘live recording’ of the game say thirty minutes behind the true live action. This will allow you to fast forward through all the time outs, ludicrous advertisements, and other crap, of which there is plenty.
The basic game of T20 will need no introduction to anyone reading this so I will concentrate on the peripherals.
There are eight franchise teams involved with each permitted to use a maximum of four overseas players per match. In practice this means a lot of expensive talent warming its arse on the bench, but there are certainly enough English players on show to entice the UK viewer.
Moeen Ali has signed for Bangalore, but is most notable for his absence. Eoin Morgan and Tom Banton play for Kolkata, the latter mainly in a seated position. Chris Jordan plays for Kings XI Punjab and is picked only intermittently but has bowled well. Jonny Bairstow has opened the batting for Sunrisers Hyderabad until recently, but was dropped after a flurry of ‘through the gate’ bowled dismissals – well, there’s a surprise!
The Rajasthan Royals have the greatest weight of English talent in their ranks. Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer are regulars in every game. Tom Curran is with them too, albeit now seemingly sidelined. And how could I forget Jos Buttler, who on October 4th celebrated an important anniversary -750 days since he last played cricket for Lancashire! Captained by the odious but skilful Steve Smith, it must be a mystery to many why the Rajasthan Royals are sitting towards the bottom of the current table. They will be dependent upon other results going their way to have any chance of qualification for the knock-out stage.
Jofra has bowled fast, taken wickets and attracted attention, but Sam Curran has probably been the pick of the English contingent for me albeit in a poor Chennai Superkings line-up. He has performed well with bat and ball.
There are the usual suspects from other nations to watch too, and I have found it fascinating to watch the speedy decline into obscurity of some hitherto household names.
Imran Tahir has hardly had a game, and now looks like an expensive and quickly depreciating asset. Well played to the Manchester Originals Hundred selection team, who paid top dollar for Tahir at last year’s ‘auction’.
The once fearsome Dale Steyn cannot get a game after being smashed all over the Middle East in the early stages. Finally recalled yesterday for Bangalore against Mumbai Indians, he got clattered once again.
Whisper this, but M S Dhoni looks to be on his way out, along with his Chennai Superkings team. Given current health concerns, I will never understand why the owners named this franchise after a cigarette!
The Universe Boss Chris Gayle is still around, grey flecked beard and all, raging against the fading of the light. He has finally forced his way into the current Kings XI Punjab side and is, as always, a joy to watch.
The IPL commentators vary incredibly in quality, yet another reason for keeping some fast-forward slack up your sleeve whilst watching.
Kumar Sangakkara and Pommie Mbangwa. From the sublime to the ridiculous.
The former offering unexpected and knowledgeable advice on batting footwork, the latter repeating the phrase ‘WOW’more frequently than Kate Bush in her heyday.
The under-rated and humorous Simon Doull has travelled from New Zealand, perhaps unsurprisingly given the loss of Sky’s cricket contract in that country – and presumably his job! Not so Ian Smith – perhaps the thought of commentating on another Super Over has proved too much for him. The English commentators that we have all been used to, Hussein, Atherton, Ward, Lloyd et al, appear to have missed out but the IPL programme is normally anchored by the unctuous Mark Nicholas, sporting a Donald Trump style haircut – fast forward.
During each innings of every match, in an advertising ploy that borders on visual prostitution, the camera pans to a gold coloured shining car parked on the boundary perimeter – the Tata Altroz.
When this happens, whichever commentator is in situ seems to be obliged (at gunpoint?) to offer gushing compliments about this vehicle for a minute or so – fast forward. I find it impossible to imagine Mark Nicholas cruising unctuously around the glitzy suburbs of Bondi or South Yarra in a Tata Altroz, no matter how I try.
Nevertheless, curiosity got the better of me and I looked at the Altroz specifications on Google. Sadly, there is no automatic transmission version, which rules it out as my next replacement vehicle, although there is a handy cubby hole to accommodate an umbrella for ‘those customers living in rainy areas’. Sounds just the job for getting to and from Old Trafford.
Whilst the IPL games are supposed to be spectator free, I have noticed certain areas of seating which contain fans of each team clad in face masks and waving flags. Presumably, these fans are Covid-free and possess lots of money/influence – not necessarily in that order.
There are also, alas, ‘virtual’ fans present in their droves, who appear at regular intervals on screen doing inane dance movements from the comfort of their living rooms in India. Who knows, maybe this is the new audience the ECB are hoping to attract to the Hundred. Fast forward, fast forward!
My cynical observations aside, I must admit there have been a number of entertaining games to watch in the last few weeks. So I would commend the IPL for a look to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, so long as the ‘interruptions’ are managed as suggested.
After all, with our increasingly incompetent and oppressive UK Government calling the shots, it seems to be one of the few things left we are allowed to do.
Regards, and stay safe.