Published on ESPN Cricinfo on 23 Apr, 2017.
In the middle of the previous decade, cricket fans in India were introduced to a new spectacle. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in all its wisdom, paraded its top brass on television and proposed the Indian Premier League (IPL). Supposedly perfect for an evening out with friends and family, the matches would finish in an evening. You know, like baseball.
I still remember the disgust with which my circle of friends discussed the new competition. Our beloved game was being demolished, sold to the television Gods for prime-time revenues. What about the battle between bat and ball, we asked, our collective voices high-pitched with indignation. What about the delicious build up to the final hour? Imagine our horror when we realised that game blessed by WG Grace and Ranji Sinhji would now have cheerleaders.
We couldn’t have been more annoyed if our quiet neighbourhood pub was being replaced by a screeching karaoke bar. Or our favourite local fish and curry restaurant was demolished for a fast-food joint. Might as well tear up Eden Gardens and put a shopping mall on the pitch.
We felt we were being betrayed. After a few beers, we even drew up plans to raise banners of protest outside the BCCI office. But then we were a bunch of couch commentators. Talkers, not doers. By the next morning, our indignation had given way to a headache and a hangover, but our decision to boycott stood firm. Or so we thought.
One of the chaps in our group was more of a football fan. Every set of friends has at least one of them. He couldn’t stand Test cricket, thought draws after five days were a colossal waste of time, and believed David Beckham was a greater sportsman than Sachin Tendulkar. Always the odd one out, he couldn’t understand why we were so fussed. From his point of view, cricket was finally becoming a tad interesting.
He was the one who secretly got us tickets. After raining our anger down at him, the rest of us looked at each other and shrugged. It was a Mumbai Indians match. Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya in the same team, opening the batting together. We couldn’t really resist that, could we?
So when the day of the match arrived, all of us grudgingly headed to the stadium, promising ourselves we wouldn’t enjoy it. It probably took about five overs for our resolve to fly out of the stadium like those huge sixes that the batsmen unleashed. By the end, we were dancing the bhangra in the aisles while the cheerleaders twirled their pom-poms.
Ten years have passed since then and that circle of friends has spread to different parts of the world. Only last week, I saw a tweet from that football-loving friend praising Cheteshwar Pujara’s 525 ball vigil against Australia. I messaged him and imagine my surprise when he said it was the best match he had ever seen!
If it wasn’t for the initial taste of the IPL, perhaps he would never have gotten converted. T20 is cricket’s teaser, that free cocktail that gets people in the door and encourages them to hang around for seven course dinner. They come in for the sixes and stay for the maiden overs.
As for me and the rest of my friends, we have enthusiastically supported our chosen teams for the past decade. Let’s just say that while we enjoy our quiet beers, that doesn’t mean we can’t sing a mean rendition of ‘We are the Champions’ on karaoke.