Until recently the Indian Premier League had been to me what protecting Gotham City has been to Batman for the past 73 years; fun on occasion, but swiftly becoming tedious and largely irrelevant. Where the Dark Knight had to contend with new, increasingly cunning and malevolent super-villains shortly after deposing his previous arch-enemy, I've had to deal with the excessively excitable IPL commentary team augment amplified exaggeration and hysteria in to their appraisal of the action as each season passed. It's debatable as to who has had the tougher assignment.
When the concept of the Indian Premier League was first announced it appeared, to this sceptical purist at least, little more than a glorified domestic Twenty20 tournament utilising the vast cricketing resources of the Indian sub-continent to create the greatest money-spinner the sport has ever witnessed. The pioneers behind the competition have certainly achieved that. I was wrong to underestimate its significance.
I remain very much a traditionalist when choosing cricket à la carte. Where Twenty20 provides a tasty starter to whet the appetite, Test cricket is the main course. One Day International's are very much for dessert; a painful addition to the meal that you don't really need when you've already reached saturation, but ultimately indulge regardless. It is no surprise, then, that I have cared little for the incessant stream of cringe-worthy advertising emanating from India ahead of each and every IPL season.
Yet, strangely, I might just have been won over. Perhaps those annoyingly histrionic adverts reminding me that the IPL is the 21st century's very own Roman gladiatorial games are effective at gaining viewers as well as inducing involuntary vomit in one's mouth, after all, and like a vessel heeding the call of a particularly mischievous siren I've been lured in; whether in to rocky waters or new lands ripe for exploration only time will tell. Thus far, progress has been satisfyingly serene.
The turning point, it would seem, has been the rather agreeable sight of a selection of the world's finest Test match performers wreaking havoc in the competition, proving that the cream does indeed always rise to the top. We have heard the term "Twenty20 specialist" banded about aplenty, but the fifth edition of the IPL has witnessed these 'mercenaries', as I tend to call them, convincingly eclipsed.
It has been a joyous sight indeed to watch cricketers of unsurpassed ability, Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn in particular, unfurl their full array of talents in an environment where innovation and daring is applauded rather than admonished. Such is the awe in which I have observed their genius that I've even began to develop an immunity to those highly irritable phrases in the mould of "and there's another DLF maximum for Kevin Pietersen". Really, Mr Shastri? However you endeavour to accentuate the shot and lace it with frills it remains a six, but never mind, I have access to an IPL television viewer's greatest companion - the mute button. It's no bother.
In addition to the child in a sweetshop demeanour of the commentary team, I still cast many an aspersion at the IPL, let that be clear. Cheerleaders at a cricket match? What next, popcorn vendors and shoe shiners? Whilst those good women are undoubtedly talented in their dedicated field, and provide an arm-chair letch like myself with many an eye-opener, some might argue it pales in comparison to the majesty of a Kallis on-drive. And players being wired up to the studio enabling a mid-innings chat - shouldn't their undivided attention be on fielding in the one format of the game where each and every run is so often critical to the outcome? The world's finest Twenty20 cricketers have a duty to entertain the cricket loving viewers, not impress them with previously unbeknownst oratory skills. I'm also against English cricketers playing in the IPL when their county is in action back home, though money is of course king in cricket, as it is with every profession.
I digress slightly. The above are, after all, only minor gripes. I've followed IPL season 5 in a greater capacity than I have afforded any of the previous seasons. Consistent displays of extremely high quality cricket - admittedly more from the big name Indians and overseas stars than the younger cricketers that the tournament is supposed to benefit - have made for compelling viewing. I thought I had bore witness to every cricket shot and delivery in the book. I hadn't. Nothing that these players do on a cricket field surprises me anymore, such is the rapid rate of innovation in Twenty20 cricket, and the infectious atmosphere and adulation given to the competitors by a rabid Indian crowd at each and every venue only adds to the enjoyment.
Despite putting up admirable resistance, I've finally succumbed to the IPL bug. What's not to like about it?
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