I MUST confess rather embarrassingly that despite putting up quite a few posts talking about the IPL, I had never been to an IPL game. Add to that the fact that I live in a franchise city (Bangalore) and the embarrassment index notches up a bit. Well, that was up until yesterday, when I finally decided to be a part of the crowd at an IPL game not playing on a television set. Friend in tow, I showed up for the Mumbai Indians vs Royal Challengers contest at about 9 PM. The inconvenience of showing up fashionably late at an IPL game (which have mostly been pitched as fun parties anyway, so I was wondering why ambling in late was not such a good thing) is two fold. First, you miss the action and by the time you arrive in the commoners’ stand (the posh ones were already sold out or would require me to probably commit wire fraud to be able to afford it), the best places are taken. At the Chinnaswamy stadium, our entry was from Gate 19, but there was not even ‘standing space’ according to our friendly yet unhelpful usher. So he suggested we try an entry through Gate 20. Gate 20 guy says no space here either, but crucially that he can’t scan this ticket in his machine. Great! The lady friend was naturally not amused as we called up a colleague and friend watching the game from the stand above Gate 17, desperate for some directions, and help. Luckily he tipped us to come there and occupy some empty space on the second tier which was relatively free. Mischief managed, we landed up with a fairly good view of the action (though a pillar did impede our view of the mid wicket / deep cover fielder. As we left for the game, the smartphone’s Cricinfo application updated us that it was Bangalore who was batting and Lasith Malinga had struck early (really early – 1st ball actually!). I said that it would be good enough if we could catch Malinga’s second spell and see him bowl someone out like he did with scary precision against Delhi. Our spirits were instantly lifted as we had our wishes fulfilled within seconds of stepping into the stadium and taking our seats. Malinga came in for his second spell and bowled the 18th over where he struck the stumps of Asad Pathan at full pace.
The moment you enter an IPL game (mind you, I am mostly figuring all this out from a sample of one game), the distinct ‘we went to a party and a cricket match broke out’ feel hits you. The blaring music, the chants and chatter, the cheerleaders, the lights, the aerial camera, the razzmatazz, the works! It is distinctly noisier than the other two formats of cricket I have attended – while test cricket feels like a polished history class (where a whole lot of students are snoozing off), one dayers are more like a vibrant communications class and the IPL games have all the maturity and cacophony of a kindergarten games period. Bangalore finished at 140-4 thanks to some lusty hitting in the last over from SS Tiwary but it always looked a sub par score. Once the Mumbai batsmen walked out to bat, everyone sat up straight. Because, the real deal began now – Sachin Tendulkar would be batting. It didn’t matter if you had a red jersey on or blue paint on your face, Sachin’s presence seemed to transcend it all. A friend of my colleague’s said ‘Sachin is the biggest threat to brand IPL’! Everybody wanted to see him bat. It was the Mumbai ‘keeper David Jacob who took first strike, though. As the giant scoreboard revealed that Sachin has 1216 career IPL runs, it also proudly displayed that Jacob had 1 IPL career run(s)! Perhaps spurred by that, Jacob went ahead and changed all that as he clobbered Zaheer Khan. Or maybe, Zaheer was thinking about Isha Shravani and not concentrating. Hard to tell! The result was that Mumbai were off to a flyer and the cheergirls were working overtime. Looking at them stationed all around the boundary separated from the ogling crowd by an iron fence, it was tempting to think that there should be a sign hanging on those fences – ‘Please don’t feed the animals’. Anyway, the zoo visitors soon turned their attention to the action in the middle as Sachin took guard. It seemed when Sachin was batting the game moved to a different plane altogether – no context, no competition; nothing was relevant. You could feel the vibe of reverence and wonder around the stadium. (The chants of RCB! RCB! being egged on by the PA announcer instantly died down replaced by a spontaneous ‘Sachin!Sachin!’) Once he took a single and got to the non strikers end, Mumbai Indian vs RCB in IPL IV resumed. Watching Sachin this way is a surreal feeling, in fact for me a refuge of a glimpse of the pure amidst the cooked up excitement that is the IPL. Yes, I had fun and my friend had a blast too, but that’s only because it was some kind of transcendental joy to watch Sachin play an inch perfect cover drive off Abhimanyu Mithun, cream Dilshan twice or take at least five twos where he ran lightning quick judging the calls to perfection. My friend exclaimed, ‘And to think he’s 40!’. I told her, cut him some slack, he’ll only turn 38 later this month. The colleague wanted to leave after 6 overs or when Sachin got out. I told him that in that case he’s not leaving before the conclusion of the game. Prophetic words they turned out to be as Sachin played another masterfully clinical innings.
But there was still a sense of being staisficed and not really satisfied. You could call it the World Cup hangover, you could blame it on the overdose of cricket but beneath all that glitz and glamour there seemed to me as if there isn’t even a glint of soul in the IPL. As we got into the cab for the ride back from the stadium, the cabbie asked what the result was. I gave him an account to rival a Cricinfo bulletin and all I got in return was a polite nod. I guess that jaded feeling isn’t going to go away soon.