Cricket meets Bollywood? An Englishman ditches tradition

Even an English cricket traditionalist has to admit that the Indian Premier League offers a raucous good time.

Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
Fans react as they watch the ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan on a screen in Mumbai March 30, 2011.

I have just witnessed a miracle: a game of cricket that even Americans could understand.

And not just because of the pom-pom brandishing cheerleaders, regular trumpet blasts over the PA system, and popcorn sellers in the stands that are familiar to sports fans in the United States.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has taken the sedate, subtle game that I learned as a young English boy, played in elegant whites over five days, and turned it into a big-hitting, three hour spectacle that has borrowed freely from Major League Baseball.

In fact Indians have taken their British colonial sporting legacy and put it through a mincer. No more cucumber sandwiches and polite scattered applause at a nicely judged hook to backward square leg.

Instead, in the brash, hyper-fast and colorful version of the game played here – it might be called “cricket meets Bollywood” – enthusiastically noisy crowds leap to their feet to cheer the “sixes” (the equivalent of a home run) that the batsmen are obliged to aim for because each team has only 120 balls (pitches) to score from.

This evening the Hyderabad Sunrisers beat the Bangalore Royal Challengers with two balls to spare, in the sort of nail-biting thriller finish that the rules of Twenty20 cricket, a newer and shorter version of the game, are designed to ensure. 

The local fans, though, scarcely seemed to mind which side was winning; they were as raucous in their applause for big hits by the opposition as they were for the home team. IPL cricket is meant to be pure entertainment, offering drama at every twist and turn of the game, and who actually wins is secondary to many spectators.

Even an English cricket traditionalist, brought up to appreciate grace and style, has to admit that though the IPL game rewards a cruder, more aggressive approach, it is enormous fun to watch, and the crowds are enormous fun to be part of.

Whether the game has to be quite so relentlessly commercial (the TV rights for Twenty20 sold for $1.5 billion and top players earn $2 million for six weeks’ work) or quite so corrupt (matches and even individual plays have been fixed by bookmakers), a traditionalist has the right to ask.

But one thing is sure; it will be a long time before I sit through another five day international cricket match that is as likely as not going to end in a draw. Mark me down as a thrills and spills IPL convert.

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