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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 27

Caricaturing Cricket

Wednesday 25 June 2008, by G.S. Bhargava

India’s most popular outdoor game of cricket is being subjected to a veritable upheaval since April 15 without adequate public awareness of it .On the other hand, the young and old are lapping up the tamasha as ‘cheap’ entertainment. The sparsely clad, cheerleaders imported from the US are a mere fig leaf for the Twenty/20 format of the halcyon days of the ‘gentleman’s game’. Recall the Jam Saheb of Navanagar whose felicity with the willow in the early 19th century was celebrated by A.G. Gardinar in immortal prose. He bettered the native Englishmen by his prowess on Britain’s playing fields in what was then the Englishmen’s game. He also played for England against Australia in the ‘ashes’ series. He was the first Ranji, in whose memory there are periodical cricket tournaments, which hone young aspirants. Although Prince Ranji had no opportunity to play in the matches, cricket was in the parivar’s veins. His nephew, Prince Dileep, was nearly as legendary as the Jam Saheb. Dileep Trophy commemorates him. The former Indian captain, Ajay Jadeja, is a grand nephew of the ancient veteran.

The six-week spectacle is featuring ‘most of the finest talents in the world game’, in the words of Simon Austin of the BBC. As with the Premier League footballers in Europe, doubloons, to borrow P.G.Wodehose’s pet expression for lucre, decide the association of the players. For instance, Raul Gonzaloz of Real Madrid plays for any country, which pays his price. Initially the King of Spain, conferred the title of Royal (Real Madrid Club de Futbol ) on the team in 1920. The most prized possession has been up for sale over time. Now it is no longer exclusively Spanish.

Collectively called the Indian Premier League (IPL), the ongoing cricket matches opened in Bangalore on April 15, as stated, and will end in Mumbai on June 1. There are eight teams in contest, with titles both weird and old-world. They are Bangalore Royal Challengers, owned by the civil aviation magnate Vijay Mallya. (Its most expensive player is Rahul Dravid, who draws an annual salary of $ 1, 035,000.) Mallya has apparently invested a packet in the venture, from the uniforms bearing the legend of his top bracket airline King Fisher, worn by the teams sporting different colours, to women cheerleaders from the US originally baring it all.

As a matter of fact, this is the least offensive aspect of the event. Bosoms and bottoms are the stock- in-trade of Bollywood; even leading female artistes cater to the practice, with varying degrees of latitude. The other teams in alphabetical order are, (2) Chennai Super Kings, owned by India Cements. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is its captain and gets $ 1.5 million as annual fees. (3) Deccan Chargers, owner Deccan Chronicle newspaper group of Andhra Pradesh, (4) Delhi Daredevils, owned by GMR Holdings, builders of Hyderabad and other airports, (5) King’s XI, Punjab, owned by vivacious Preity Zinta, Rajput film artiste, and her fiancé, Parsi business magnate, Ness Wadia. (6) Kolkata Knight Riders of Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla and her spouse, Jai Mehta. Its most expensive player is Sourav Ganguly with an annual salary of $ 1,092,500. Pakistani’s Rawalpindi Express, Shoaib Akhtar is slated to reinforce the team.(6) Mumbai Indians of Reliance Industries. Its captain is Sachin Tendulkar, who as an icon player draws an annual salary of $ 1,21, 250. (I wonder if Mumbai Indians is a riposte to Raj Thackery’s crusade against non-Maharashtrians in Mumbai.) Finally, (8) Rajasthan Royals, owned by anonymous sounding ‘Emerging Media’.

TRUE, the princely States of what are now Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab of central and north India had been patrons of cricket for decades. The legendary Cottari Kanakaiya (C.K. Naidu) was an honorary colonel in the State Army of Indore. Baroda, Patiala, Jaipur and even Gwalior have patronised cricket royally, Pataudi is another royal patron with the Nawab himself captaining an Indian team in the formative years of Indian independence.

A princeling, the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram, a large principality or zamindari of what is now Andhra Pradesh, captained an Indian cricket team that toured England in April 1932. It was a clear case of Vizzy, as the Maharajkumar was endearingly called, outbidding others. He reportedly paid Rs 50,000—a fortune in those golden days—to the Cricket Board, of which Rs 40, 000 was for spent on the cricket tour of England. But much drama preceded the upshot.

Vizzy’s captaincy became notorious for ‘backroom politics’ when he could not get on with Lala Amarnath, the ace batsman. The athletic Lala, was ultimately flown back home as punishment. (Incidentally, the team, including the captain, would travel by ship to the UK.) Nevertheless, the composition of the team was cosmopolitan, with seven Hindus, Muslims and Parsis, four each, and three Sikhs. The star player was C.K.Naidu, who even though 37 cracked a scintillating 118 not out against the MCC at the Lords. It was said Naidu played until he was past 60. He was a medium paced bowler, too. When Mohammad Nissar, a pace bowler, led dissenters against Nayudu there was no inquisition-like inquiry by busybodies and punishment for the offenders, as in the Harbajan Singh-Srisanth row now, described as slapgate by lazy headline writers. A telephone call from the Maharaja of Patiala quenched the trouble, even if momentarily.

Positively, the Indian Premier League is a mini-United Nations: It includes, besides about ninety Indians, 21 Australians, eleven South Africans and an equal number of Sri Lankans, New Zealanders and Pakistanis six each and a lone player each from Bangladesh, England and Zimbabwe. Such mixed teams are unprecedented, not only in India. Sachin Tendulkar’s Mumbai Indians would have had the largest Indian contingent had it not shed players in varying circumstances. As result, Saurav Ganguly’s Kolkata Knight Riders now have the largest number of 17 Indian players.

More rewardingly, young players, several of whom had played in the Under-19 team have come into their own now, rubbing shoulders with veterans of many nations. It will be an immense asset to Indian cricket, albeit in the Twenty/20 format.

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