“I stopped watching IPL for the same reason I stopped watching porn,” said a prominent Colombo radio sportscaster. “Same plot. Same actors. Only the costumes change.”
He had a point. When I watched my first Indian Premier League game last Saturday, I was reminded of the first time I typed the word ‘sex’ into a search engine. I had hoped for titillation, but all I got was, well… tits.
I’m no sports purist. My favourite teams have always been swashbucklers. The All Blacks, Newcastle United’s “Entertainers” of the mid 90s, and of course Ranatunge’s world-conquering Lankans. So much so, that I stopped watching cricket 10 years ago when I grew tired of watching the Aussies win everything with their clinical version of the gentleman’s game.
So on paper, IPL should have been right up my street. But as it turned out, it wasn’t even in my postal code. It was just all tits.
It took me exactly two games to figure out why. It wasn’t because Akon, current darling of Sinhala Buddhist fanatics, was playing his puerile tunes during the toss. It wasn’t because of the stupid uniforms or the gaudy team monikers. It had to do with our obsession with highlights.
Highlights for me are like reading the cliff-notes of the novel. Or reading a movie synopsis on Wikipedia. The beauty of sport lies in its subtleties, something neither porn nor IPL are that big on. There is pleasure in watching the arc of a test match unfold over five days, or in sitting through a nil-all contest for that 90th minute goal.
IPL assumes that the lure of sport lies in its highlights, in its goals, its tries, its sixers and its wickets. That therefore a format that eliminates all the boring bits is somehow superior.
This is utter nonsense. What makes a goal or a sixer or a fallen wicket special is that each is a scarce commodity. A format that offers you a six with every over is like a football game played sans goalkeepers. Or an NBA game with the baskets at shoulder height. It’s like trying to play carrom on a board filled with chess pieces.
How much of this means anything to anybody other than me? Probably not much. IPL has just eclipsed the English Premier League in terms of pro rata player salaries. It is second only to the NBA. Forbes magazine, who aren’t known for their love of test cricket, calls it the most exciting sports league in the world.
But what about the cricket?
I watched it on the internet, which was a novelty until the commercials started. Having grown up watching cricket on Rupavahini, Sri Lanka’s national tv channel, I’m used to ads disrupting the spaces between overs. But these guys manage to squeeze an insurance ad into the time it takes for a bowler to walk to his mark. Even if that bowler is a spinner named Kevin Pieterson.
There are powerplays and time outs and fielding restrictions and anyone scoring under 7 an over is deemed a failure. So why wasn’t I entertained?
Maybe because I decided to support the Punjab Kings. It seemed a reasonable choice at the time. They were at the bottom of the table, underdogs worthy of support. They had amongst their ranks Sri Lanka’s two best batsman, Mahela, our classiest strokemaker since Aravinda, and Sanga, who was wearing a helmet that looked like a frisbee.
In theory I should have been delighted when the Punjab Kings chased down 200 set by the…Kolkota Kangaroos, I think they were called. But sadly my pulse did not quicken.
Angelo Mathews, who was playing for the Kangaroos, was bowling to Mahela, who was on the cusp of a workmanlike century. I was cheering for Mahela (if raising an eyebrow at every boundary can be classed as such), but suddenly I badly wanted Mathews to destroy his stumps.
What had prompted this treachery? Was it because Mathews shared the surname the hero of my soon-to-be published novel? Probably. Was it because of Mahela’s century failed to raise my heartbeat, unlike that Aravinda de Silva ton in ’86 which actually giving me an erection. (It should be noted that such things are easier to come by at age 13 than they are at 35.)
Answer: neither of the above. After two games of this IPL nonsense, I stumbled upon a fundamental truth. That I, lapsed cricket fanatic and ex-porn lover, no longer gave a shit.
I had no real affinity towards the Chennai Cheetahs or the Mumbai Monkeys or the Kings or the Kangaroos. I don’t live in India so why should I care if the red team beats the black one?
I also had the sneaking suspicion that most of the players shared my indifference. That their allegiances were only shirt-deep and would last as long as their contracts. They were there to collect their cheques, smile at the cameras and find out which Bollywood party the cheerleader chicks were going to be at.
This of course is a tad unfair. I’m sure that if I spent a season watching these freaks in their gaudy clothes, I may start developing an attachment towards the ludicrous game they were playing.
I mean what did I have in common with Newcastle United, a team that I have, for my sins, followed for over 20 years? Truth be told, not much. But even though the EPL is as full of prima donnas and mercenaries as the IPL, I still couldn’t help shedding tears of joy this morning when I found out that the Toon were back in the Premier League after a year of relegation.
The fact is affiliations, like erections, are instinctive. You can’t fake one and try as you might, you can’t force yourself to have one if you are not aroused.
It is then, while watching the Bangalore Bandits lose to the Delhi Dragonflies, that I realized that cricket and porn had more in common than I thought. At least in my uneventful life. I consumed both with vigour during my youth, but abandoned both as soon as I grew up. Why? Because unlike sixers in a 20/20 game, time is a truly scarce commodity.
These days we are blessed or cursed with abundance of choice for entertainment. Every minute we spend hunched over a laptop watching Gautham Gambhir or Kim Kardasian carries an opportunity cost.
It’s something I have become painfully aware of as I age. I think very carefully about which TV shows I get addicted to. Knowing that a season of 24 or The Wire or LOST, which I consume by the boxset, could eat up several weekends in one gulp. If I get an XBOX I will have less time to play bass. If I watch IPL on a regular basis what other waste of time would I have to give up?
The fact is I watched cricket and surfed porn back in the day, because I had nothing better to do. But these days I need to choose my addictions carefully.
Losing my IPL virginity last week was not as painful as I describe. There were a few good whams and a couple of decent bangs and it was over in a few hours. But I’d be lying if I told you that the earth moved. It was a one night stand and neither of us felt the need to exchange numbers.
In the end the IPL doesn’t need me. It has its franchises, its fans and its Forbes ratings. It will get along quite nicely without my patronage. As for me, I wish all the teams the best of luck. But now Newcastle is back in top flight, the Tri-Nations start in June and I have just bought myself the box set of LOST season 5. There will be no more hunching over laptops watching men in fancy dress hitting full tosses into VIP boxes.
Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman: The legend of Pradeep Matthews, a novel about Sri Lanka and cricket, won the Gratiaen Award in 2008. Random House India will publish the novel in 2011. The above post was originally published on Random Reads.