So Solomon has come to judgement and Indian Premier League matches will be shifted out of Maharashtra. Did this decision come from the chief minister of the state who is, at least in theory, the chief executive of the state? What a naïve question! It came as an order from a judge of the Bombay high court, and as we know from that portmanteau phrase “judicial overreach”, it’s the judiciary which takes all the important decisions in our country. (And, oh yes, it occasionally looks at legal questions as well). The contempt of court laws in our country allow us to comment on the merits of a judgment as long as the commentary does not ascribe any motives to that judgment. In this particular case, there can be no possible ulterior motive because the judge has taken an unpopular decision — unpopular with almost everyone.
It is unpopular with the cricket-loving public of Maharashtra which keenly anticipated experiencing the excitement of IPL matches live rather than on television (and these matches included even the final at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium). It is an unpopular decision with the cricket board which organises the tournament and which will now have to find new venues, make alternative arrangements in double-quick time and also lose considerable revenue while doing all this. It will be unpopular with franchises like Mumbai Indians and the new Pune Supergiants team, which suddenly find they have no home ground and lose the advantage of playing in home conditions in front of the partisan support of the home crowd. Finally, it will be unpopular with the government of Maharashtra because the state stands to lose a massive amount of money (which incidentally, could have been used for drought relief).
But an unpopular judgment is not always right and this one is wrong on every important count. First and foremost, about the “wastage” of water in maintaining cricket grounds when drought conditions prevail in parts of the state. Were these same drought conditions not there when the T20 World Cup was played only recently in India including matches at Wankhede? Why were those allowed? Did other considerations prevail, such as the World Cup being a prestigious tournament and national interest being involved?
By inference, isn’t the high court saying that the IPL is not a real tournament based on cricketing skills but a glamour event involving big money? Big money which enriches the Board of Control for Cricket in India and “overpaid” cricketers? The high court should have looked at the attendance figures — IPL matches are almost always sold out because a home team is involved whereas only some of the World Cup matches, like the ones involving India, had a full house. So, obviously it’s not just big money that’s involved.
The World Cup apart, did the court only see water being wasted at Wankhede? Are the extensive grounds of Raj Bhavan, several times the size of Wankhede’s outfield, no longer being watered? What about the lawns of Mumbai’s many clubs? Are they being forced to cut down on their sprinklers? What about the many golf courses? These cover a huge area and their greens are really green. Is golf now banned? What about public parks, like the Hanging Gardens? What about swimming pools? Mumbai alone has several of them in clubs and housing societies, and swimming surely is not a priority activity. I haven’t read about water sports in the state being stopped but, perhaps, I missed those reports, as I must have missed reports of WaterWorld being closed at EsselWorld, India’s largest amusement park just outside Mumbai.
But why go to all these places? Have ordinary daily activities involving the use of water been curbed anywhere? Are there water cuts to industry? Water cuts to housing societies? A ban on daily washing of lakhs of cars in the state? Are trains and buses not being hosed down daily? I could go on and fill this column with other examples but you get the general idea. The general idea is to frame the question: Why did all these things escape the learned judge’s attention? Does not the complete disregard of all that is obvious lead one to ask why single out only the IPL? Is it because it is considered a frivolous activity? An activity which isn’t about sports at all but about making money?
I am, and have been from childhood, a keen follower of cricket. I have played the game at school, college and university levels. More than that, I have read and heard and watched the game in newspapers, books, stadia, radio and television. I pride myself on a reasonable level of knowledge of the history of the game. Given all this, my initial reaction to T20 cricket was the same as many purists’ — that this was a slam-bang affair, a travesty of the game. Gradually my opinion has changed as that of many others, for a variety of reasons.
One is that society itself has changed considerably and a five-day Test match is almost anachronistic to today’s times. That doesn’t mean Test cricket is irrelevant; that it definitely isn’t. In fact, it still remains at the pinnacle of the game and the wild ebbs and flow of the game when it is played between well-matched teams is an unparalleled experience. But these are fine points which can be appreciated by only those who have some knowledge of the game. A T20 match, on the other hand, is enjoyed by all and has brought a huge new swathe of spectators into the sport. T20 and ODIs have also livened up Test cricket by quicker scoring, inventive stroke play and spectacular fielding.
A tournament like the IPL has also given a chance to a large number of young cricketers to play for a franchise and make a mark quickly which wasn’t possible with the conventional game. This has resulted in financial security, which, in turn, encourages parents to allow their children to take up sports in a serious way, whereas earlier the emphasis was on burying your head in textbooks. Now a sports career is a real option because the success of IPL has spawned similar leagues in other sports, actively supported by TV sports channels which need content. And where there is television, there are sponsors. Is sporting culture good for a country or not? To me that’s a redundant question, but did the judge even consider it? Perhaps that is an equally redundant question.