When the batsman’s off the pitch, maybe it’s worth having a crack at the stumps?
Big Jake Oram sharing the field with a dog. That was the photo accompanying my local rag’s report on the opening match of the IPL, Chennai Super Kings losing to Mumbai Indians.
It so happens that I stumbled upon this match as I channel surfed after the Waratahs versus Western Force rugby match. I thought I might be delivered a pick-me-up, but instead I just got a continuation of the tedium and disappointment.
It wasn’t for lack of trying.
On the field, Big Jake was bending his fragile frame, as the ball alternately flew off the pitch or died without bouncing. Sachin Tendulkar was playing studied forward defensives as if it was the opening morning of a test match.
No, the problem was not the players but the pitch, which was inconsistent in its bounce and generally difficult for batting. In other words, it was a bit of a dog.
Beyond the boundary it was a similar story. The camera panned to reveal an embankment full of attentive, willing people. But somehow a grass bank of picnickers did not result in an exciting atmosphere.
This made me realise that, whereas South Africa is renowned for rugby amphitheaters of electric atmosphere, it rarely delivers the same in cricket.
Put this down to the embankments: one needs three-sixty degrees of close-packed humanity to get the sparks flying.
To be honest I have watched very little of this new and transplanted instalment of the IPL, but I gather that, for the most part, it has been a similar story to that described above.
Most matches have been alarmingly one-sided, scores have been low, and sixes have been a collector’s item (notwithstanding two excellent contests – Delhi vs Chennai and Warnie’s lads vs Kolkata – just after I drafted this piece).
Yes, I know that Peter Roebuck, ever the contrarian, has been positively excited about the match-winning performances of some oldies. But is 5 for 5 from Anil Kumble really what Lalit Modi was looking for?
Make no mistake, Modi is a brilliant administrator, cricket’s equivalent of John O’Neill, perhaps even better.
He decided on South Africa over England as IPL venue for all the right reasons: superior weather, more enthusiasm from government and cricketing officials, no clashes with domestic cricket schedules, lower costs, and resolved TV rights.
But sometimes all the right reasons do not lead to the right decision, which instead can only be found via one’s instincts.
It’s still early days with this tournament, and it may yet prove me wrong. But this is what my gut tells me:
Twenty20 cricket is a form of the game that requires good cricket pitches and prospers on crowd atmosphere.
There are only two places in the world where most of the major cricket grounds on most days provide good cricket pitches, ones where the ball bounces regularly, there is encouragement for both batsmen and bowlers, and conditions stay much the same for the duration.
One of these places is Australia, the other is England.
And there is only one place in the world where grounds always have atmosphere, because they are full, the people are held close together, and crowds are diverse, colourful, well enough behaved and entertaining. That is England.
I am sure South Africa cannot be faulted for its effort, and I mean no disrespect, but I really wonder if the current IPL should have been played in England, wet weather and all.