When the big match-fixing scandal in cricket blew in 2000, we all knew there was too much money in cricket for it to stay a clean game. I wonder whether there is any team sport with as much money, and as few teams playing it, as cricket.
Back then, one of our school assignments was to come up with a solution to match-fixing. A classmate and I had the same idea – legalise it, and make it like the WWE (then WWF). We wouldn't know what was going to happen. We would pay to watch, and the cricketers would be paid to fix.
Of course, at the time, we were speaking with the dystopian nonchalance that is peculiar to disillusioned teenagers. We were resentful of this happening to what was, at the time, our favourite sport.
However, cricket has changed since then. In the mid-to-late '90s, anything above 250 runs was a competent total on most wickets in a 50-over game. Test matches were played like test matches, with more focus on endurance than runs. At the turn of the millennium, we began to see impossible totals in 50-over matches. A team could score more than 400 runs, and still be defeated.
Let's face it. The IPL is not even cricket. It's an orgy of entertainment. It's Gayle hitting the ball out of the park, it's two bimbettes with alliterative names asking silly questions of cricketers who are trying to look into their eyes, it's several groups of imported dancers gyrating in skimpy costumes, it's a bunch of men and women flirting in studio settings, it's confrontations between the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and their seniors in the national team.
Of course, every year, there are columns about how sexist cricket is. Those don't cut much ice with me, because sport is bound to be predominantly male. For all Sony Max's talk about bringing in female cricketer Isa Guha to balance out the vacuity of the models, she hasn’t exactly proven herself to be a Diana Edulji. Let's accept her with her glamorous outfits, and the cheerleaders with brands like 'White Mischief' emblazoned across their chests, and the models in tank tops and bustier dresses for what they are – cogs in an entertainment machine.
The IPL has cracked the perfect template for a WWE model, but hasn't quite left behind its pretensions of being cricket. But, despite Gayle’s rain of runs, and Gambhir's tantrums, the focus is usually on what is happening around the field, not least because of the Bollywood presence. I suppose Preity Zinta’s love life, and its incorporation of cricketers, is about as interesting as any film she has starred in.
And Shah Rukh Khan's drunk romp is mildly more entertaining than his performance in Devdas.
If only the IPL looked at really exploiting its potential, fans of the franchise may actually get their money's worth – and $ 4 billion is a lot of money.
First up, the relative slowness of the game, and the smallness of its circle, ensures that discards from international teams continue to play, and occasionally become coaches after hanging up their boots. Along with this, is a battalion of commentators and experts, largely drawn from a community of former cricketers. This means there is plenty of scope for face-offs between old enemies – let's say Shane Warne and Arjuna Ranatunga – as well as for a side-show involving one of the said discards – let's say Azhar Mahmood.
Aside from this, there's the studio drama. Navjot Singh Sidhu, his two lieutenants, Sameer Kochhar and Gaurav Kapur, and a changing cast of girls (all of whom look alike to me). From what they have to say to each other between innings, they'd probably be best off with some sort of love pentangle, with a few slaps and cheerleaders thrown into the mix.
On field itself, the scope is tremendous. It appears that a bunch of Indian cricketers ruin their relationships with each other during each IPL season, only to complain about team morale being down when they regroup into a national side. Staging fights, sledging, and fisticuffs among them may fulfil their need for internal strife while maintaining the pretence of camaraderie that makes a good national side. Sadly, this would have meant Sreesanth needn’t have turned to bookies for pocket money, but I suppose it should be easy enough to find someone else who's willing to take a few slaps.
And then, we could have unpredictability in the game itself. I'd like to see, for instance, Dhoni miss a stumping, or drop a catch, retreat to the side, change into a Mumbai Indians jersey, and leave the men in yellow bewildered, and Ravi Shastri hysterical. Whistle podu, indeed.
So, here's hoping IPL 7 turns into IPE 1.