There is a certain sense of irony to the chaos of world cricket’s past three weeks. Sandpapergate opened the floodgates to reaction, then to overreaction, then to reaction to the overreaction. It was an episode like few that Test cricket has experienced – not least in its recent past, as the game’s protectors rail against the skulking ascent of an opulent and franchised elephant jostling through the Long Room.
The cerebral vacancy of the self-appointed leadership group, itself, careered attention away from the quality of the World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe. In doing so, the wider discussion of the disgraceful decision to exclude much of the world from cricket’s global competition was also curtailed. Dave Richardson, the ICC’s chief executive, explained the omission of associate nations as part of a desire to avoid what he described as ‘window-dressing’ – extraordinary words from a man apparently responsible for the welfare of his entire sport.
The situation is a shambles and an embarrassment for the planet’s only sport intent on marginalising those desperate to take part and anxious to improve. In a sense, the past month has dispelled the theory that Twenty20 cricket has overcome the game’s traditional formats. Events of the Cape Town Test may well define the short-term future, and the World Cup debate will run and run.
Yet in a curious twist of recent rationale, the strength of negativity of these recent headlines make the arrival of the Indian Premier League this week peculiarly welcome. A return to Yes Bank Maximums, to Seat Tyres Strategic Timeouts, to Danny Morrison’s captivating eccentricity. It shouldn’t work and bits of it simply don’t. It drags itself out for far too long and some of the self-indulgent rubbish that accompanies the razzmatazz is uber-nauseating. But as the world’s best limited-overs players pile in under one cricket-obsessed roof, there is a real feeling that this year’s IPL could not have come at a better time.
Not only does the competition give a breather to the embattled international game, but the focus returns to cricket. If there is anything that positions the IPL above its rivals, it is an almost unhealthy level of hero-worship. The month-long festival provides a readymade platform to stardom. Rashid Khan, Mustafizur Rahman, even Virat Kohli have had their pathways to fame and fortune illuminated by their performances. Tymal Mills – last year deemed a £1.4m bargain when signed by the Royal Challengers Bangalore – didn’t attract a single bid this time around. Yet despite that, he – in his own words – is, financially at least, set up for the future.
Is the tournament my favourite commodity in world cricket? Absolutely not. Hyper-commercialised beyond any reasonable belief and over-egged to the point of outright exasperation, there is much almost to detest, abridged by the return of the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, both back in the fold after corruption bans.
That said, maybe the Indian Premier League is what the game of cricket needs right now.