In a third commercial, the bowler reduces a reluctant umpire to dust with an ear-splitting shriek. The other umpire is intimidated into giving the batsman out. Is this the much-vaunted spirit of cricket the IPL is seeking to promote? Club loyalty is one thing; this is stupidly pushing us towards the excesses of European football in the 1980s.
Some media commentators have cooed with delight over these ads. Many were also ecstatic last year at the sight of a new aura of aggression about the Indian team. These ads, however, are not only about cricket. They exploit the cricket-obsessed individual. They make cricket bigger than a game. They want it to take precedence over the fan's social functions.
Oh, you will say, I'm being too serious about this. I should take it all in good humour. But is our society—our society of the cities, formed and informed, uninformed, disinformed and malformed by the media—any longer one where good humour has a place? The imported cheerleaders have just had to sheathe their legs in Mumbai: a city which produces films that show much more. Do we tell 'Surd' or 'Mallu' or 'Gujju' or Muslim jokes now without checking who's listening?
Do we need to encourage brattishness in an urban culture that is perpetually half a millimetre away from the knife's edge? Rudeness is today the badge of the city-bred male; it is his declaration of independence. To be polite, to help others, is to be weak.
Finally, these ads are completely antithetical to the spirit of cricket. They tell us that it's fine to win by any means. Essentially, the cricketing establishment is telling us this; the fan is not going to distinguish between the BCCI and a particular team. This is the philosophy of corporate India—the guiding spirit behind the IPL. It is also the philosophy of political India.
Ours is a culture—or at least a society—dangerously close to losing its ethical bearings. A Union minister asks what is wrong with promoting his sons' business interests among his colleagues. A chief minister happily unveils statues of herself. In India's most literate state, farmers commit suicide because the ruling party's unions did not let them harvest their crops. The bulwark of our State, the army, is morally crippled and emotionally deadened by the 25 years of human rights violations it has been urged to by a series of callous central governments.
I have nothing against the big money the cricketers are making, or their public auction. They are not being sold against their will. It is the combination of big money interests and the lifting of ethical constraints I see as threatening. Kapil Dev, when asked for his reaction to the slapping incident, replied, "These things did not happen in the ICL."
He's quite right. The 'rebel' Indian Cricket League was played throughout with great sportsmanship and in a spirit of fun. The presenters were fun, the commentators were fun, the cricket was lovely. The entertainment was the cricket—not film stars. Oh yes, there were cheerleaders (East Europeans) who were interviewed too, and asked which of the players they fancied. Why do the media talk as if the IPL's cheerleaders are trendsetters? Why did they ignore the ICL? Was it because it was backed by a media rival?
There seems to be plenty of money in the ICL, but its ad campaigns have not been nasty. The pitches were not flat tracks where bowlers were murdered. As far as I know, the highest team total was under 190 and the highest personal score 98. Hyderabad's Alfred Absolom took 7 for 15 in one match. The fielding was spectacular. Most heartening was that some of the best performances came from young and unknown Indian players, who are unhappily lost to their state teams because of the BCCI's all-devouring greed. Look at the IPL's top five batsmen: They are all international stars. So are the top five bowlers. The ICL lists looked very different.
The stakes are set very high for an IPL game. There's very little laughter. And when it comes to those aspects of the game that should be taken seriously, it descends to farce.
(Vijay Nambisan is author of Bihar is in the Eye of the Beholder and Language as an Ethic.)