Thursday, June 05, 2008

IPL, tennis, Jaya Arjuna, narrow domestic walls

Some people derogatorily use the word "intellectual" (or the more direct "pseudo-intellectual") to brush off a dissenting view. If you didn't care for a "masala entertainment" film that everyone else liked, it can only be because you're pseudo. Mention a book that isn’t on the current bestseller list? Yup, again, it must be because you're trying too hard to be different.

What's more amusing is when this accusation surfaces in the context of something as plebeian and mass-friendly as sport. As I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog, the Indian Premier League – all two months of it – entirely passed me by, so that I was still irritating friends with uninformed questions towards the end of the tournament: “You mean Shane Warne is playing for Jaipur – how is that even possible? Didn’t he retire a few months ago? Does Preity Zinta bat or bowl? Is this a unisex tournament?” During this period, much of my spare time has gone in watching tennis and participating in the messageboard of the TennisWorld website.

The average response goes: "The IPL is on and you're going on about tennis? You must be one of those snobbish pseudo-intellectual types who likes moving against the herd!" Now I have nothing against being called pseudo-intellectual or snobbish (or a vagrant sheep for that matter), but it's an ironic label given that most of my comments on the TW site run along the following lines:

"Rafa gets the break!! Woo-hoo!! Now HOLD SERVE, you moron, and take this to a third!! Bury the Djoker!"

Friends tell me IPL cricket is so exciting because of all the action off the ground: the cheerleaders, the movie stars, the Harbhajan-Sreesanth controversy. What does a bland sport like tennis have to compare with this, they ask.

More than you'd think, actually. For starters, in recent times, the mothers of players have been in the spotlight, and when mothers get involved in anything it always makes for good drama. During the tense Monte Carlo semi-final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the usually unflappable world number 1 shouted "Be quiet!" to Djokovic's shrieky mom, who was creating an unnecessary ruckus in the stands. Meanwhile, Britain's Andy Murray exploded in rage during a match, accusing his opponent of saying something inappropriate about his mother. Hindi-film scriptwriters might want to see the video – while Murray didn't actually slur "Maa kasam, chun chun ke maaroonga!" in Dharmendra style, it still makes Harbhajan's "Teri maa ki" to Andrew Symonds pale in comparison.

Speaking of Harbhajan, his physical assault on Sreesanth has nothing on a tennis player's recent assault on himself. This year's most viewed tennis clip by far is the one that shows Russia's Mikhail Youzhny repeatedly smacking himself on the head with his racquet – and drawing a nasty stream of blood in the process – after messing up a forehand. Cricket may have long ceased to be the gentleman's game, but tennis is no longer all strawberries and cream and long, leisurely days in the Wimbledon sun either. At this rate, contact sports like WWE will soon be an endangered species.

Lanka notes contd

Anyway, it turned out that my lack of interest in the biggest thing to hit cricket since coloured pyjamas was even harder to explain in Sri Lanka, where not only was it assumed that anyone getting off a flight from India would be reciting IPL match stats in his sleep, but where my very name helped steer the conversation. “Hi, I’m Jai,” I said when we met our guide/tour representative Keith at the airport, and on hearing these simple words his face lit up with the combined effulgence of a million glowworms, causing the people around us to look up in astonishment at the night sky. “Jaya like in Jayasuriya?” he exclaimed, scarcely able to believe his good fortune. “So pleased to meet you!”

“Um, yes – Jaya,” I replied, “but with an Arjuna instead of a Suriya!” At this our man sighed long and deep, and people around us looked up to check if monsoon winds were gathering. “Arjuna like in Arjuna Ranatunga, our great captain?” “True,” I conceded, “but without the ‘Ranatunga’ – or the captaincy, for that matter. I gave up both after we won the World Cup in 1996, ha ha.”

The joke fell flat but on the whole we had got off to a good start, and over the next several days we learnt about Keith’s love for cricket, his strong views about the game and its players, and even the ways in which it had affected his personal life: he told us about a promising job offer he had received in Australia, which he turned down on no other grounds than “the behaviour of their cricketers, and the way they treated Muralitharan”. (I decided to avoid disclosing that Australia had been far and away my favourite team back in my viewing days.)

Jayasuriya’s violent knocks for the Mumbai team were key talking points and it was noteworthy that throughout our stay, the one channel that would unerringly be available on every hotel-room TV set was SET Max. “Do people in India like Jayasuriya?” Keith asked tentatively. “Oh, we always admired him,” I replied, “but we like him a lot better now that he’s playing for a domestic team in a friendly environment rather than hitting Indian bowlers all over the park in an international match.” The next morning, Keith reciprocated with a few unexpected words of praise for an Aussie cricketer. “Did you see how Hayden celebrated with Murali after they took that wicket?” he asked, “I think he’s not so bad.”

I’m sure that the people who thought up the IPL were driven by baser motives than tearing down the narrow domestic walls of partisanship, but they might just have managed it anyway. On the other hand, if future editions of the tournament are as successful, India might soon revert to being a collection of sovereign states.


  1. A tiny little correction jaya-arjuna-
    IPL was exciting, mostly for its cricket, just as you'd rightly agree, the grandslams are for tennis.
    Your friends liked the controversies, the cheer-girls eh?
    They'd probably like WWE just as much then. Ask them to switch.

    Well, the gentlemanliness has its limits. And Harbhajan. Nah, he never was one, anyway.

  2. jai, have seen u screaming vamos rafa at TW many times.. am all for Fed though.. today is a tough one for ur guy.. and the whole IPL-Tennis debate, well what can i say.. i wacthed both and the FO even at not its greatest was more soul stirring than the packaged tamasha called IPL.. FO is tennis at its purest and IPL is the mongrel child of ODIs which is the bastard child of Test Matches.. no toss up between the FO and IPL.. between India-Australia Test match with Sachin scripting a familiar recovery, now that is a match up.. which side of the intellectual debbate would u be then? it will be a tough one but for me a fed-rafa match would be just a little ahead

  3. one-handed backhand: actually, the FO hasn't been all that exciting to me so far, though that will probably change in the final 3 days. I think some of the tennis in the Masters events this year was better, especially Miami, Monte Carlo and Hamburg. And the early stages of the Australian Open had much more exciting matches than the French has had so far.

    Either way, for Rafa's sake, I hope the weather gets better and brighter soon - these damp and heavy conditions are better suited to Roger's game (and possibly to Novak's as well, going by Hamburg). If Novak beats Rafa in the semi, I'm completely rooting for Roger in the final.

    And despite my diminishing interest in cricket, I'm still enough of a Sachin KAD to watch every ball of the hypothetical Test match you mention.

  4. the FO has had it monments.. Safina in particluar and the ROLF and ROG conundrum so vivdly explianed in TW in conext of the FED has been amazing.. but yeah the masters especilly hamburg was great... and Sachin is one of the reasons i watch cricket..and am rooting for Rafa today.. if the Fed has to win the FO at all, let him defeat rafa... btw have any of ur movie posts talked about Smita Patil and her place in indian film industry....

  5. am rooting for Rafa today..

    Actually, both the men's semis are tomorrow (Friday) so save the good wishes for then. Wouldn't have minded if the Rafa-Novak semi had been today - I think Rafa had got into some very good rhythm in the quarters, even considering that Almagro rolled over for him.

    No, haven't done anything on Smita Patil...been a very long time since I've seen her films...

  6. Great post, and I get your point clearly, but if you're going to compete with the awesomely crude rowdiness of IPL, you can't use the phrase 'unnecessary ruckus.'

    And the video is startling, but the alternately prim and sardonic commentary doesn't bolster your point.
    "Oh my! I dont think I've ever seen anything like this!"
    "Its almost Van Gogh-like, isnt it? Don't let him cut his ear off."
    "Its just extraordinary, really!"

  7. So you're Jai on TW? As a fellow TW addict, I empathize. That place can, stealthily, colonize the mind...

    My favorite part of the FO so far has been Gulbis. Guy's got game.

  8. Do you really believe cold and damp conditions favour Federer? Don't you think Rafa will get some purchase from those conditions with his heavy spin?

    It isn't enough to get facts right, jabberwock. Think before you speak. There's no way Rafa's going to lose, even if doubting his chances is your way of Jinxing Federer.

  9. Yay. Vamos Rafa. Yesterday he had Djoker for breakfast.
    Although I have nothing against the maestro from Switzerland, I hope the FedExpress derails tomorrow, struck by Nadal!

  10. Today was a big blow to Fed-Ex chances of being evaluated as best ever.I think this is gonna affect him psychologically.
    I had predicted before the semis that Djokerovich would trouble Rafa more than Fed-Ex.It turned out to be true,though it isn't saying much since both the matches were so lopsided.
    McEnroe called Rafa the best that he has seen on clay.In his current form,its difficult to imagine how Borg could have beaten him,though its tricky to compare players from two eras.I think there is only one questionable factor in Rafa's claim to the best ever-the fact that Fed-Ex keeps reaching to the french open final means he is not getting tested by a genuine clay courter.
    It will be interesting to see how Fed-Ex handles the psychological impact of this battering.

  11. Sigh!
    And what was with that "Sorry Roger for that final!"? Either he is great and I am becoming a Rafa fan (shudder), or he is rubbing it in and I hate myself.

  12. Rahul: I'm not a believer in the "best ever/GOAT" debate, because of the impossibility of comparing different eras and playing conditions. If I did believe in that debate, I would be inclined to give Roger that status even if he never wins the French Open - after all he's lost in four straight years to a genuine clay monster and he's achieved many other things on clay (4 Hamburgs, Monte Carlo and Rome finals) that Sampras never did.

    Conversely, even if Roger does win the FO and 15-16 Slams overall, someone else could reasonably make the case that he still isn't the GOAT because Laver did it all on two separate occasions. Point being, I don't think this GOAT debate should be taken too seriously.

    Puranjoy: Rafa's always been a great sportsman, no question about that at all. I think he also feels genuinely embarrassed about denying Roger at the FO so many times, and he knew that the crowd would have preferred Roger to have won. Hence the generally muted celebrations and the sheepish look.

    Last fortnight at Hamburg, Rafa was muted as well - I think that was because he had just beaten Roger to take a title that Roger held at the time. Basically, both these guys are just unbelievably nice and respectful towards each other.

  13. Jabberwock,

    You are more delusional than I can ever be.

    And you were wrong about the cold weather dear. Federer played reasonably well only when the sun was out at the beginning of the second set.