I have seen rugby league games between St Helens and Leeds without a shred of affinity for either team or, for that matter, the sport itself (Union is another matter). And ten minutes into the game, I’d pick a horse, and by the twentieth minute, I’d have an emotional stake in it. I understand it’d be easier to just bet on the outcome and root for your bank account, but my way is cheaper.
The IPL, though, introduces a new loyalty paradigm in me. Sure, football has always had club v country loyalty, and sure, I’ve rooted for Paul Scholes AND against him, depending on which format he played in. But I have never lived in England – save for two dark, wintry months in 2005 – and my affinities are hardly rooted.
The IPL changes that, and this, I believe, is the power of this tournament. Just for background, I hail from Delhi, though the only piece of daredevilry I did there was hang on for dear life as a pillion rider. I love the city, with all its warts and the occasional micrometre thin piece of clear skin between the warts. I love it passionately, and despite having lived away from it for the better part of my life, I unhesitatingly call myself a Delhiite.
I also love Sachin Tendulkar. I think sliced bread looks upon him enviously, and since I saw a mop haired kid buccaneer his way in the Irani Trophy in 1988, I’ve loved him. I believe that the Mayan apocalypse predictions for 2012 were based around the fact that Sachin will probably retire in that year, though we might have to consult Roland Emmerich on that one.
So, when the Delhi Daredevils meet the Mumbai Indians in the IPL, it spells trouble for me. My gut decided that Leeds was the way to go in the rugby league game, but in this case, I guess there’s information – no, passion – overload. First, though, it necessitates that I care at all about the IPL. And after two seasons of not caring too much, I will confess that I am finally hooked. I don’t know why, but call me one of Lalit Modi’s sheeple.
Today was an interesting example of this dichotomy. When Mumbai batted first against Delhi, Sachin was on his way to weaving another of his crafted six-less masterpieces. (As a sidenote, I fully believe that he’s exploding this year purely to show everyone that he can annihilate you in yet another format, and once he’s done doing that, he’ll settle down next year.)
But going back to the story, Sachin was on 30 sculpted runs, and Mumbai were on their way. My gut was getting mixed signals throughout. When he fell, I thought to myself – here’s a great way of gauging how I REALLY feel – and, lo and behold, my gut short-circuited. I truly didn’t know how to feel when Sachin fell, and trust me, that’s a feeling I’d have never EVER thought I’d feel.
The lesser lesson to be learnt from this is that the greatest threat to the IPL and it’s city based loyalty paradigm is one short man – because, doubtless, most Indians feel as I do about Sachin.
But there is a greater lesson to be learnt – that the IPL is a viable format, if they base a sporting format’s viability on one man’s experience (I’d like to shut down the PGA tour if that’s the case). I have not lived in Delhi since 1996. Yet I root for its team, on TV, and I have no qualms about cheering Dave Warner’s sixers off Zaheer Khan. If they can make me, a Test cricket loving expatriate, do that, they might just be on the right track.