The IPL Paradox

I alluded to this in my earlier post on Rahul Dravid, but I wanted to flesh the theory out a bit more: why do we care so much about a player’s IPL performance when we also argue the entire exercise (and, to a lesser extent, the format) is so silly?

I’m baffled, for instance, when I hear arguments that Ravi Bopara should play for England’s Test team based on his performance so far in the IPL. No doubt, Bopara is qualified (and may be more so than Ian Bell, Alex Massie’s views notwithstanding), but to say his all-too-brief IPL stint proves that is just too precious. Hitting balls out of the park for a limited time does not compare to facing Mitchell Johnson on swing-friendly English pitches.

And then, there’s Kevin Pietersen: does it really matter if his team, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, does not win under his captaincy? Why should it? We seem to verge on one side to dismissing the IPL out of hand to the other, gleefully trying to learn lessons and make judgments about its players. Yes, Pietersen’s current form is cause for concern, but Twenty20 patterns do not easily yield firm conclusions. And as for his captaincy — here’s a team he did not pick (not to mention its owner); it’s a rag-tag collection of men he barely knows, and he had little to no time to prepare for the tournament.

This disjuncture arises from the cricket community’s still unsettled thoughts on Twenty20 as a format. Do we think it’s legitimate and requires skills we respect, or do we think it’s a nice little spectacle that requires very specific and narrow talents? It’s like the debate in the tennis world: does Roger Federer’s perennial failures at the French Open lessen his greatness, or does it say something about how different surfaces (i.e., clay) ask for such targeted tactics that only specialists can win? (Yes, yes, I’m a fan of Rafa Nadal too. He’s a different matter.)

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