Is there a better time to address the neglected club of the IPL's malcontents, doubters and non-believers than when the event is upon us, Covid or no Covid? This is the 14th season, guys, IPL is not going anywhere; we must find ways to deal with it.
We know the bling-ridden pyjamas worn by royals or kings or sun rising knights don't do anything for you. That the rapid action mayhem is a low-brow, inadequate replacement for the slow, dramatic unspooling of long-form cricket. Yes, Rambo can't do Shakespeare (neither Rameez Raja nor the guy with guns).
To help you adjust, what's required is IPL-therapy. From the most woke Cricket person, your generation knows. The epitome of the classical, the never-played-a-stroke-in-anger fellow who now handles the next generation of Indian cricketers. Who better to deep dive and demystify the IPL for boomers than Rahul Dravid, former captain of India and Rajasthan Royals, coach of India-A and India U19 and currently director of cricket operations at the National Cricket Academy?
When we speak, Dravid is on his way to getting his 'shot.' The alarm of middle-aged curmudgeons is audible – surely, he is not over 45? He is indeed and has been through and seen through the T20's upheaval and is open to offering a quick IPL tutorial.
To start with, adjust your eyesight to the glare. "Don't compare it to Test cricket," Dravid says. "Don't go looking for some of the qualities you have looked at traditionally. You shouldn't expect the same things."
The IPL is cricket in burst mode where it's pointless being glum because there's no grim hour-long tussle of compact defence versus the swinging ball.
Dravid's is a hardnosed view, "It's a completely different form of the game – yes, it's got 22 players, 22 yards, a bat and a ball. Those things are similar but there are other things that are unique to T20." And that is what must be sought: the format's uniqueness.
T20 (in this case IPL) performances "have to be seen in isolation. The format has its own unique statistics and numbers." Like the magic figure of 180: strike rate of 150 + average of 30. And 'economy' with the ball, Rashid Khan's 6.24 runs per over in the IPL is the gold standard. Cricket scoresheets now have special T20 notations: strike rates for batsmen, dot balls, economy, no balls and wides against the bowler.
What is worthy of a measured appraisal in the IPL? Six after six after six? Here's Dravid: "The range of ball-striking abilities, the quality of the hitting, the new strokes..." He goes on, "Variations on the ball - different kind of knuckle-balls, leg spinners and googlies. There're a lot more variations in a T20 game - so look out for those." Rashid, by the way, has himself declared he has five grips and three googlies. Try to spot half of them over the next two months.
We make a Dravidian segue towards the realm of the mind, which separates the good from the great. In the IPL, it is compressed into the rawest, revealing examination of who handles pressure and who freezes. "At the back end, some of these games are very, very tight and there is a huge amount of pressure. Every ball matters. You are getting to see how people respond, how some people stand up in situations like that. Watch those," he says.
The brevity of the format turns it into a stun gun for decision-makers. "Tactically, the consequences of your decisions are greater," Dravid says. "If you make a mistake and things go wrong, it's not easy to come back." The wrong bowling change or the wrong match-up (pitting specific bowler against specific batsman depending on their head to head in the past three-odd seasons) means "you could concede a lot of runs in an over or lose a wicket – and there's no time to return."
T20/IPL is repeatedly merciless. Dravid says, "in Tests, you can get things wrong and in general, if you are the better team you will find a way to fight back. Here the margins are so small and as a captain, there's a lot more pressure to get things right." The difference between winning and losing, "is not much, sometimes two hits. We say that a 12-13 run win is considered big, but what's that? Two hits. One wrong bowling change, two full tosses... that's the game."
Dravid likens IPL's end game tension to the NBA where the three-pointer on the buzzer seals the game. "People should watch the clutch moments, the match-ups, the tactics around it – there's so much data around a T20/IPL game, so much analysis. If you get the execution wrong though..."
Doesn't sound like a gaudy pyjama hit-about in the park, does it? The IPL's tsunami of sixes is not an affront to cricketing tradition, merely the shortest route to total or target. What was pie-chuckery in the past – the slow bouncer, the wide yorker, the knuckleball – are now valuable tools for T20 bowlers.
A species most suited to the format has been sighted, Homo Franchisensus: very, very fast bowlers, the long-lever body type for six-hitting, the skilful spinner, ideally turning the ball away from the bat.
Had he been a current player Dravid says he would have wanted to nail all formats. It's his advice to young players under his watch. "I tell them as much as possible you have to try and succeed in all formats. You have good examples - ABD, Virat, Steve Smith, Williamson. It's not easy but certainly, it's possible."
Dravid reminds us that T20/IPL remains what cricket had sought to be: a contest between bat and ball. Now, while the brevity of the format "doesn't allow the contest to play itself out in its entirety as it does in Test cricket, it still gives you the enjoyment of the moment. And you get to see things you don't see in Test cricket."
In the IPL there will be improvisation, variety, drama, pressure and high-speed bat-ball tussle. If you still can't get your head around cricket being this way, give it an italicised hashtag like #crickETT!! and accept that it is bound to look different.