Will IPL’s big money subconsciously translate into ‘high value’ and ‘quality’ in our minds? asks Nirmal Shekar

It is upon us. And — as perhaps even the reclusive Sentinelese hunter gatherers in the Andamans might come to realise very soon — there is no getting away from it for the next six weeks.

Depending on where you choose to stand, you might want to dismiss it as a sort of cultural kitsch that is bound to leave you emotionally unsatisfied or look at it as the future of a great game, an enterprise that showcases the bold, new face of cricket.

Whatever your position, it would be hard to insulate yourself from the mephitic cloud of hype set off by the unabashedly aggressive promotion of the Indian Premier League which begins in Bangalore on Friday.

Worshipping mammon

As players see their bank balances swell by hundreds of thousands of rupees with every over bowled or every brief innings played, some of us might lament the demise of cricket’s so-called soul (for the want of a better metaphor) and the game’s selling out to commerce. But the truth is, in an age when avarice is celebrated as a virtue, cricket cannot but reflect the dominant values of our culture.

Big business and sport may not be strange bedfellows but when the partnership is unregulated, the results can be counter-productive.

“Football is now a multibillion-dollar global industry. Unfortunately, the haphazard way in which money has flowed into the game — reminiscent of a misguided wild-west style of capitalism — is having some seriously harmful effects,” FIFA President Jeff Blatter wrote in a column three years ago.

At the global level, cricket may be football’s poor country cousin but in the context of what is happening in India, the situation is just as alarming.

Ominous reality

In fact, given the International Cricket Council’s incompetence and a total lack of foresight on the part of the men who run the game, the threat that the forces unleashed by IPL might go on to gobble up the traditional form of the game in the medium-to-long term may very well be real.

It is because of this it is necessary to create a small window in the Future Tours Programme to accommodate cricket’s silly season (read showbiz season if you wish) and get on with the business of time-honoured international cricket the rest of the year.

It doesn’t take a dystopic imagination to realise where the game might be headed in the absence of a strong administrative will and visionary thinking among those who manage the sport.

Of course, you need not be a marketing genius to see the benefits of packaging a sporting contest as a three-hour prime-time soap and promoting it as a war between teams of gladiators.

“[The public] is slow to be aroused and quickly diverted…and is interested only when events have been melodramatised as a conflict,” wrote Walter Lippmann 80 years ago. At a time when there are so many more things to "quickly divert" the public, the need for promoting sport as war — for purely business reasons — can hardly be exaggerated.

Then again, if the primary reason why some people are entering a sport is to make money, rather than to promote it, and if their tribe increases in Indian and world cricket — as it is bound to if the sport-as-megabucks-business model is allowed to mushroom — then a sport’s transmogrification into slapstick fiasco cannot be avoided.

Onus on fans

But then, ultimately the onus is on the fans. In an age of aggressive marketing and frenzied attention-grabbing, genuine fans must have the wisdom to ask themselves this question: Is this what I really want or is this what someone else wants me to want?

The problem is, we quite often conflate big money with real value. Scientific experiments have proved this to be true across cultures and evolutionary psychologists know the reason why we do this.

Recently, Stanford University scientists conducted a wine tasting experiment in which people were given bottles with a range of prices, from $5 to $90. “The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better, even when they were actually identical to the cheaper wines,” reported the Boston Globe.

Herein lies the problem with IPL. Cricket has not seen anything richer. Will the big money subconsciously translate into ‘high value’ and ‘quality’ in our minds?

It shouldn’t. But who knows?

More In: SPORT | Today's Paper