Playing for Money

Came across this Hindustan Times article by Soumya Bhattacharya about the IPL, where the author argues that it is infinitely more pleasing to watch our cricket heroes in our national colors, rather than for their respective franchises.

I can understand the sentiment, and where he is coming from. I’d much rather root for Sachin all the way, than realize with every scintillating shot that he’s pushing my team, his opponents this time, inexorably towards defeat. But Mr Bhattacharya quickly moves to reasons that leave me baffled, and no longer able to support his position.

At the beginning, Mr Bhattacharya recognizes that a Tendulkar innings at the IPL has every bit of class as any of his international gems, but:

Why was it that this innings (71 not out from 48 balls) gave me not a fraction of the delight that those innings [some of SRT’s great ODI innings] had? Because those were proper international games. Because Tendulkar was playing for India rather than for a league side. And we all know where we stand when India plays cricket, don’t we?

This bit above can be understood: he realizes that the quality of the opposition is not as good as in international fixtures, and hence the diluting of the pleasure quotients. But the next bit of reasoning is more baffling:

We know, too, the frisson of pride and honour that illuminate a player’s best performances when he plays for the country.

[…]

For the most part, there is only one big motivation for playing — and playing well — in the IPL: money. In the league, there are many players whose international careers are over (Warne, Gilchrist, Kumble, Ganguly).

The money from this is all they can make out of playing cricket now.

He doesn’t prefer watching the players at the IPL because they are playing for money? As opposed to…? These guys are professional sportsmen – they are supposed to be playing for money! Would I be fair to reject the posts that Mr Bhattacharya writes for the Hindustan Times because he’s getting paid for them?

Also, it’s a long stretch to imagine that money is the only factor. Yes, money is a factor, of course – they won’t play for free. However, there’s much more at play here. Retiring from international cricket is very different from retiring from all forms of cricket – indeed many players continue on the domestic circuit long after they bid adieu to their national colors. That’s because there is a very significant difference between maintaining international levels of physical fitness and competitive sporting skills, than having to maintain them for 8 weeks of the year for a domestic competition.

International retirees are playing the IPL not just for the money (does Mr Bhattacharya really believe a Sourav Ganguly or a Shane Warne needs a couple million dollars more doing something that they would otherwise not do at all?). They are playing because they still believe they can compete (whether they actually can, is a different question), and it is still manageable for them to maintain themselves for a few weeks every year, and be on the touring circuit away from their families.

A Sachin Tendulkar innings or a Sourav Ganguly masterpiece is exactly that – an artist doing his magic. It doesn’t matter which stage he chooses to display his craft.

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