I’ve been dimly aware, recently, of people in big sunglasses being excitable on TV and photographed either weeping or celebrating in the newspapers, and of a fair bit of running about in different coloured shirts. “What’s this IPL thing?” I asked a friend of mine on the phone. There was a long silence. “Are you serious?” he said finally, and I could have sworn there was a little sob in his voice. “I know it’s some cricket thing,” I said, guessing wildly, “I’m just not sure what.”
His trembling voice might have been on account of disappointment in me, or exhilaration at being presented with a bonus opportunity to talk about it. Either way, he launched into a happy jabbering full of words like ‘franchise’ and ‘league’ and ‘carnival atmosphere’ and ‘the future of cricket’—I could almost see him pushing up his big sunglasses—while my brain wandered off in search of words that rhyme with ‘purple’ (there aren’t any).
When he seemed to be done I said, “Hm, you’re right,” which usually covers all the bases, and deftly steered him into his favourite game of which movie star do you like-which movie star do you like. At the risk of being arrested for lack of patriotism, I must state that when it comes to cricket, I can take it or leave it.
This wasn’t always the case—I watched Bodyline as a teenager and loved it, though that had more to do with the pathos of watching women hanging up endless quantities of laundry on washing lines in cold northern mists, and moody cinematography.
In boarding school, where the boys in my class played cricket every weekend, a friend of mine took me on as a personal challenge. “The proper way to watch cricket,” he said, “is to bring a blanket, and a kettle of tea, and a book.” He sat with me in the shade of a tree and explained the rules of a game in progress on the school football field. I didn’t get all of it, and I got through a fair bit of my book and the entire teakettle, but it was enough to kindle my interest. I eventually reached a stage when I would open a beer and watch a game with more than the legal minimum level of enthusiasm. But now, frankly, I’d rather just drink the beer.
So a true fan would consider it a criminal waste that I recently had the opportunity to wander around the Bradman Museum, dedicated to the great Sir Donald (I did gather, in between bouts of Bodyline laundry, that he was a legendary player). The museum is in Bowral, the genteel little town in which he grew up, in Australia’s beautiful Southern Highlands area north of Sydney. It is attached to the neat Bradman Oval (really more of a Circle) overlooked by a pretty mountain, and features a statue of the great man in cricket gear. They’re very pleased to point out that the sculptor mistakenly has both pads buckled up on the same side, a fact that you’d have to be much more interested in cricket than I am, to be moved by.
I have to say, however, that I quite enjoyed the museum: it has a replica of the startlingly small Ashes urn, and many old photos of Donald and his wife, and pictures of spectators standing in the heat at the Bradman Oval impeccably dressed in long dresses and coats and hats, and old cricketing equipment, and a pullover donated by Sachin Tendulkar, and lots of audiovisual cricket gobbledygook, and a souvenir shop where you can knock yourself out. It’s ‘a living centre of cricket’, so if you’re a real fan, you should visit it at some point.
Meanwhile, I’m off to look up this IPL thing.