Not all that glitters is gold

The opener from Punjab smashed a few the other day, and the bowler from the guys in blue, Warne’s team, looked good. Fidel Edwards and Lasith Malinga, two highly unorthodox but great-to-watch ‘sling action” fast bowlers, lit up the stage and Sachin Tendulkar’s Mumbai Indians look a happy bunch with Polly and Jonty smiling away from the dugout.

The fact that the first week of Indian Premier League (IPL) has produced no memorable cricket should be celebrated as a triumph of normalism. Twenty-over cricket is a fine piece of sushi, fun and tasty, but gone and forgotten after a single mouthful.
That doesn’t mean to say people shouldn’t enjoy sushi—it’s not meant to be a main course.

The cricket side of the IPL has given us exactly what we expected, although the standard of batting has been considerably lower than we might have hoped for in admittedly bowler-friendly conditions.

The ‘business” side of the IPL, however, has caused some problems. Ever since the Cricket South Africa chief executive showed IPL commissioner Lalit Modi that he would do whatever it took to play host, the IPL and its people have taken over.

Mostly, they have their way, but it was only two days ago that they reached agreement with the Wanderers stadium over their perceived ‘rights” (having paid a meagre $10-million for eight ‘clean” stadiums) and the rights of the suite and debenture holders. Up until Wednesday the status of eight matches, including semifinal and final, due to be played at the Wanderers, was still uncertain.

The Gauteng Cricket Board aren’t the only ones feeling a little ‘used”. The Rajasthan Royals, as an example among dozens, formed a ‘strategic alliance” with the Cape Cobras and asked for an office at Newlands for the fortnight before the tournament and then its duration.

Within days the IPL franchise had spread like bacteria in a petri dish leaving local staff without a desk, literally. One infuriated employee found himself evicted from his office without notice, apology or explanation after arriving at work.

‘Right of entitlement’
‘There seems to be a ‘right of entitlement’ that exists among these IPL people. Give them a finger and they bite your arm off. I’ve been bending over backwards for them ever since they arrived and I haven’t had a word of thanks. I’ve absolutely had enough of them,” he said.

The coaching staff at the Cobras were expected to organise a televised warm-up match without any payment for the players: ‘They want everything for nothing. This franchise is getting R1-million for being a host venue. That is not a lot of money whichever way you spread it. I just don’t understand it,” said one member of the management.

His lack of understanding stems, of course, from what the core of the IPL is all about: money and ego. He has never had money and his employer, despite being regarded as the ‘glamour” franchise in South Africa, is the poorest of them all. Perhaps it’s simple jealousy, but the flaunting of wealth has been genuinely unpleasant at times.

The opening party at a lavish hotel at Cape Town’s Waterfront was one thing at a million dollars. Marketers would have found a reason to justify it but the hiring of garish yellow Lamborghinis and gold Rolls Royces to transport people who call themselves ‘VIPs” from hotel to cricket ground does not sit easily in the South African conscience.

During each game donations to children’s education are welcome and it seems churlish to question the integrity of the gesture. But just to put things in perspective, consider this: the entire education ‘scholarship” budget is, depending on which press release you read from which of the 100+ PR people working for the IPL, between R8-million and R9-million. Roughly the same cost as the crayfish and champagne-laden launch party.

How much is R8- to R9-million as a percentage of a projected IPL turnover of $2,4-billion?

So desperate was the IPL for some charitable legitimisation, and so rushed was the subsequent education scheme, that the marketers’ most inspired scheme was to ‘choose five learners at random from the crowd” and give them R15 000 each to ‘pay for a year’s education”. And it really was ‘random”, too, as two children who attended the R50 000-a-year Hout Bay International School in Cape Town discovered.

The former Springbok rugby captain, Francois Pienaar, is now a high-profile marketing man who was quickly snapped up by Lalit Modi to work the IPL account. He announced last week on live television that the IPL was ‘proud to leave a lasting legacy in South Africa”.

Nice idea, but it takes a lot more than handing over a cheque to leave a legacy of any kind, let alone a lasting one.

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