close to reaching the half-way stage of the IPL now, and the verdicts are
starting to come in from all directions. Preliminary though they might be,
every few days a new “expert” opinion is released, telling us what to make of
this crazy little experiment of ours.
We’ve already had more than our share of columns with harsh words to say about the league – there’s the ornery alarmism of Mukul Kesavan, the dewey nostalgia of Gideon Haigh, the shrill polemic of Jayaditya Gupta.
In the other direction, we’ve also had the easily-excitable hyperbole and mixed metaphors of Peter Roebuck, and the measured English-broadsheet approval of Lawrence Booth. (In between all that, there’s Ian Chappell, either telling us something we all already know, or something none of us care to know. As usual with Ian, it’s hard to tell which one is which.)
What are we to make of all this? How do we work out what’s what among all the different views? What can we do?
This is where I come in.
I am now almost four years into a philosophy degree, fifty grand in the hole, and the only thing even resembling a “craft” I have learned in that time is the ability to analyse logical arguments. I may not be able to build a radio transmitter or know how to tie a good sailor’s knot, but at least I can distinguish my modus tollens from my modus ponens. (Ladies… form a line. No pushing.)
And even though this ability to fish for fallacies and logical inconsistencies is (surprisingly) unmarketable, it does come in handy when trying to sift through large amounts of varying opinions all dealing with a single topic. See, regardless of what your position might be on an idea, there are good ways and there are bad ways to argue about it. There are honest criticisms, and there are disingenuous gripes. There are valid points, and there are fallacies.
This is all about the fallacies.
They’re usually not intentional and they can often slide by unnoticed, but most of these IPL-hating columns are rife with fallacies, which can be harmful if they stick. So my goal here is to debunk some of the most pernicious ones, and hope against hope they can be someday be marginalised from the discourse.
(This, by the way,
is in no form an attempt at advocating for/against the IPL. We’re not propagandists. At Outside the Line, we said from the start that we’d be watching this first season
trying to learn -- figuring stuff out, observing, and resisting the urge to
generalise and extrapolate just to have something to say. There will be a time
for analysis and reflection, and a time of proscriptions and recommendations. Now is a time to absorb, and we can’t
do so with all these damn fallacies in the air!)
The 5 Fallacies of IPL Haters
The "It's Just Not Cricket" Fallacy
This is hugely common one among the haters, and it occurs when the criticism is centred on factors in which Twenty20 could not possibly compete. It's essentially a form of begging the question, the most common type of circular reasoning. What you do is to attach the conclusion you want to reach to the very definition of the premises, essentially forming a self-justifying argument (which is technically valid, but practically useless). In this case, you define "cricket" to be whatever Twenty20 is not, and then proceed to criticize the format on those very grounds.
Critics of the league, for example, will often point out how there can be no extensive drama built through a Twenty20 game, how the action is condensed and edited, how there can be few momentum shifts, etc. Or they might also mention, as Ian Chappell did, how such a high percentage of the scoring comes in sixes, or how players don’t have much a chance to get set and build an innings, or how middle-order batsmen don't get to do much. Well, duh. You might as well criticise the game for not being staged in the Arctic or for not being played on horses. If the things that are required for the format to succeed are those that it, by definition, lacks, then what the hell is the point of even trying to analyse it? It’s always going to come up short.
Lawrence Booth described this well when he noted how it all boils down to critics saying Twenty20 is not 'proper cricket', when "what they really mean to say is this: Twenty20 is not four- or five-day cricket." That last statement is certainly true, but it is tautologically true, and it does not prove anything. It cannot be seen as a net negative in the balance since it tells us nothing new about the matter.
(The "It's Just Not Cricket" fallacy is also present in many of those pastoral, old-timey meditations from
guys like Gideon Haigh. In his own piece on Twenty20 -- complete with the mandatory Thomas Hobbes' "Nasty, brutish, and short" reference -- Haigh appeals to the
romanticism of his own local cricket club, the South Yarra CC, with its quaint presentation nights and its $583.50 total proceeds in making a case against the IPL.
That’s cute and all -- and I always hate to rip on an actual good writer -- but come on! The South Yarra Cricket Club? You're comparing the IPL to that?! How is anyone supposed to respond?)
The "Back in my day..." Fallacy
I suppose you could call this a Counterexample by Straw-man. Or you could just call it bullshit. It can be seen as an extension from the "It's Just Not Cricket" fallacy, since it packs its rhetorical punch from a similar contrast between the Test game and Twenty20 (usually where the stack is heavily loaded in Test cricket's favour.)
However, whereas the "It's Just Not Cricket" fallacy is more of a semantic/analytical loophole than anything else, the “Back in my day…” fallacy often tries to appeal directly to (seemingly) objective, empirical evidence. Twenty20 can hence be criticised for producing so many lopsided games, or not enough tight finishes (something you can easily measure). “Just look at our stats”, they’ll tell you.
The inference, cleverly left unstated, is that there must be some other form of cricket that does not contain all these lopsided contests. (Otherwise, what would be the point of criticising Twenty20 specifically for the same transgression?)
You look around, though, and you’ll have a hard finding this format anywhere. The Test game? The same Test game where Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are full-fledged competitors and Australia have lost like four times this entire decade? Yeah, right. The ODI game? You must be joking – I was in the West Indies for a month-and-a-half for the World Cup and I could count the number of games with exciting finishes on one hand. So where is this magical version of cricket that guarantees close matches, I wonder? And why aren’t we all watching it right now?
The truth is that there is no such thing. The writer is using a non-existent sport to hark back to a non-existent era. A typical "back in my day" old man’s rant… only there is no actual ‘day’.
The “And Such Small Portions!" Fallacy
This refers to the old Catskills joke, mentioned by Woody Allen in Annie Hall, of the two old ladies at the restaurant, complaining about how terrible the food was: “Yeah, I know… and such small portions!”
Sometimes people just like complaining -- as an exercise, as a challenge, because it’s a habit, because it’s fun, whatever. The actual content of their complaints is incidental to the very act of complaining. So you’ll sometimes find writers using their columns about the IPL to mention one fundamental problem they might have with Twenty20, and then using the occasion to lump it in with every single fucking issue they’ve ever had with, say, limited-overs cricket, with the IPL, with the BCCI, with Lalit Modi, with mixed leagues, with corporate sponsorship, with cheerleaders, with Indian regionalism, with globalisation, etc.
It’s Argument by Kitchen Sink, and you’ll see it clearly in Mukul Kesavan’s column from a few weeks back. In the space of eleven short paragraphs, Kesavan pulls a Michael-Corleone-like hit job on all his enemies -- he attacks everything from film star Akshay Kumar, the BCCI, "Lalit Modi and his Money Men", "freeloading spectators", the "millions of couch potatoes" watching on TV. (Hell, he even manages to attack great innings by high quality batsmen -- he thrashes the hundreds scored by McCullum and Michael Hussey during the first week.) You wouldn't want to ask Kesavan what he thought of ATM fees, daylight savings, or Britney Spears... he might bite your head off attempting to answer.
The "And a Pony" Fallacy
The idea for this one comes to me from Matt Yglesias’s work, but I think the original theory came from a post by Belle Waring, from the political blog Crooked Timber. Waring refers to a discussion she once heard among some hardcore libertarians at a conference, and to the completely tits-gone utopianism and stubborn blindness to reality of the arguments that they used to present their views.
Instead of providing descriptions of the real world or even philosophical foundations for a stable ideology, their arguments would often descend into pure exercises in wishful thinking – e.g. “let’s have freedom for all, with no coercion, and no conflict, no crime, no injustice, emerging systems of spontaneous cooperation, etc” – to which Waring noted that, if that’s the case, as long as we’re all just wishing away… hey, why not just wish for a pony, too? Wishes are free, after all.
This fallacy appears a lot in pieces about the future of Twenty20, and our old friend Ian Chappell is the probably King of the Pony-Wishers. Every column he writes includes at least a handful of wishes, needs, and demands about the future – the game “should not be too commercialised”, it "needs to evolve and become multi-dimensional", we should "find a balance between cricketers and administrators.” Yeah, and we should also teach the world to sing. (In perfect harmony, ideally.)
And, of course, give them a pony.
The "USA, EPL ∴ Mushroom Cloud" Fallacy...
This is not so much a part of an argument, but just a clever bit of primal Pavlovian manipulation. It’s what Dick Cheney and George W. Bush would often use in their speeches, pre-Iraq invasion, to imprint in people’s mind a subconscious connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. They would start a sentence by invoking 9/11, then deftly maneuveur through the paragraph, mention al-Qaeda and “Islamofascism” a couple of times, add a few extras clauses, some rhetorical flourishes, and eventually end it with a nice Saddam Hussein reference. They would perform this trick regularly and in a fully calculated fashion. It never explicitly states anything -- all it does is form subconscious associations in people’s minds. (Which is often all you need in the build-up to war.)
In IPL terms, the key words are not “Saddam Hussein” and “9/11”, but “English Premier League” and “America.” You see this so often in columns that it barely even registers anymore… writers issuing grim warnings about cricket becoming “like the American sports”, or the IPL following the “tragic route of the EPL”. But they just mention this without ever getting to the actual complaint, as if the mere mention of the name, like Keyser Soze's, was enough to scare us out of demanding evidence for/against it.
I’ve said this once before but, as Jack White tells us, it bears repeating now: there are plenty of areas in which to criticise the US -- hundreds maybe -- but sport isn’t really one of them. Sport is something they actually know how to do. Very well. They are the biggest sporting nation in the world, with the greatest accolades, they have the best infrastructure, the best coaches, they continue to produce the most winning athletes, their events are always flawlessly hosted -- and they do so without having a single instance of on-field or in-uniform advertisement, in any of their 4 major sports.
English Premier League, on the other hand, is admittedly losing some of its competitive
edge (and it just looks dirty -- it virtually oozes Mafia money) but it is not much different from any other comparable big league. Well, except in how it’s a lot more financially successful, it is better marketed, and it has the greatest collection of
talent (its only real problem is that it does not have a salary cap -- something which no soccer league has at the moment, or has ever had for as long as I can remember). Beyond that, it seems to be doing all right for itself. Why being compared to it is supposed to be seen as an immediate insult is truly beyond me.