Spring time is a time of colour and happiness. Between going all out with Holi colours or getting that nice long weekend for Good Friday/Easter, it’s the perfect celebration of life following the long, harsh Winter (GoT anyone? :p) before the sweltering heat waves of Summer come calling. The world is filled with colours as flowers are abloom, from tulips in Holland and Central Asia to my personal favourite Gulmohar flowers in Bangalore. And now we cricket fans have another annual event that bookmarks this time of year, the mad world of the IPL. Like cherry blossoms in Japan every spring, the arrival of IPL is eagerly awaited by many. The colours are more lurid, the scene anything but peaceful. But wow what a party it is!!
To the Others (see this post :p), who know don’t know what this is (firstly do you live on Mars? Or maybe somewhere like the US where people don’t seem to care for cricket 😦 … more on that later), the IPL started off as Lalit Modi’s brainchild to help the BCCI provide a platform for young cricketers to show off their t20 skills. Except that already kinda existed didn’t it? Everybody has long forgotten about it after the IPL went all Brock Lesnar on the John Cena that was the ICL but technically it did come first. In 2007, the Indian Cricket League was founded, with funding provided by Zee Entertainment Enterprises but it was not recognized by the BCCI or the ICC and to prevent players from joining the ICL, the BCCI increased the prize money in domestic tournaments and even went so far as to impose lifetime bans on players joining the ICL, which was considered a rebel league by the board. Businessman and cricket executive, Lalit Modi, was tasked by the BCCI to start a new Twenty20 league that would rival the Indian Cricket League. In early 2008, the BCCI announced the launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL), a new franchise based T20 league. It’s a mark of it’s success that within a year, the ICL was gone.
In the coming years, the big bully in the playground grew larger and grander and nowadays we can safely say that it has transcended sport to become an entertainment product offering glamour, glitz, drama, and even the odd scandal or two (or three or more :p). Initially some other countries, notably England were skeptical and scheduled international series in the same time frame. In the year 2014, Kevin Pietersen was the solitary English flag bearer in any of the squads. And that was just because he was in the middle of a very public feud with the ECB. The very mention of the IPL in the past forced the majority in England to look the other way. But as time progressed it became increasingly obvious that this was no ordinary domestic tournament. One of the biggest new elements in this year’s season is the acceptance of its importance by England. As soon as former England captain Andrew Strauss took over as the managing director of cricket at the ECB, he decided to allow England players to participate in the IPL without imposing restrictions that had discouraged them in the past.
Another aspect of the league is the staggering amounts of money that has been funneled in over the years. What the IPL did right from the start was to maximize sponsorship revenues and broadcasting rights. Sony Entertainment has struck a media broadcast rights deal with the BCCI for Rs. 8,200 crores up to 2017. And Vivo mobiles now pays a sponsorship amount of Rs 100 crore a year for this season and the next. Prior to this PepsiCo became title sponsors of the IPL in 2013 after they bid a whopping Rs 396.8 crore for five seasons. Before Pepsi, DLF had paid Rs 200 crore to become title sponsors of the tournament from 2008 till 2012. And this doesn’t even count the money provided by dedicated sponsors for each team. Enough to make your head spin and probably enough to make you regret giving up on your dream of playing cricket professionally after you got that big kid on your street out for a duck bowling a perfect yorker 😀
But this is definitely a good thing. With all the money coming in, some of it finds it’s way into the pockets of domestic cricketers who might not make the big time playing for India but deserve recognition for their services to the game. I’m talking of guys like Rajat Bhatia, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Abhishek Nayar who might not get a chance to play for India but have carved out successful IPL careers while lining their pockets with the monetary benefits it provides. The flip side is for stalwarts like Dinesh Karthik and Gautam Gambhir who get to earn outrageous sums of money for every single season. I mean, with MSD having solidly nailed down the wicket keeper slot for the national team I doubt even DK would have ever thought he would become one of the most coveted players in India, turns out his middle order big hitting coupled with the keeping duties he undertakes leaves every team owner licking their lips. It gives the added caveat of job security in an earlier “unsafe” profession and encourages more kids to pursue their dreams of playing cricket.
Which brings me to my next point. The IPL has unquestionably created a platform for stars to be made. By maintaining the maximum of four foreigners a team rule, the IPL has managed to provide local talent a chance to rub shoulders with the best in the business. From Swapnil Asnodkar opening the batting with Graeme Smith in the first season for the victorious Rajasthan Royals to Sarfaraz being best buddies with Chris Gayle, youth development has become an integral part of the league. Certain teams like the aforementioned Rajasthan Royals and the Delhi Daredevils now have created a niche for themselves as squads where young players get the best coaching and ample chances in the starting 11. And as with the money there are enough instances of players having outstanding seasons and using this as a springboard for success internationally. Suresh Raina has been one of the most consistent performers across all seasons and this launch pad helped him establish himself in India’s middle order for the World Cup triumph of 2011. More recently Axar Patel and Hardik Pandya have lit the IPL up and then been fasttracked into the national team setup.
But there are some aspects of the IPL that are a source of irritation to many. The constant branding of everything from the time-outs to even a special audience box has reached fever pitch now. I mean why would you even want to sit in a special box surrounded with branding memorabilia paraded around like a walking advertisement whenever the camera pans your way atleast three or four times an inning 😦 Wouldn’t you rather be in the midst of the crowd chanting along with thousands of other fans wearing your own team colours? People are so strange sometimes. And the poor commentators have to keep plugging these brand names on air because of tedious sponsorship agreements which gets pretty bland after a while. And am I the only one who finds extra innings bloody annoying. Watching struggling actors armed with heavy (I believe fake :p ) accents is NOT what I came to see for a pre-show. Give me Wasim Akram and Ravi Shastri à la 2003-04 any day. And the dancing -_-
Lastly the passion inspired by the teams in their respective cities is INSANE!! The Chinnaswamy Stadium goes absolutely MENTAL when RCB are playing. Drawing huge crowds all across the country and even spreading the game to new locations like Dharamshala, the league has definitely (somehow :p) increased the attention given to the game. Foreigners like Andre Russel and ABD have come in and are treated like Gods in India. ABD has his own chant that is heard whenever he goes out to bat at any venue in the country. Unorthodox Indian cricketers like Jasprit Bumrah and Shivil Kaushik have become cult heroes with their actions analysed and copied in a way they never thought possible.
We have now reached a point where the IPL generation has reached maturity and young kids who watched the first few seasons in their television sets, completely enthralled by the new flashy game, are now representing the teams themselves. These are guys who grew up idolising T20 and copying the shots like the DilScoop. But for every reverse sweep there is a classic Kohli cover drive to the boundary. Technical expertise will always have a place in the game. The IPL has morphed into a whole new monster from whence it arrived but the only thing we can say is it’s here to stay so we might as well join the bandwagon. I’m off for a break now or probably a Cheetos powered SuperBreak as they want me call it 😀
Ah well, as long as we can watch Kohli make opposition bowlers scratch their heads and Mustafizur Rehman bamboozle batsmen with his variations it can only be a good thing.