Huge sixes, diving and sliding stops, brilliant runouts; they’re all part of the show. Three hours of frenzied action spiced up with a trumpet tune, screaming fans and coquettish cheer-leaders. This is essentially what the Indian Premier League is all about.
The shortest form of the game, once known as cricket, was especially designed to bring in the young and opulent crowd. A vital feature that traditional cricket has been overlooking for ages. A twenty-over-each-side carnival that would have all the ingredients of an evening out at the circus.
If Test cricket, to the purists, is philharmonic orchestra, then T20 cricket to the modern world is hard rock!
The author of this highly popular pot-boiler titled IPL, a certain Lalit Modi, added to this concotion the right amount of star power by signing on the world’s best players. He then garnered broadcasting and Bollywood support to make the event a huge potential success. This done, the dough had to come in like an avalanche!
It is believed that the concept of a franchisee-league was being thought of even as the country opened its doors to foreign television channels, especially ESPN, in the mid 1990s. Modi, who had managed to concot a heady potion, with the best features of the American leagues and the EPL brewed in, it is said, had first offered the formula to India’s beleagured football federation. The BCCI, looking for an alternative to the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL), however lapped it up.
The Indian cricket board is said to have got excited about T20 cricket only after India won the World T20 title in 2007, under Dhoni. Just in time for the IPL to be launched. The future of the league was a bit uncertain, though, when bids were called for from eight would-be IPL franchises at the base price of $400 million, in January 2008. But BCCI was more than pleasantly surprised when $724 million was paid, just to buy the brand names!
Test Cricket to T20
Test cricket, as the purists know it, took its first punch in the late 1950s in England. With sparse crowds at Test matches and at County grounds, the gentlemen that ran the sport had to think of a way to attract younger followers of the game. People neither had the time nor the patience — pressed by occupational needs — to sit through five (or even three days) of play. The 60-over game therefore was a worthy alternative.
It took a traditionalist like Sir Don Bradman — a legend who had his ear to the ground, though — to initiate the first one-day international between Australia and England in 1971. This was after a Test match was washed out. Addressing the crowd at the end of the match, he had said, “You have witnessed history being made.”
Not only did that match — the first ODI — ‘make history’, but it helped the game connect the old world to the new, in a rather seamless manner!
Kerry Packer then came in and took the game by the horns. He signed up the world’s top players for his rebel league, dressed them up in ‘pyjamas’ and televised the limited overs matches on his own Channel 9. He demonstrated to the world how cricket could rake in the moolah!
The 50-over game is now passe. Twenty-over cricket brings in the cash and the crowds. The Big Bash Down Under, besides the leagues in the Caribbean Isles, Bangladesh and Pakistan are a case in point. IPL is, of course, the trend setter, and at last count was worth a humongous $4.2 billion.
Speaking recently at the opening of IPL10, Sachin Tendulkar said, “When IPL was introduced in India, we knew it would be a success. But nobody could imagine the magnitude of its accomplishments over the last ten years.”
For the top hundred odd international stars, who adorn the league as either marquee players or are picked at auctions with colossal price-tags, the IPL is literally a treasure-trove. It is also a bonanza for those involved with the event in different capacities like anchors, commentators, administrators etc. Isn’t this one of the reasons that IPL has a good media presence?
What’s more, the Indian Premier League has the ability to create princes out of paupers and celebrities out of nonentities. Imagine uncapped players often picking up huge paychecks and spending time with celebs, filmstars and top-class cricketers in five-star luxury for a couple of months! A dream come true for most of them! The event is, of course, a god-send for the ‘below-the international-level’ players who can top up their incomes with a massive bonus as the cricket season in India ends.
The IPL has contributed hugely to the country’s GDP and has created many new millionaires. It has also brought in a lot of improvements to the game, the least being the attractive strokeplay and the brilliance in the field. Better strike rates and outstanding fielding have, of course, added spice to the once staid, down-for-the-count game that Test cricket was, and should help it survive in the long run.
IPL and ‘Customer Delight’
‘Customer Delight’ is what keeps the IPL flag flapping happily. The ‘Star of the Match’ and the ‘VIP Box’ are just a couple of concepts that keep spectators involved and cheerful. Fans become instant celebrities, and win bragging rights, when they are shown dancing and waving on television screens. They take pride in donning, and flaunting, their favourite teams’ merchandise and send personalised messages to their beloved players through placards.
IPL and the various franchises have worked hard to bring in the spectator. The various venues and associations, however, have done precious little to make the fan-experience unforgettable. This, despite collecting huge amounts on account of the league. Uncomfortable seats, lack of F&B, filthy cloakroom facilities, lack of parking space, weak WiFi, if at all etc. at most centres, leave a bad taste in the mouth.
The creative team of IPL has worked wonders with a few other innovations. The ‘Strategic Time-out’ is a brilliant idea. It provides the teams with a breather and the opportunity to regroup and rethink their strategies in high-intensity games. Spider cams, along with the stump and umpire’s hat cams, have added a different dimension to the viewing experience at home. They provide a close-up view of the action, as it happened.
Another innovation, that of setting up fan parks in small towns has brought IPL closer to the spectators who can’t access big town venues. With the demand for seats increasing at stadiums, the big-screen idea could be used profitably in big towns too, in future, along with theatre screenings.
The IPL broadcasts, besides covering the whole of India, now reach Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Brunei, Hong Kong and Singapore through various channels. Then there is coverage for the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, USA, South Africa, Middle East and Africa, and the Caribbean Islands. You Tube too covers IPL matches.
IPL has had its fair share of controversies too, over the last decade. The betting scandal and the subsequent banning of CSK and Rajasthan Royals, the spot-fixing disgrace, the Bhajji-Sree ‘slapgate’, Aussie Luke Pomersbach’s arrest for molesting an American woman, Shah Rukh Khan’s altercation with a Wankhede Stadium security guard, Rahul Sharma and Wayne Parnell’s rave party presence and many, many more. Pundits believe that these conroversies, rather than affecting IPL’s popularity, have given it a leg-up.
Self-appointed prima donna, Lalit Modi and RCB’s ‘kingfisher’ Vijay Mallya had to flee the country, midway through the IPL journey, allegedly due to financial irregularities not necessarily connected with the game. This too left a blot on the IPL.
IPL has grown beyond recognition during these 10 years. Star players, the franchises, sponsors and spectators, in particular, have contributed to its astonishing success. As phase II of IPL commences next year, the BCCI and its experts, rather than resting on their laurels, will have a lot of rethinking and introspection to do.
Some of the important issues to be dealt with shall include the number of teams, timing of the event, better spectator facilities and grassroot level development of the game in India, as well as in other countries. One area in which IPL can make a major difference, on the social front, is poverty alleviation through publicity campaigns as well as through ground-level work.
BCCI also cannot ignore the fact that star players from around the world have contributed to IPL’s success. Therefore, it is important that the game prospers in every cricket playing country. Killing the goose that lays golden eggs will, hence, not help the cause of Indian cricket. Imagine playing the league with only Indian players; one can only then appreciate the value that top foreign players bring to IPL.
Finally, BCCI has to realise the fact that IPL is only a high-paying sideshow of cricket. Test cricket is the real thing, and no matter what, it has to survive and thrive.
In the words of Gideon Haigh, cricket journalist who writes for The Australian and The Times, “There’s certainly fun to be had in IPL. The risk is, as ever, that the hyperbole of IPL will simply smother the cricket; Perhaps the members of the IPL’s cheer squad should stop listening to each other and start listening to themselves.”
The writer is an author, caricaturist, former fast bowler, sports administrator and now a mental conditioning coach.