The dust has not even settled on the amazing one-run win that Mumbai Indians carved out after nearly losing their grip in the final of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and, yet you can hear conversations about IPL's enormous brand value not only as the world's most competitive Twenty20 'domestic' event but also as a rising challenge to leagues in other disciplines.
However, unlike European club football teams or NBA franchises that are busy for a good part of the year, the nature of the Indian Premier League is such that players are paradropped to be together for just over six weeks each year. Therefore, a lot of features like planning, team-building, bonding, cultural conformity and error-correction in IPL are very different challenges.
The likes of Afghan spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Australian paceman Andrew Tye learnt that it is not easy to have a second successful season. They were such critical parts of the Kings XI Punjab engine the previous year that the team management billed them as certainties but neither inspired confidence with his skill sets this season.
Teams have learnt not to depend on too many overseas stars to deliver the goods and, over the past dozen years, have built a useful collection of dependable players. Yet, it became evident that some amount of overhaul — perhaps like Delhi Capitals have managed in small installments in the past few years — is going to be necessary for most teams sooner than later.
It will be fascinating to see how IPL deals with the trickling of the sands of time. A generation of charismatic cricketers is bound to fade away in the foreseeable future. There have been some indications already in the arrival of teenaged talent like Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill. But these will take a long time to win the faith that those in the twilight of their T20 careers have earned.
The tightrope that the franchisees have to walk in blooding youngsters has already been in evidence with Kolkata Knight Riders struggling to give Shubman Gill a sustained run at the top and Nitish Rana a better batting slot than a struggling Robin Uthappa. Prithvi Shaw was luckier that he got to bat at the top of the order with Shikhar Dhawan in each of Delhi Capitals' 16 matches.
Yet, the success of the Chahar cousins, swing bowler Deepak (22 wickets for Chennai Super Kings) and leg-spinner Rahul (18 for Mumbai Indians), showed that it is possible for unsung, homegrown talent to shine on a platform like IPL. They blended wonderfully within two competitive sides and with smart captains to be outstanding performers.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni used Deepak as Chennai Super Kings' first-choice new ball bowler in what was an object lesson in drawing from the available resources. Rohit Sharma was quick to take a leaf out of that book and made Rahul his go-to spin bowler when it came to choking rival batsmen and leave them to be taken out by Jasprit Bumrah and company.
It was a season from which teams went back with learnings aplenty. Mumbai Indians had a close to perfect year in winning the crown for a record fourth time, but will have to find ways to get stronger in the middle-order and perhaps get an overseas bowler of quality to take the ageing warhorse Lasith Malinga's place.
Dhoni spoke of Chennai Super Kings going back to the drawing board at the first available opportunity. Delhi Capitals will look at fine-tuning their batsmen's approach in the play-off while Sunrisers Hyderabad will have to find ways to bolster their middle-order to supplement the work by David Warner and Jonny Bairstow and the all-round strength of the bowling unit.
Kings XI Punjab will search for ways to embraced consistency and to cross the line in close finishes while Kolkata Knight Riders must move on from the season being remembered for just Andre Russell's clean and explosive hitting. Rajasthan Royals have considerable work to do while Royal Challengers Bangalore seek the winning habit with smarter selection and sharper bowling.
We always knew that Virat Kohli wears his passion on his sleeves. And he did not hesitate in taking a shot at umpire S Ravi for not calling a no-ball off Malinga's last delivery in their match. The clip, showing Malinga's transgression, was aired only in the moments before Kohli went to speak with the broadcast commentator after the game. And he delivered a stinging rebuke.
"We are playing at the IPL level and not playing club cricket. The umpires should have had their eyes open. That is a ridiculous call at the last ball. If it is a game of margins, I don't know what is happening. They should have been sharped and more careful," he said. The India captain expressed himself so clearly that the match referee could not throw the rule book at him.
Curiously, we also became aware that Dhoni can get agitated enough to walk into the playing area and question the umpires on a no-ball call that was first made and then withdrawn upon the intervention of the umpire at the striker's end. Quite uncharacteristically, he crossed the boundary line to engage the umpires in a lengthy discussion.
However, anyone who has watched domestic cricket earlier in the season would assert that the umpiring standard in India is pretty ordinary. That was magnified by the number of fundamental errors under pressure and in the glare of cameras in IPL. BCCI can choose to look at the positives but ignoring the plummeting umpiring levels will only harm Indian cricket in the long run.
For all that, we learnt that IPL is here to stay, quite unchallenged, and unaffected by the controversies in the preceding years and the intense power game in the corridors of BCCI. And it did not need a ball to be bowled to confirm that. The political and bureaucratic set up in the country wove the general elections around IPL so that it did not need a home away from home.
The massive popularity of IPL can lull those managing it to believe that nothing can go wrong with the way it is. From ageing teams to fewer readymade replacements, from overseas talent finding it hard to adapt to Indian conditions and not fulfilling expectations to umpiring quality, there are areas that IPL managers and its teams will have to keep finding solutions for.