The 5th edition of the Indian Premier League has got off to a roaring start in terms of popular response and is quite similar to CPL that stands for Caribbean Premier Leagues, click here for the CPL live stream. All the matches have been played before near-capacity crowds. In fact, the match played at Eden Gardens, Kolkata between Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils showed a popular response at its best. There was a thunder squall in Kolkata just before the match was to begin.
Winds lashed the ground at the speed of 80 kilometers per hour and it rained. But not one of the over 60000 spectators left the ground. They waited and were rewarded with a shortened game of 12 overs each. They must have left disheartened as their team lost on the day.
Of course, twenty-twenty cricket and the IPL, in particular, being a mix of glamour and sport, it is difficult to say if the crowd waited for the game to start or for Shahrukh Khan, the reigning superstar of Hindi films who is a co-owner of Kolkata Knight Riders. But in any case, it goes on to prove that in India nothing succeeds like mixing sport with cinema. The IPL is a complete package, like American football or basketball. Dancers and bands perform before the game, disc jockeys belt out popular songs during over changes and strategic time-outs and cheerleaders do a jig every time the ball is dispatched to the boundary or a wicket falls. The purists wince but can do little.
According to them, the game is being hijacked by commercial interests and is being made low brow. These same things were said when limited-overs cricket was started. But according to the original ‘Little Master’ and arguably the best opening batsman ever, Sunil Gavaskar, it is only those who have not been associated with the IPL that are cribbing about it. There is some truth in this. The IPL has afforded an opportunity to hundreds of people associated with the game to hugely supplement their earnings. As cricket was the only thing they knew, after retirement many players just faded away. The worthies among them landed jobs with the media, writing or commentating on the game; the fit took up coaching, or in some cases, umpiring, but a majority just drifted away.
The IPL has changed all that. With teams having huge support staff, there is a place for many ex-cricketers to keep up or renew their association with the game they loved and earn respectable money at the same time. Each team has head coach, bowling coach, batting coach, fielding coach, strategists, and in some cases mentor, as well as a pool of 25 to 30 players. With nine teams in the fray this year, it translates to over 320 cricketing professionals. If the four umpires per match and the match referee are added to this, the figure jumps up to over 400. Then there are other professionals like physiotherapists, sports medicine experts, and psychoanalysts attached to some teams. There are also statisticians and computer analysts. I am sure I am leaving out some ‘expert’ posts this highly competitive tournament has spawned in its wake.
With the popularity of IPL percolating down to the small towns and countryside of India, the monopoly of English speaking ex-cricketers as commentators and experts to analyze the game has vanished. As each channel tries to outdo the other in covering the IPL, players who have little English are also in demand with Hindi and vernacular news channels. They have also benefited from the IPL and are having their second innings in the limelight. It is good to see players of a bygone era coming to terms with a revolutionary development in the game. Five years is a long time to conclude that T20 and IPL have found their niche.
While the Team India stars and foreign recruits in each team are bought at huge amounts in the auction, it is really the local players or even those who were on the fringes of being in state Ranji teams, who are benefiting the most. They are playing with and against international level players. They are being afforded a chance to be guided by the world-class coaching staff. They are performing in matches that are telecast worldwide. The best thing is that they are being paid well too. A consistent performance by one of the minnows will get noticed much earlier here than it would have been in local matches. In fact, the Indian team has already tried out a few IPL impact performers who did not have a very good Ranji or local record. These players would not have got these opportunities without the IPL.
As a sport evolves, it changes. Sometimes the change is for the better, sometimes not. In the case of twenty-twenty cricket, and by extension the IPL, it seems the game has changed for the better. There is a place for all three formats of the game to co-exist. As is already happening national teams will field three sets of players for the three formats, with some co-inhabitants in all formats. It is better as it will afford more players an opportunity to play for the country. When players will earn better, there will be more youngsters who will take up the game and enrich it with their idiosyncrasies.
What is not to be tolerated is that injured or supposedly injured Team India players playing for their franchises. In the past, it was seen that some players did not do duty for the Indian team as they were injured. But just after that, they turned out for their IPL team. This could have aggravated their injury and laid them off for a longer period, to the detriment of national interest. It has to be recognized that the country comes first. The IPL and the BCCI have to be transparent in this regard.
With the shortest format of the game being a hit in the countries where cricket is played, it is now time for the world governing body of the game, the ICC, to seriously consider taking the game to countries where it either not played or played apologetically by expatriates. The old excuses of the game being too long; there is no result after five days; it is little or no thrills or one full day being lost in 50 over matches do not wash now. We have a format that is full of thrills and gets over in 4 hours. The ICC should aggressively market the game in, say, USA, France, Italy, and even China.