By Kul Bhushan
Cricket-loving Indians across the globe are ecstatic about the latest and greatest tournament under the Indian Premier League (IPL). This humongous extravaganza combines the glamour of Bollywood with the fanatic following of cricket among Indians across the world. The Twenty20 matches are as long as a Bollywood film and - hopefully - just as exciting. No wonder it has been dubbed as "Cricketainment".
The billion-dollar tournament between eight Indian city clubs borrows from British football clubs and American basketball championships. Middle-aged NRIs in the United States who grew up in India and always missed cricket excitement can now relish this new avatar of the game on slick lines. They can watch the action for three or four hours without losing sleep for the entire night as for one-day and three-day matches. Says Sameeer 'Sam' Khanna from New Jersey, "I missed cricket action here; and my kids have grown up without enjoying cricket action. Now with these Bollywood stars, they can be attracted to cricket."
British NRIs have always had a good and healthy dose of cricket in their country of adoption. But British cricket players have not been allowed to play in IPL to rake in high fees like football players. Cricket is declining in Britain due to the lacklustre performance of its national team, said Rajinder 'Ricky' Syal of Birmingham. As an avid cricket fan, he welcomes IPL as the next big thing in the evolution of the game and hopes that his favourite British cricket stars will be allowed in IPL in the near future.
NRIs in Australia hail India as the new superpower of cricket after the recent face-off in Australia when the Indian team threatened to return and pay a heavy fine. Shan Gupta of Melbourne said he is happy to see both Australian and Indian players as a team to add spice to the game. "Cricket will never be the same after IPL; but I still support India when it plays against Australia," he adds.
The last big leap - or a Kangaroo Leap - for cricket came from Australia 30 years ago when Kerry Packer of Australia started the one-day cricket matches in 1977 to break away from professional cricket. Interestingly, both one-day and IPL matches have resulted from similar TV rivalries. One-dayers or world series cricket started due to two main factors - the widespread view that players were not paid sufficient money to make a living from cricket, and that Packer wished to secure the exclusive broadcasting rights to Australian cricket for his Nine Network, then held by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The white flannels were replaced by colourful tracksuits for TV coverage.
Last year, Zee TV could not get the rights for telecasting cricket matches and so they roped in the legendary Kapil Dev to start their own Indian Cricket League or ICL. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) hit back with IPL. The auction for eight teams on Jan 24, 2008, had a base price at $400 million but fetched over $700 million and Sony TV got the rights.
From then onwards, there was no holding back for the roller coaster as Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla bought a team and so did Preity Zinta with her boyfriend Ness Wadia. The big business houses of Vijay Mallya and Mukesh Ambani; media houses Deccan Chronicle and UK-based Emerging Media; major corporations like India Cements and GMR also bought teams, and the tournament is sponsored by DLF.
The national boundaries of world cricket have been erased with IPL. Will the fans cheer their national teams or their club teams with players from different countries? With the passionate fans be equally inflamed by their national heroes pitted against each other? Will they start dancing in the streets and burst firecrackers when the Indian team wins? Will cricket promote India's national unity in all its diversity as in the past? Big money and big media will create new loyalties for fans. Big money has bought the teams and players and paid millions in advertising support while big media, especially the TV channels, will promote and project IPL as the greatest show on earth.
The razzmatazz from Akshay Kumar and Daler Mehndi, shapely cheerleaders never seen on any cricket ground, an F1 car of Force India, big beat music, acrobats, stilt-dancers, laser shows and firecrackers amounted to a heady cocktail of cricket. The inaugural match in Bangalore was a stunner in terms of both showmanship and sports performances. This was the modern version of the ancient Roman Circus, the top entertainment of people with gladiators and wild animals. Now the Roman saying, 'Give them bread, give them circus', has been replaced by a newer version, 'Give them chapati, give them cricket'.