As we head into the homestretch of the Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament, it is perhaps as good a time as any to look back on the past five weeks that, to say the last, have been tumultuous. For sure, cricket has taken a new course and it will never be the same again.
As a concept, the IPL has given the local player a taste of international stage - rubbing shoulders with the stars, playing in front of massive crowds and of course, the Media exposure. To an extent, it has fast-forwarded their careers, though I will be the first to admit that performances in T20 are at best indicators to one’s ability and potential, and nothing more.
Of course, the purists are still frowning on the “peripherals” or the so-called entertainment elements that have been used to “dress up” the tournament. For many, it has been a culture shock of sorts, but then, they are in the minority, like it or not. The paying public is not complaining.
In the past few weeks, I have spoken to a cross-section of people connected with the IPL as officials, players, Media and paying spectator. Few of those who paid to watch had anything to complain about although some thought that the cheerleaders were extras the game can do without. But then, the dancing girls are packaged entertainment that includes music bands and the Sivamanis who have the crowd “rocking”.
In Chennai, for instance, the crowds have been lapping it up. “For me, cricket is secondary. I am here to have a good time. It is far better than going to a pub and getting tanked up. It is cheaper to attend an IPL game, listen to some music, dance a bit and generally have some fun with friends. Of course, there is cricket and the sixes. But for me, it is pure entertainment,” said Rajeev, a techie employed with one of the software companies on the OMR.
But there have been others who care two hoots about the music and the cheergirls. The opportunity to watch some legendary cricketers like Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Glenn McGrath, Graeme Smith, Shaun Pollock and their ilk has drawn these hardcore lovers of the game to the stadium.
Beneath the surface, though, it is a melting pot. There have been debates over the effect T20 might have on young cricketers, especially the Colts (Under-19), quite a few of whom have made a quantum jump to the “big stage” without interning in first-class cricket. There are fears the IPL would produce a breed of cricketers who cannot survive in the ODIs or Tests that require different skills and mindset.
The argument cannot be glossed over. But, at the moment, it is only hypothetical, for one will know for sure in the next one year leading up to the 2009 IPL season when India would be involved in “serious” cricket, be it the ODIs or Test series. It is best to wait and watch rather than arrive at judgments or conclusions based on theories.
As for the IPL itself, there are talks about fine-tuning by way of removing the cap on salaries to allow “market forces” to dictate the value of a player. For me, this could prove detrimental as it could lead to severe imbalance, as franchises with financial muscle would corner the cream of talent leaving the residue to others. It would take away the key element of competition among the teams.
If anything, the IPL has shown the kind of money that Indian corporates have at their disposal. When the bidding amounts were trumpeted in March followed by the salaries offered to the players, the first reaction was one of shock at the massive amounts that for many was simply “obscene”.
A Dhoni receiving US$ 1.5 Million per season or the Ambanis forking out US$ 111.9 Million was something beyond comprehension for most Indians. Conversely, it was the first definite step that cricket took from being just a game to an out-and-out business venture via the IPL route. In effect, the gloves were off and so was the pretence of “for the love of the game” type of sentiments.
Thus, IPL is just another business, except that it has a tenuous link to sport and the stakes are sky high. Having said that, there is no looking back now. Only time will tell whether the IPL will grow so large as to end up a supernova, consuming itself or it will flourish.
There are several other issues that have cast a shadow on the IPL whose authorities might have to revisit certain decisions and if they can ensure that we get to see more of cricket and less of Bollywood, then so much the better.