It has been hit by scandals and controversies but then the IPL is a Teflon covered event. Nothing has any adverse effect on it and its popularity continues undiminished. The rush and demand for tickets has to be seen to be believed. The lengthy analyses on the competing teams in various newspapers and TV channels underscores the fact that interest in the fifth edition is as high as any of the four previous events.
The IPL is still a hot property. There is something about it that has caught the fancy of the public at large. With the advent of each edition there is talk that interest will diminish among cricket fans, advertisers and TV audiences. But the TRP ratings continue to be high, the entertainment value keeps soaring and the participation of film stars and big time industrialists as the franchisee owners certifies its glamorous image.
Four years ago because of this as well as the razzle-dazzle associated with it complete with cheer leaders, the huge amounts of money involved and the player auction it helped coin a new phrase - cricketainment. As far as all this is concerned, there has been no let up and the opening ceremony to be held in Chennai on Tuesday not surprisingly features some of the biggest stars of Bollywood and Kollywood - Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Prabhudeva - as well as popular American pop singer Katy Perry.
The singing, dancing and fireworks will then set the stage for 54 days of non-stop cricket in its most popular avatar which will see as many as 76 matches. Twenty20 has caught the imagination of the cricketing public worldwide like nothing else and the IPL’s format and lengthy duration has helped cement this.
Moreover its popularity is not restricted to India. With a number of foreign players representing the various teams, interest will be high in Australia and England, West Indies and New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Over the past four editions a fierce allegiance to an IPL team has taken root and almost like one is a Manchester United or a Barcelona fan these days we have a Chennai Super Kings or Kolkata Knight Riders supporter. This is something truly characteristic of the IPL.
But then of course the IPL is not just glitz and glamour. The nine participating teams are playing for a trophy and huge prize money and like in the first four editions they will go all out to win it. There is also time for strategy and tactics and innovations. Twenty20 as we have seen is not just about sixes and fours.
It might have started out as a format heavily favouring batsmen but over the years bowlers too have developed skills in countering the big hits and there is a place for enterprising captaincy and cricketing planning and thinking. In Twenty20 a lot is crammed into three hours and that is why even a minor mistake can get magnified. There is little room for error.
In this format you can’t wait for things to happen; you have to make them happen. These are the exciting ingredients cricket fans will be hoping to see during IPL-V even as they are entertained by the big names. But then the IPL is not just about big names. It has also provided the stage for talented youngsters to make a mark.
At this stage my mind goes back to April 18 2008, to the floodlit M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore and the inaugural match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore. Brendon McCullum lit the night sky up with an electrifying unbeaten 158, the highest score in Twenty20 cricket, and that set the stage for six weeks of glitz and glamour.
The inaugural edition's success was already guaranteed what with the unbelievable build up, the innovative format of having franchisees complete with auctioning of players and city based teams. With the tremendous interest the IPL generated around the cricketing world a favourable outcome was always on the cards. But hardly anyone could have expected the kind of whopping success and spontaneity that the IPL attracted. And that has continued till this day.
Its detractors and the many cynics might say that the IPL is not strictly about cricket, that it is a 'tamasha', that is more style than substance. There is little doubt however that the IPL has struck the right chords around the country.
For the average cricket fan it provides entertainment and one can be assured that the events of IPL-V will be the talking point at homes and offices, on streets and in clubs right from the first match to be played at the MA Chidambaram stadium on Wednesday till it concludes at the same venue on May 27.