It has its detractors. It has its admirers. There is little doubt however that the IPL has struck the right chords with the 'aam admi' – the average cricket follower. Indeed it is fast becoming the Teflon event. Unaffected by scandals and controversies – and the fifth edition had more than its share of the seamier aspects – the annual tournament is attracting more and more viewers both at the venues and on television and the internet and very obviously the sponsors and advertisers see in it something worth backing in a big way. And whether it is eight, nine or ten competing teams the franchisees have little to complain about.
Yes, it is loud and brash, it is unashamedly commercial and it has many ingredients that it can do without. But ultimately if the vast majority of the game’s followers are for it, there can be little doubt that IPL is here to stay. In the eyes of the faithful IPL V was the best among the five editions.
It was the subject for discussions at homes and offices, at hotels and clubs and in the streets and its popularity didn’t diminish one bit even if the off field activity garnered much negative attention in the media and did make even the genuine cricket follower wince.
The high standards of batting, bowling and fielding, the increasing importance of the captain’s role – yes, there is a place for strategy and tactics in Twenty20 besides traditional leadership qualities – and the large proportion of the games that went down to the wire all combined to make IPL V the highest form of cricketainment - the slogan by which it is known ever since the inaugural edition in 2008. It is a heady mix of cricket and show biz and very much in keeping with the changing times.
Along the way it has also gained in importance and sports fans are now comparing it to events like the EPL and the NBA which have been around for much longer and encompass sports like football and basketball which enjoy a larger following the world over than cricket.
But then given India’s huge population, the religion like status that cricket enjoys in the country and the large Indian Diaspora around the world – with television and the internet booming it to well over 150 countries – the comparison could well be valid. It certainly has become a major international sporting brand.
When it all started four years ago, it seemed to be a knee jerk reaction from the BCCI to the Indian Cricket League started by Kapil Dev. But even in its first year it was obvious that the IPL was something very different, that it would attract considerable attention world wide and that it was here to stay. Four editions later it is clear that it is in many ways the biggest and most colourful and most watched cricket event in the world.
It is big in size and scope and one can only agree with what Brett Lee said during the inaugural edition. "When we look back in ten years time this is going to be a massive landmark in cricket." Halfway through that mark and the IPL is already considered a massive landmark in the history of the game.
About the same time no less a personality than Sachin Tendulkar predicted "it will be a super hit." But perhaps even the iconic figure would not have bargained for it becoming more than a super hit and turn into a runaway hit.
That said it must be added that there are a few things the competition can do without. There have been controversies in the past but clearly IPL V had more than its share of seamier aspects. One does not have to relate all this for it is too recent to be recounted again. The off-field shenanigans and the on-field behaviour of some of the players that touched an all time low marred the tournament.
It will not be hard for IPL VI to be conducted without any of these unhappy aspects but this will need the co operation of all concerned – the administrators, the franchisees and the players. On the other hand it was heart warming to see former cricketers being the beneficiaries of the unprecedented revenue the BCCI earns through the IPL.
Finally what memories does one have of IPL V? The many pulsating finishes climaxed by the final events at the MA Chidambaram stadium on Sunday, the explosive batting of Chris Gayle, surely the first true great of Twenty20, the superb bowling of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Sunil Narine, the amazing work in the field by several players headed perhaps by Steve Smith, the promise of Parvinder Awana and Mandeep Singh among others.
Oh yes, there was much to savour – and some we could do without!