Three weeks into IPL V and it is clear that this year’s edition will in all probability be the most intensely contested. There is just no point in predicting which teams will make it to the knock out stage and one look at the points table underscores this point.
Eight of the nine teams are almost bunched together and as the competition approaches the halfway mark any one of them could qualify for the knock out stage. And don’t be surprised if Deccan Chargers - currently languishing at the bottom of the table with just a solitary point from a wash out - make a late surge.
In the past we have seen a couple of other teams with virtually no chance of making the semifinals at the halfway stage winning five and six matches in a row to squeak ahead of the competitors. The extended duration of the tournament as well as the Twenty20 format gives plenty of scope for teams to either falter or bounce back into contention.
As regards the conduct of IPL V, there is little doubt that it is a success. Oh yes, there will be the purists for whom it is not cricket and also the IPL bashers who will talk of dwindling interest and falling television ratings. And yet they will probably be the people who will watch most of the matches with more than avid interest.
That the IPL has struck the right chords with cricket fans and has caught the imagination of the cricketing world is well known. Yes, it is a commercial competition, it mixes cricket with entertainment - the latter in rather high doses it must be admitted. But then that is the changing face of the game and one has to take the good with the bad and accept IPL as a global brand very much in keeping with the times.
At this time my mind goes back 35 years when much of the criticism against Twenty20 and IPL was first hurled at Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. It was dismissed as the pyjama game, not real cricket compared to Test matches and fans took some time to come to terms with night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls and black sight screens but they quickly embraced it and these days Packer is looked upon as the pioneer, a visionary who created the finances, shape and tone for the modern game.
Under the circumstances one has to agree with IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla’s view that the fifth edition will be a "super success." Responding to the reported decline of television ratings, Shukla has said there has been a considerable increase in internet viewership.
One finds it hard to argue against this for with time more and more people are taking to the internet where there is live streaming of the matches and this is convenient for the browsers who can follow the events even while at work if needed.
There is certainly no lack of interest in watching the matches at the stadium as the large crowds present at most of the venues has underlined and interest is high, what with IPL V being the subject of intense discussions at clubs and homes and offices. Shukla has also taken on the charge that major sponsors have abandoned the IPL head on. Refuting the allegations, he said that none of the sponsors have turned their backs on the competition.
He is of the view that one cannot make an assessment based on the first two weeks of the IPL. "None of the sponsors have gone away," he said in a recent interview. "Everyone is with us. Whatever rights we are selling it is being sold at a higher price. I am running the show so I know." Going by the incessant ads shown during the matches one is again inclined to agree with him. Perhaps a clearer picture will emerge as the tournament gathers further momentum or when it is over.
In any case, the broadcasters Set Max appear to be pleased with the ratings. In a television interview Rohit Gupta the president of Multi Screen Media (MSM) which owns Set Max has indicated that these were early days and he expected the ratings to rise as the tournament progressed. He said he was in talks with sponsors and advertisers and anticipated selling most of the inventory over the duration of the tournament.
The average cricket fan however is not concerned by the business angle of the IPL. He just wants to see the action on the field and there is little doubt that he has seen plenty to cheer about.