For one second do not believe what the official broadcasters of the Indian Premier League or the BCCI have to say. Do not believe what the TRPs say about how many people watched the opening ceremony or what the ticket sales suggest about this latest season. Because the truth reflects pretty much from the empty stands at most grounds, empty blocks of seats at all of them. The fourth edition of this jazzed-up mother of all cricket tournaments has just about failed to excite, yet.
Blame it on the World Cup euphoria. Two days after the players departed from Mumbai and went their separate ways to their respective IPL team bases, people in India were still dancing on the streets. Offices were filled up with lethargic workers, unwilling to let the hangover settle in, and schools were bustling with children, itching to go out and play. TV channels, both sports and otherwise, were replaying the moments captured at Wankhede again and again. Somewhere in the distance though another tournament began, only this time it was the watered down version, replete with slam-bang. One wonders how many people outside of Chennai even cared to tune into the opening ceremony!
It is so because there have been differences galore with the way things have worked for IPL this season. Of course the biggest difference is the absence of Lalit Modi, any noise therefore was muted, and in deep contrast his successor Chirayu Amin has been nearly invisible. It is even gruesome to get an extra syllable out of him, such calm and calculated is his poise.
He brings a new definition to the word businessman and that the Indian Board has managed to pinch pennies, saving nearly 100 crores in expenditures as compared to last season, says something about it all. If at all someone would miss Modi, it is because the humongous accreditation process hasn’t run as smoothly as the last three seasons.
The major reasoning behind the IPL not hitting the blocks running however is the auction that took place earlier this year. That day the reset button was hit like never before and to say that the eight already existing teams bear no resemblance to their past would be almost the truth. One says almost because Chennai Super Kings – by plan or otherwise – surprisingly retained most of their players.
Mumbai Indians didn’t go as far as having their owners sit on the IPL governing council but they had deep enough pockets to retain four players, yet accumulate a sizeable squad and build from scratch. The way these two teams have started their latest campaign – forget the odd hiccup for there will be a few out of 14 matches – represents how things have changed yet remained the same for them.
Beyond that however, it seems to be a case of an identity crisis for the IPL, and it is seeded in both at the singular level as well as in totality. Let’s talk about individualism first. When Delhi Daredevils played their first match, they had ten players making a debut barring only Virender Sehwag who was retained by the franchise. It could possibly reflect in the way the crowds have summed up their tournament yet – dependent on one man and he too isn’t the patient kind.
Other teams have had to live up to this negative aspect of the auctions as well. Rajasthan Royals and Royal Challengers Bangalore bear different looks while Deccan Chargers, Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders are only recognizable by the colour of their jerseys. Not any one particular big name has been retained by these three sides.
While that wasn’t met with angst by fans in Hyderabad or Mohali, Kolkata seems to be in uprising against Sourav Ganguly’s exclusion. In four years of IPL play, the Eden Gardens had never been this empty as it was on the occasion of their first home match, and this is a city that has been starved of quality cricket in the recent past due to reasons not pertaining to the sport.
Yet there is hope for the way Gautam Gambhir and company have started is in complete contrast with their story so far. This is a bunch of players who have come in not to prove a point but in search for glory. Inevitably the crowds will return, but for that to happen, firstly a long consistent run is needed.
If there is one upshot of the singularity any particular team can achieve, it is most seen in the coming of the new teams. Pune Warriors and Kochi Tuskers have kept fans enthralled about team composition, jersey colours and playing motives over the last six months or so. It almost brought an energetic feel to the mundane atmosphere of court cases every day, and the two teams are a major reason why it feels like a new IPL all over.
The excitement levels, especially down South, at the introduction of the Kochi team has been sensational to say the least and almost seems like the messy hoopla over this team was well paid off. Pune will entice too, but mostly on the field for they are a better thought-out collection of cricketers. Adding to it, playing in Navi Mumbai will take away some of the charm and perhaps they will have to wait another season to really get the crowds behind them.
From a totality point of view, the IPL is like a boat that needs choppy waters to feed off. In the previous three years we saw that aplenty in the rocky hands with which Lalit Modi steered the ship. However this year, before the first ball was bowled, the BCCI cleared out all the mess. It did take some sheen away from the tournament for they wanted to make it all about cricket, neglecting that in its very essence it is so much more. Thankfully, with India’s victory in the World Cup prior, that uncertainty surrounds it once again.
Rest assured, the IPL will steer towards its finish line eventually, but the glorious celebrations will only come about slowly.
© Cricket World 2011