When it first made its bow in 2008 the heady mixture of cricket and Bollywood gave the IPL a new name – cricketainment – a term by which it is best known even today in its seventh edition. Most of the leading cricketers in the world figure in it, it has the backing of superstars from the celluloid world and leading industrialists and everyone loves to be associated with it – be it a commentator, an official or a spectator. The discussion around bars, offices and on the streets still centre on the chances of the eight franchisees depending upon which one you support. The Indian sports lover while being a Manchester United fan is now also a Chennai Super Kings fan and there is merchandise to match. The support is fanatical and the cheering crowds are a testimony to this. The stadium is a sea of yellow, blue or red depending on where the match is being played.
Yes, some of it is hyped. Everything is ``super’’, the atmosphere is ``electric’’ the game is always a ``cracker jacker’’ of a contest and the commentators spare no words in building things up with the cheer leaders lending more than a touch of cheese cake. But then glamour and entertainment is what the IPL is all about basically. T-20 was always going to be a format that would catch on fast and the IPL is an embellishment. And these days it has to be admitted – whether one agrees or not with the idea – that marketing is everything. In any case it must be said that the basic concept involving franchisees and auctions was something new.
Moreover the unparalleled popularity of the IPL has spread to other sports. In the last couple of years we have had similar events in hockey, volleyball and badminton with football and tennis round the corner. Followers of these sports no doubt believe that it will give them a much needed shot in the arm but because of the uniquely exalted status that cricket enjoys in this country the IPL will still easily be the No 1 sporting event by a long way.
Indeed the IPL has changed the concept of sport in India. With the enormous amount of money involved, not to mention big names from the entertainment and industrial world and with the active backing of enthusiastic sponsors sport is no longer a laid back recreational pursuit. It is now professionally run by trained organizers and officials. The success of similar leagues in hockey, volleyball, tennis, badminton and football run along the same lines is bound to have a positive impact on other disciplines too and overall Indian sport will benefit in more ways than one. The fact that Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar are the owners of two football teams and the international tennis league is being organized by Mahesh Bhupathi and has some of the leading players in the game today puts everything in proper perspective. One way or the other there is no denying the fact that the IPL has left its mark on the game in unmistakable terms. It has given rise to similar T-20 leagues around the world the Big Bash in Australia being the most prominent. The growing popularity of Twenty20 cricket while being good for the finances of the game has had its own drawbacks and traditionalists have expressed the fear that the ultimate adverse effect would be on Test cricket. Under the circumstances it was not surprising to read a few years ago that the MCC World Cricket Committee was of the view that Test cricket was on the verge of a sad death in most countries with more and more players considering an IPL contract their ultimate goal.
The world’s leading cricketers are now earning astronomical sums of money by representing an Indian franchisee. City-based cricket has arrived and has spread to other centres, annulling the player’s traditional relationship with his county, state or province. The IPL has also provided little known players with the big stage to display their talent and a few of them have donned national colours largely as a result of their splendid performances in the competition. On the eve of the inaugural competition in 2008 I remember Tendulkar predicting that the IPL would be a super-hit and indeed it caught the public fancy in this country like few events in the past. Everywhere you went the discussion among cricket enthusiasts – and even those having only a passing interest in the game – centered round various aspects of the IPL. Various opinion polls focused on the large number of women followers among the millions of TV viewers and also significant according to the pollsters was that the IPL scored over the soap operas as also Shah Rukh Khan’s then newly inaugurated game show "Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain ". Describing the IPL as `a landmark time in cricket’ Adam Gilchrist who led Deccan Chargers in the initial years was of the view that after 30 years when people look back they would say it is the most important thing to have happened in cricket.......
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