IPL: In a league of its own

The one great benefit of the Indian Premier League has been the way the tournament has increased understanding between different cricket nations and cut out most of the unnecessarily aggressive and boorish on-field behaviour of the past. You develop friendships across the world and you learn a little bit more about different teams in the process. That understanding goes a long way and it helps ensure the game is played in the right spirit, competitively but with respect.

Mahela Jayawardene, the author, who captained Delhi Daredevils in the 2013 IPL, obliges a fan with his autograph during a practice session.   -  S. Subramanium

It now seems a long time ago since that inaugural Indian Premier League in early 2008, just months after India had won the first World Twenty20 in South Africa. As Lalit Modi was putting together the tournament in a frenzy, no one really knew what to expect.

The concept could not have divided the cricket world more: for some it was going to be a much-needed breath of fresh air to revitalise and globalise the game; for others it was the beginning of the end, a major threat to the future of Test cricket and Nation versus Nation cricket.

 

Eight seasons on, the IPL has cemented its place in the cricket calendar. There have been plenty of controversies along the way, most seriously the spot-fixing and corruption scandals, but such is the strength of the concept and the enormous appetite amongst Indian cricket fans that the tournament has overcome the storms with ease. Other cricket boards have accepted that the IPL is here to stay, and early sceptics like the ECB, who restricted access to their elite players, have realised that their players can learn and develop enormously from the exposure.

During the second half of my career, I played in three different franchises, a quirk of the (still unresolved) issues between the BCCI and Kochi Tuskers. I enjoyed my stints with Kings XI Punjab, where I first opened in T20 cricket, as well as at Kochi Tuskers and Delhi Daredevils. I learnt a lot as a cricketer and as a person and I also made some fantastic friends. It was a great experience and I would recommend it to any young player wanting to develop. The exposure to different thinking and new ideas, as well as the experience of playing under so much pressure and expectation, can really lift your game to new levels.

One of the best examples of this is the New Zealand team and how they have emerged in recent years as a real force in both ODI and T20 cricket. They embraced the IPL from the outset with many of their players participating, and in hindsight, it is obvious the experience clearly helped spur the development of their cricketers. England, as mentioned earlier, were wary about the competition to start with, but Andrew Strauss, the new Director of Cricket, and head coach Trevor Bayliss realise what an opportunity it provides and they are actively encouraging their brightest prospects to play. India, of course, have benefited the most with the IPL playing a pivotal role in the development of so many exciting young cricketers.

This year we are seeing another competitive IPL and it is fascinating to see tactics still evolving. The tournament is so competitive with the best brains in world cricket trying to gain an added advantage. The players keep pushing themselves too, their skill levels rising and rising. The likes of Kohli and de Villiers and Warner are continuously lifting the bar of excellence a little higher. This year we are seeing good pitches and exceptional batting which has been great for the spectators. The settled teams like Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians, who have a history of success, are unsurprisingly going well while Gujarat Lions have been superb in their first season.

The final great benefit of the IPL has been the way the tournament has increased understanding between different cricket nations and cut out most of the unnecessarily aggressive and boorish on-field behaviour of the past. You develop friendships across the world and you learn a little bit more about different teams in the process. That understanding goes a long way and it helps ensure the international game is played in the right spirit, competitively but with respect.