Flourishing amidst slings, arrows and outrageous fortune

For a league that almost decapitated its parent body, the BCCI, due to the spot-fixing and betting scandal, the IPL has not only managed to stay afloat but has proved to be a strong cricketing and commercial edifice.

Brendon McCullum of Kolkata Knight Riders celebrates his century against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the opening match of the IPL in 2008. McCullum's mind-boggling 158 off 73 balls ignited the event and gave it a boost it least expected.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

It looks like just yesterday that Praveen Kumar ran into bowl the Indian Premier League’s first ball at Bengaluru’s M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. The then Royal Challengers Bangalore’s (RCB) seamer got one to rap Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) skipper Sourav Ganguly’s pads and the latter promptly scampered a leg-bye! As maiden deliveries go, this one had no grandeur, it was just a cursory start to a league that many were sceptical about to start with.

But it was the calm before the storm as Ganguly’s opening partner Brendon McCullum hammered an unbeaten 158 from a mere 73 deliveries. A stupendous innings studded with 10 fours and 13 sixes and eventually KKR won the match by 140 runs. All that the host got in the bargain was the satisfaction of conducting a glitzy opening ceremony.

The sheer mayhem that McCullum unleashed is something that even the shrewdest brand manager would never have dreamt about. The knock propelled the league into the stratosphere, made it a strong commercial entity, encapsulated what its soul was all about — big hits and bigger cheer, and was the ideal adrenaline shot for the Twenty20 extravaganza to strike deep roots. This was no baby-step, this was a leap of faith. And remember the date — April 18, 2008.

Since that day, the IPL has grown in strength and despite the controversies like spot-fixing that nearly yanked its heart out, the league is here to stay. It has become another associated-imagery when it comes to the Indian summers like the heat-wave, mangoes and kids enjoying languid vacations. The IPL has gained permanence in the hot and sultry months of April and May, a sweaty cricketing prelude before the South West Monsoon gathers moisture from the deep seas and sashays into the nation from June first week.

The motives for the IPL’s inception may have been borne out of a sense of vengeance against the earlier rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) but once those base emotions abated, what remains is a fine league that draws cricketers from across the globe. And when the latest season starts with the game between RCB and Sunrisers Hyderabad at Hyderabad on April 5, it is time to utter a cliché — time flies — because with this contest, the league enters its 10th edition. A remarkable longevity milestone for a tournament that is all about the brevity of Twenty20 games where excitement is measured in micro-seconds and valour is attributed to a lone dot-ball.

The IPL proved to be a patching-up ground for Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds when they both happened to turn out for Mumbai Indians. The players had got into an on-field controversy when India toured Australia in 2007-08.   -  PTI

The league has had a roller-coaster ride. Some teams vanished (Kochi Tuskers Kerala), a couple of celebrated outfits are presently coping with a two-year ban (Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals), a national cricketer has been banned from cricket due to his alleged role in spot-fixing (S. Sreesanth) and the IPL’s shady under-belly of bookies and spread-betting even led to the eventual ouster of N. Srinivasan from his powerful roles in the BCCI and the International Cricket Council.

Srinivasan wasn’t guilty of betting or fixing but the power-of-association undid him as his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan, an earlier key member in the CSK dug-out, indulged in betting. You could even say that the latest scrutiny that the BCCI is living with — be it the Lodha Panel or strictures from the Supreme Court — are all a direct off-shoot of the notorious 2013 season when Sreesanth and a few others were caught for spot-fixing while Meiyappan was nailed for betting. The IPL’s conflict-of-interest issues and other related evils also forced out its primary czar Lalit Modi, now living in exile in London.

But as a Sony Television official told Sportstar — “The league survived because of its brand-equity and the tremendous love that the fans bestowed upon it. It is a now a strong sports institution, a mighty huge brand.” A lesser league may have collapsed under the weight of these above-mentioned scandals but the IPL has stayed robust and it is time to light 10 candles on the league’s birthday cake.

The IPL is also about cricketing stories: Of under-dogs triumphing against all odds like Rajasthan Royals emerging as the champion in the inaugural season; Of consistent teams often finishing in the top-three like the CSK astutely led by M. S. Dhoni; Of rivals lapsing into hugs like Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds did during their stint together with the Mumbai Indians; Of players catching the selectors’ eye be it a Ravindra Jadeja or a David Warner; Of lending a winning streak to the West Indies in the ICC World Twenty20s as key players like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and many more keep finessing their skills in the IPL; Of cricketers flickering bright and then being forgotten like the Swapnil Asnodkars and the Palani Amarnaths; And of unsung domestic cricketers suddenly finding a fat bank balance and a better life.

The league helped forge friendships cutting across nationalities. Matthew Hayden used to share his PlayStation with Suresh Raina; Virat Kohli, Gayle and AB de Villiers share a kinship in RCB colours and there are many such tales. Even venues shed their jingoism and Bengaluru has embraced both de Villiers and Gayle as its own sons.

Amidst the whispers of corruption and the shrill voices about spot-fixing, the IPL does have its utopian moments.

And slowly club loyalties are emerging. In the league’s formative years, Sachin Tendulkar, revered across the nation, found love from the fans at all venues. Now cities are warming to its own players though men like Dhoni and Kohli do find pan-India admiration. And as always new heroes will emerge while the IPL caravan rolls across the country.

The IPL was instrumental in bringing together such mega talents like Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle together when they became a parct of the RCB team. And rookie Sarfaraz Khan is imbibing valuable lessons in their company.   -  K. R. Deepak

 

Last year, the summer extravaganza was in the perception sweepstakes, a mildly sweet watery dessert, coming as it did after the full-course meal of the ICC World Twenty20 in India. The fans were satiated and it did take an effort for them to warm up the desi league with a foreign twist. This year, there is bound to be more excitement and fan-bonding as the IPL is a prelude to the ICC Champions Trophy in England.

What remains to be seen is about how leading Indian players having just played an emotionally draining Test series against Australia, can quickly slip on their coloured jerseys and dish out their wares under lights. After India won the 2011 World Cup, Kohli was candid enough to admit that it took a few weeks for the players to snap out of their triumphant spell and get used to the hype and acoustics of the IPL.

The current squads including the ones that will bow out this year — Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiant — know that the fickle nature of Twenty20 levels the playing field and any team can emerge as the champion. A McCullum may have kick-started the league with a hurricane hundred in 2008 but in that edition KKR fell by the wayside.

On the flipside, it was KKR thanks to its brand associations, that made money and broke even. Such are the vagaries of sport, such are the imponderables of brand-equity. And it helps that KKR is continued to be owned by Shah Rukh Khan, a lodestone for corporates and marketing managers.

There is so much non-live-sport that sneaks into the sports pages these days, be it the Lodha panel’s proclamations or the Supreme Court’s diktats to the BCCI. In all this legalese, Kohli’s men in whites have caught the country’s attention for the right reasons by dishing out tough cricket against the Aussies. The imminent IPL too has to reiterate that even the game’s shortest format (however truncated it is, however hated it is by the classical lovers of the sport, who aver that Tests are like the finest Single Malts) can offer the fans something to look forward to, instead of them brooding over the dynamics of the BCCI’s power structure.

For a league that almost decapitated its parent body, the BCCI, due to the spot-fixing and betting scandal, the IPL has not only managed to stay afloat but has proved to be a strong cricketing and commercial edifice that even forces Bollywood producers to devise fresh strategies for their summer releases. “All our ad spots are taken,” a Sony Television official said. It seems everything is fine in the financial world of the IPL, it is time for the cricket to further extend that feel-good vibe.