Where is the IPL fan bandwagon heading?

So what is the supporter of an IPL team supporting? His city or the team or one of its players? Each fan has his own reasons. To many at an IPL venue, it is just about an evening of fun, about soaking in the fairground atmosphere. But there is a place for the IPL in the Indian cricket fan’s mind. Teams that have made an effort to maintain continuity and win local fans over have reaped the rewards.

Chennai Super Kings was a very popular outfit in the IPL because it interacted with its fans. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni too was a huge draw. Suresh Raina and R. Ashwin too spent the first eight years of the IPL with CSK along with Dhoni. Indeed, Dhoni, now the captain of new team Rising Pune Supergiants, himself admits that he still yearns for CSK!   -  K. R. DEEPAK

Yuvraj Singh, with Delhi Daredevils last year, enjoys a joke in the company of V. V. S. Laxman, the mentor of Sunrisers Hyderabad. Yuvraj is with Sunrisers this year, his fifth IPL team. Yuvraj's migrations have been smooth with no evidence of fan-dissent anywhere.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

In the summer of 1990, Fiorentina sold Roberto Baggio to Juventus, triggering riots in Florence that left at least 50 people injured. The clubs shared an animosity that preceded this transfer — “We’d rather be second than thieves,” Fiorentina were already singing — but things went really sour after Baggio’s move. Sol Campbell’s move to Arsenal from Tottenham Hotspur, after running down his contract and leaving on a free without warning, will never be forgiven. Luis Figo famously had a pig’s head thrown at him at the Camp Nou after he moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid. And Arsenal fans circulated fake 20-pound notes with Ashley Cole’s face on them when he arrived at the Emirates Stadium as a Chelsea player. > Read: What fans had to say about clubs

Yet there was barely a murmur when Yuvraj Singh moved from Kings XI Punjab, where he was an ‘icon’ player in his home State, to Pune Warriors in 2011. This season, Yuvraj is turning out for his fifth IPL side in nine seasons, but there has been no outpouring of anger or grief. After six years of representing his hometown side Delhi Daredevils, Virender Sehwag joined Kings XI Punjab in 2014. But there was no uproar, no outrage.

> Read: Kohli's big 'no' to rivalries

To compare European football clubs over a century old, with established fan-bases, to an eight-year-old T20 league is unfair. Take the case of Barcelona, a club that became a vehicle for expression of the Catalan identity, or that of one of the many Premier League clubs in England that have working-class roots and were built by the community. How can a Sunrisers Hyderabad engender that same feeling of ownership and pride? How can Kolkata Knight Riders evoke the same passion as Mohun Bagan — a club that played a role in the Indian freedom movement — in a Mariners’ fan?

It is difficult for Indian Premier League franchises to achieve city-based loyalties on the same level in the short term. The key to this is continuity — retaining a core group of players that fans have developed some fondness for. But this has not been easy in the IPL, which has seen squad reshuffles at numerous stages. Chennai Super Kings appreciated this better than anyone else, trying to build a nucleus around M. S. Dhoni, R. Ashwin, Suresh Raina — who played all eight seasons — and Dwayne Bravo. CSK was thus one team that commanded huge loyalty from its supporters.

Royal Challengers Bangalore, in contrast, has just one player from the first season — Virat Kohli. But for five years now, RCB has retained Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers — their popularity in Bengaluru is unrivalled by any other foreign cricketer.

It must be noted that while the European league football season lasts 10 months of a year, in cricket, international competition is the dominant variety.

The IPL is one of many T20 leagues around the world, and finishes in two months. It is thus understandable that in cricket national identity trumps regional identity, especially in the IPL where teams have little or no local representation. As long as Sachin Tendulkar was playing, Mumbai Indians had as much support (if not more) as RCB in Bengaluru. M. S. Dhoni’s sixes are greeted with the same enthusiasm as Gayle’s at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. The popularity of some figures knows no boundaries. Manish Pandey, a Karnataka player, left RCB on somewhat acrimonious terms for Pune Warriors before the start of the 2011 season. But when in 2014 he returned to the Chinnaswamy Stadium for the IPL final with KKR, Pandey and Uthappa — another established Karnataka player — were welcomed with great warmth. That they were local boys outweighed every other consideration.

> Read: Venky Mysore's comments

There are exceptions, of course. The Wankhede Stadium has managed to rub players the wrong way. In the opening season of the IPL, Yuvraj was dismayed by the booing of a section of the crowd after his Kings XI Punjab narrowly defeated Mumbai Indians. “Just don’t forget some of the Punjab boys also play for India,” he said at the presentation ceremony.

Three years later, Kohli was similarly angered by the behaviour of fans at the Wankhede. “I don’t know what is wrong with people in this venue,” he said. “It feels a bit weird because at the end of the day you play for India and you don’t come here to be hated.

 

It has happened to a few players in the past as well. I don’t know why they get so worked up during IPL. IPL is not the end of the world. They forget that the players they are booing also play for their country.”

Kohli added: “It is only creating hatred among the players. When I come back and play for India, they are going to cheer for me. It doesn’t work that way.”

Kohli’s words — five years ago now — suggested that his primary identity was that of an India player. The “IPL is not the end of the world” comment made it clear that the competition, while serious business, did not occupy the same position in his mind as an India assignment.

So what is the supporter of an IPL team supporting? His city or the team or one of its players? Each fan has his own reasons. To many at an IPL venue, it is just about an evening of fun, about soaking in the fairground atmosphere. But there is a place for the IPL in the Indian cricket fan’s mind.

Teams that have made an effort to maintain continuity and win local fans over have reaped the rewards. The Kolkata and Chennai (while it lasted) franchises have been able to generate hugely passionate support in their cities. Crowds took the players to their hearts. And that love was reciprocated. Dhoni, a man not given to emotion, has made a series of statements about how difficult it is to play for an IPL side other than Chennai Super Kings. After admitting in February that he was still not over CSK, Dhoni said after his first game for Rising Pune Supergiants, “I knew I would play for the Pune team but the actual moment comes when you start walking with the team-sheet in your hand. Till that point of time it’s only practice and everything.

It was a very emotional moment. Since I have started playing T20 cricket, I have represented the Indian cricket team, Jharkhand in a few tournaments, and CSK for eight years, so it was an emotional moment not to see myself in yellow.” Fans need no greater endorsement of their support.