Exciting fare in store

Defending champion Chennai Super Kings has the most settled look among the 10 teams.-K.R.DEEPAK

With its first steps now a thing of the past, the Indian Premier League is all set for another surge though it would be interesting to observe how the globe's leading players cope with the Twenty20 frenzy after expending their energies and emotions in the World Cup, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Film producers are a nervous wreck these days. Gone are those days when they could lap up a big summer release while the holiday season ensured a better box-office draw. The Indian Premier League is back and once the first ball is bowled on April 8, evenings for those who calculate balance sheets in Bollywood and Kollywood, would be one of melancholy.

The fourth season of the tournament that was ironically considered to be a threat to the 50-over format and the World Cup is upon us but it has not been an easy ride so far. Lalit Modi, the face of the IPL, until the last edition, is on the run. A tweet that pitted him against Shashi Tharoor altered the Union Cabinet and the after-effects finally set a chain of events in motion that erased Modi's footprints from the IPL.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India belatedly stepped in, ownership patterns were scrutinised and King's XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals were barred from the tournament. To make it worse, the consortium that won the bid for the Kochi team, suddenly failed to come to an understanding about financial issues.

A sense of unease prevailed until it became a tale of all's well that ends well at least for the aggrieved teams. King's XI, Rajasthan Royals and Kochi Tuskers Kerala were back in the fray while Modi continues to remain grounded in London and remains wary of a tussle with the Enforcement Directorate officials in India.

The tournament that was in the news for all the wrong reasons now needs to counter viewer-fatigue that might creep in as the fans have been fed on an overdose of cricket starting with the biggest trophy — the World Cup. For team owners too, the biggest challenge is to cope with freshly formed squads as the three-year contracts signed with the players in 2008, expired and a fresh auction in Bangalore, threw up newer and at times strange combinations like Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds turning out for the same team — Mumbai Indians!

Lalit Modi, the face of the IPL until the last edition, has been sacked and the role has gone to Chirayu Amin (below).-K.R. DEEPAK

Defending champion Chennai Super Kings has the most settled look among the 10 teams. Coach Stephen Fleming pointed out that the squad opted for a sense of continuity and retained and successfully bidded for its core players starting with captain M. S. Dhoni though Muttiah Muralitharan and L. Balaji slipped out as the bids got skewed in the auction. Other teams mostly scrambled around for new players as old loyalties snapped.

King's XI Punjab lost Yuvraj Singh (Pune Warriors), Delhi Daredevils lost Gautam Gambhir (Kolkata Knight Riders) and Yusuf Pathan moved from Rajasthan Royals to Kolkata Knight Riders. Meanwhile Royal Challengers Bangalore went low on local content with Vinay Kumar, Manish Pandey, B. Akhil and a few other Bangaloreans moving to other franchises. With the churn in all the teams as new personnel step in, the group that melds together quickly will last the distance while players like Irfan Pathan (Delhi Daredevils) and Robin Uthappa (Pune Warriors) will feel the pressure of performing up to the high expectations placed on them through the high bids they evoked in the auction.

Team owners also showed that they are now much more hard-nosed about their choices. Ask Messrs Sourav Ganguly and Brian Lara, who did not evoke a single bid and will now remain a memory for their die-hard fans. A legend like Anil Kumble has graciously walked away but fans can still relish the exploits of Sachin Tendulkar, who will continue to turn out for Mumbai Indians.

The two new teams — Pune Warriors and Kochi Tuskers Kerala — would be watched with interest. The Kochi team's dressing room is truly an interesting mix as it has exasperating local lad S. Sreesanth among two cricketers — V. V. S. Laxman and Mahela Jayawardene — who can even give monks a complex with their ability to stay calm under duress.

The IPL has thrown up surprises and new heroes ever since its first ball was bowled in Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium on April 18, 2008. In the inaugural edition, Shane Warne inspired Rajasthan Royals to a title triumph. In 2009 when general elections forced a shift in the venue with South Africa turning out to be the host, Deccan Chargers emerged on top while Adam Gilchrist showed the way. It is another matter that Gilchrist will turn out for King's XI in the latest edition. Last year with the IPL returning to India, Dhoni proved that his midas touch is intact as he helped Chennai Super Kings race towards the podium.

With its first steps now a thing of the past, the IPL is all set for another surge though it would be interesting to observe how the globe's leading players cope with the Twenty20 frenzy after expending their energies and emotions in the World Cup. The International Cricket Council's leading lights — Sharad Pawar and Haroon Lorgat — have been reiterating about how the 50-over format is here to stay but the game's governing body would do well to look into the shrinking career spans of international cricketers. Shaun Tait, at 28, has retired while he blithely said that he would explore his avenues in Twenty20 cricket!

PTI

The IPL may garner a fresh audience and extend the willow game's influence into fresh territories but if players opt for the easy money and skip their battle for the national cap, the game will lose its heroes at a rapid pace. It is a price that cricket cannot afford to pay. Tests remain the pinnacle and one-day cricket has its charms and it is time administrators and cricketers stop playing lip-service and focus on striking a balance between the game's three formats.

The IPL will conclude on May 28 and by then there will be clear-cut answers about whether the fans do have the appetite to lap it up despite the exhaustion of embracing the highs and lows of the World Cup. The tournament has surely come a long way from those days when Gilchrist squeamishly admitted to ‘feeling like cattle in an auction!' The players and public so far have taken to it with ease and for IPL chairman Chirayu Amin that is half the battle won.