Mother of all cricket leagues

The Indian Premier League is here to stay with its massive sixes, bank-busting crores, hyper-ventilating commentators, the rags-to-riches cricketers and its general air of ‘all is well with the world.’ Whether it will eventually sound the death knell for cricket’s longer formats only time will tell.

Mumbai Indians players revel after pulling off a thrilling one-run win against Rising Pune Supergiant in the final of the 2017 IPL in Hyderabad.   -  AP

A nerve-wracking last-ball finish marked a perfect end to the 2017 Indian Premier League (IPL). Mumbai Indians scored a one-run victory against Rising Pune Supergiant in the summit clash, in Hyderabad, on May 21. It was fitting that the climax had enough twists and turns to put even the most riveting Bollywood pot-boiler in the shade.

Truth be told, the IPL has largely dished out a gripping fare despite raising the hackles of the purists who swear by Test cricket and the tenacity of batting on a wearing fifth-day pitch. As a brand, the IPL has grown right from that inaugural game at Bengaluru’s M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on April 18, 2008, when Brendon McCullum’s 73-ball 158 injected adrenaline into the league and powered Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to a 140-run victory against Royal Challengers Bangalore.

In its early years, the IPL was such a humongous television spectacle that even the release of films, cutting across languages and budgets, were delayed. ‘Avoid a clash with the IPL,’ was the mantra of many box-office gurus. Gradually, the viewership began to crystallise around team loyalties, and as the league’s following seemingly stabilised, movies began to breathe easy. This summer, for instance, Baahubali 2 was released to a thundering ovation.

Matthew Hayden and Suresh Raina (left) share a light moment during a Chennai Super Kings training session in 2010. The IPL, with its mix of national players and international stars, helps break traditional barriers of nationhood and lets disparate individuals find a common ground.   -  S. Subramanium

The novelty of the IPL has waned and there is an easy acceptance of the format that has become so relevant to the Indian summer, like the desire for mangoes. Gone are the days when an IPL player-auction drew gasps. Now even crores seem like small change, as every year franchises break the bank to snare their favourite player. That famous Adam Gilchrist quote about the inaugural auction — “There was a little element of feeling like a cow. But it’s interesting and unique. There is a slight uneasiness. But let us allow it to settle down.” — now sounds archaic.

It is the nature of the beast that players are picked based on both talent and their ability to lure brands. For instance, a Yuvraj Singh often triggers a bidding war because of his skills and the belief that corporates, seeing the southpaw within the ranks, might jump into the team with co-sponsorships. “He helps draw brands and improves team visibility,” a team owner once said.

However, it is also the curse of the IPL that the fine print of big money blues meant the whiff of corruption was just a breath away. The League witnessed a spot-fixing and gambling scandal in 2013, which effectively ended India fast bowler and Rajasthan Royals player S. Sreesanth’s career besides imposing a two-year ban on Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals.

At a cricketing level, the bigger heartbreak centred on Sreesanth. “He is a guy, who with his talent, could have easily got 300 Test wickets, what a waste of talent, what a tragedy!,” quipped a former India captain.

Take a higher plane, and when you cast a wider gaze, it sinks in that the IPL, not exactly a Frankenstein, almost devoured its parent body, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

The then BCCI president N. Srinivasan’s attempt to protect his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan, who was part of the CSK hierarchy and yet preferred to bet on the sly, meant that the Supreme Court’s unerring gaze fell on the League. The machinations of Lalit Modi, the then IPL czar, also came into focus and soon the cozy club was rendered redundant.

It eventually led to the setting up of the Justice R. M. Lodha Committee and the resultant censure of the BCCI. The clean-up meant that many entrenched officials were shown the door and a Committee of Administrators (CoA) took charge of the BCCI as a temporary measure. If the IPL was supposed to launch fireworks only on the field of play, it did much more and almost held a blinding mirror to the Indian board.

The League’s shadow may seem bereft of hope and might reek of nepotism and shady deals. Yet, it has its redeeming points. The IPL helped many domestic cricketers find a better life. Often a Ranji player hopes for a berth in the Indian squad, toils hard, stagnates and retires without much in his bank. But thanks to the IPL, it is possible to spend a cricketing career away from the national colours and yet laugh all the way to the bank.

A Palani Amarnath, to cite one example, found riches through CSK and though he has subsequently faded away, he found financial stability. Every auction throws up similar tales, like it happened with Karnataka’s mystery spinner K. C. Cariappa, who was picked by Kolkata Knight Riders for Rs. 2.4 crore in the 2015 auction.

The League also helped a universal kinship and to understand its significance, we need to know the context. Much before cricket turned ultra competitive, even beyond the ropes and in the change rooms, there was a tradition of rivals bonding over a beer. That practice has weakened a bit though some squads do swap their mugs and quaff the frothy liquid. Recently, the Indian team turned down Australian captain Steve Smith’s offer to share a beer after an acrimonious Test series.

The IPL, with its mix of national players and international stars, helps break traditional barriers of nationhood and lets disparate individuals find a common ground. It could be a Matthew Hayden and a Suresh Raina sharing a PlayStation, or a Chris Gayle and a Virat Kohli shaking a leg. There was also this mother of miracles when Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh forgot the scars of their ‘Monkeygate’ controversy, slipped on their Mumbai Indians’ jersey and had a laugh.

Preferring the T20 outfits to his country’s Test whites or ODI colours? Chris Gayle has been playing in various Twenty20 leagues around the world. It is a tragedy that the West Indies cricket administration did not give Gayle, who has scored two triple centuries in Tests, due respect.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

 

The frenzied nature of the sport and the high stakes that the owners have invested into their teams meant that the pressure on the players is immense. The result is that cricketers have stayed sharp, the fielding has been acrobatic and the strokes acquire rainbow shades of innovation. A Steve Smith indulging in a reverse-hit for six in the recent final is a case in point. Eventually, all this finds expression in international cricket too, and that is good for the game.

A heartening development now is that, finally the bowlers are finding their voice in a batsman’s game. The just-concluded IPL threw up more bowling heroes than batting marauders.

If imitation is a tribute to success, then the IPL has done remarkably well. Australia has the Big Bash and there are leagues sprouting elsewhere. And that could also mean that many players might turn freelancers, preferring the Twenty20 outfits to their country’s Test whites or ODI colours. Chris Gayle is busy with multiple Twenty20 franchises and it is also a tragedy that the West Indies cricket administration did not give him the respect he deserved. For all his muscular strikes in various leagues, let us not forget that he has two triple centuries in Tests.

The IPL’s rush and the money it offers could also mean that, in the long run the two-decade-long blue chip international career like the ones witnessed through Sachin Tendulkar’s glorious tenure, may become rare. South African legend AB de Villiers, at 33, is already trying to cherry-pick the games he plays.

As for the League, it is here to stay with its massive sixes, bank-busting crores, hyper-ventilating commentators, the rags-to-riches cricketers and its general air of ‘all is well with the world.’ Whether it will eventually sound the death knell for cricket’s longer formats only time will tell.