Success in the gulf

Sunil Gavaskar…“the Indian Premier League has caught the imagination of the people in the UAE.”-Pics: PTI

Tickets for matches at the three venues in the United Arab Emirates were sold out a good three to four days before each contest. Even for matches of teams languishing at the bottom of the table, the stadia were full, writes A. Joseph Antony.

Sunil Gavaskar, the interim BCCI President for the Indian Premier League (IPL), was a contented man at the end of the first leg in the United Arab Emirates. There was enough reason for him to be so. As he appropriately listed in his assessment, Gavaskar was satisfied with the response of the fans.

One chain of hypermarkets selling tickets for matches at all the three venues put up ‘sold out’ placards a good three to four days before each contest. Even for matches of teams languishing at the bottom of the table, the stadia were full.

“We have been absolutely blown away by the crowds, even for the 2.30 p.m. games. We initially thought 6.30 p.m. games wouldn’t be an issue, but 19 out of the 20 games have been a sell-out. So that’s a sign of how the IPL has caught the imagination of the people here,” the Little Master said.

“Viewership for the opening match was bigger than in 2013 — 4.4 versus 4.1 ratings. Compared to the first seven days of the last season, the online viewership has doubled — 12 million compared to 6 million. Page views on the website have been 50% higher until April 26 — 89 million page views. On Facebook we have had six million likes. At the end of 2013, there were 3.3 million. On Twitter, there were 1.4 million followers when compared to the 1 million last year. The Indian Premier League is the first Indian brand to achieve this,” Gavaskar pointed out.

Looking back he said, “It wasn’t easy to move the IPL here in short time. The authorities and the stadiums have delivered exactly what they had promised. I very strongly feel that there are five major stakeholders — the biggest being the fans, then the players, the media, the administrators and the sponsors.

“If all of us work together, we will be able to take the game forward, not just Indian cricket, but world cricket. Like the five fingers of your hand, everything will not be the same, but if they come together, it forms a fist, much stronger than each finger,” said the legendary batsman turned broadcaster.

On the street, casual conversation veered round to whether the residents of the UAE were short on entertainment and therefore thronged the IPL games. As one resident rightly put it, in the UAE, they were never short of enjoyable evenings, especially in the past decade at least. Not only is there a Formula One track in Abu Dhabi, but Dubai has a motor city, if not a dedicated sports city. Sports facilities, mostly football grounds, dot the landscape.

THE RESPONSE of the fans in the United Arab Emirates to the IPL was remarkable. "We have been absolutely blown away by the crowds," said Sunil Gavaskar, the interim BCCI President for the IPL.-Pics: PTI

There are many resorts and cultural centres that attract the most popular of artistes from varied fields. For instance, a resort not far from the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi offers golf among other sports. Neatly manicured lawns attract large numbers of expatriates from the western world.

From movie promotions to TV channels’ awards programmes, Dubai is a preferred destination with the calendar chock-a-block with events almost through the year.

While officials in the UAE look up to India as the big daddy of cricket from whom much can be learned, the BCCI mandarins could take a leaf out of their more recent affiliates’ book in terms of organisational management. It was largely a hassle-free entry for those with valid tickets and passes, with clearly demarcated zones and points of admission.

Gavaskar’s other observations could well come as the icing on the cake. “The thing that I stressed on when I took over is that the game should be played hard but fair. I spoke to the captains and coaches on the eve of the tournament and I made that point.

“All the players are role models, with youngsters watching the game and the terrific TV coverage we have. We all grew up trying to emulate our heroes and being impressionable, we do what they do. If my hero gets away with bad behaviour, so can I. Happy to see that so far, we have had several instances of great sporting spirit.”

He was too happy to illustrate the point. “In the first game itself, Jacques Kallis asked the fielder if he had caught the catch cleanly and then walked off. Players have signalled to umpires when they haven’t caught the ball cleanly, or when the ball has gone over the boundary. These are encouraging signs,” Gavaskar said.

“It is a competitive sport and people will go over the line at times. When that happens, match referees step in. Early signs have been good. Sporting spirit is something we are delighted about. It will help the future generations as well,” he concluded.

THE SCORES

April 28, 2014: Bangalore Royal Challengers 124 for eight in 20 overs (Yuvraj Singh 35, S. Sharma three for 15) lost to Kings XI Punjab 127 for five in 18.5 overs (V. Sehwag 32, D. Miller 26).

April 29: Rajasthan Royals 152 for five in 20 overs (A. Rahane 72, S. Watson 33) tied with Kolkata Knight Riders 152 for eight in 20 overs (G. Gambhir 45, S. Yadav 31, Shakib Al Hasan 29 not out, J. Faulkner three for 11). One-over eliminator: Kolkata Knight Riders 11 for 1 lost to Rajasthan Royals 11 for no loss on the most boundaries scored count.

April 30: Hyderabad Sunrisers 172 for five in 20 overs (K. Rahul 46, D. Warner 65) beat Mumbai Indians 157 for seven in 20 overs (A. Rayudu 35, K. Pollard 78).