Sunday June 3, 2012
Indian Premier League wins hearts
By Coomi Kapoor
The best value for money was provided by a set of cricket players who were bought cheap but performed excellently.
All is well that ends well. Well, almost. Amidst a series of unsavoury controversies, the fifth season of Indian Premier League (IPL) was acclaimed a success when it concluded last week.
The festival of cricket had become a huge brand, attracting large audiences to stadiums across the country. The made-for-television Twenty: 20 cricket in its fifth season was also the biggest draw on the small screen, fetching huge sums in sponsorship fees for the franchisee teams.
In the finals last Sunday, actor Shah Rukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders beat the home team, Chennai Super Kings (CSK), against the odds. The CSK, led by Mohinder Singh Dhoni had won the IPL trophy last two seasons. Khan had featured in one of the more unpleasant incidents connected with IPL-V. After his team beat Mumbai Indians, owned by the country’s richest family, the Ambanis of the Reliance Group of Industries, at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, he was involved in an abusive wordy duel with sports officials and security men. Taking a stern note of his misconduct, the local cricket association had banned his entry in the stadium for five years. The actor came in for widespread criticism for his abusive behaviour.
As if that was not enough, an Australian member of liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s team, Royal Challengers, Bangalore, was accused of molestation by an American woman staying in the same team hotel in New Delhi. She also alleged that the Australian cricketer had assaulted her boyfriend when the latter came to her rescue. Following a police complaint, the Australian was arrested and released on a personal bond. However, a couple of days later she withdrew her complaint, insisting an amicable settlement had been reached with the accused.
But no less damaging was the sting operation carried out by a Hindi television news channel which showed five members of various IPL teams talking loosely about underhand payments, match-fixing, alcohol abuse and girls in the after-match parties. The five players, none of them part of the playing elevens, were immediately suspended by their respective teams.
Yet, the sting operation gave the IPL critics another reason to dub it as non-cricket. A couple of politicians demanded a ban on IPL, saying it was all about black money, illegal betting, alcohol and women.
However, this was the view of a minuscule minority. The tournament had caught the fancy of Indians. Not unlike the English Premier League, IPL franchisees, named after all big metros, had now developed a large group of loyal fans.
This writer, not much of a cricket enthusiast, was unhappy when the Delhi Daredevils, who had topped the nine-team league table, were eliminated at the semi-final stage. Tens of thousands of other Delhiites were sad over the way the Delhi Daredevils had faltered at the penultimate stage.
Indeed, the way half of Kolkata turned up to greet Kolkata Knight Riders on their triumphant return from Chennai on Tuesday, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee joining the public celebrations, it was clear that the IPL brand had struck deep roots in the cricket-crazy nation. Large crowds of boisterous fans keen to get a close glimpse of the KKR players and its star-owner Shah Rukh Khan pushed and shoved, causing the police to use a mild cane charge.
In its fifth version, IPL has also proved wrong those critics who argued that the short form of cricket militated against intrinsic talent and skills. The fact that the best known international cricketers played for IPL teams and matched their skills against the top Indian cricketers was proof enough that Twenty: 20 was no child’s play. It required grit, talent and, of course, cricketing brains to make a mark in IPL.
As a platform for discovering fresh talent, there is nothing better than IPL. The latest version, for instance, threw up new players while some of the established ones failed to come good. The Jamaican, Chris Gayle, a leading member of the Royal Challengers, Bangalore, is now a household name in India, thanks to his hard-hitting feats with the bat. He was the most valuable player of IPL-V.
However, best value for money was provided by a set of players who were bought cheap but performed excellently. For instance, hitherto unknown A.M. Rahane shone as a batsman for Rajasthan Royals, scoring far more runs than any of his team mates who had been paid several times more by way of annual fees by the franchisees.
That the best of players can falter whether it is a five-day Test match or a Twenty: 20 underlines the chancy nature of cricket. Thus, a number of marquee players disappointed in IPL-V. The iconic batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, did not justify his US$1.8mil (RM5.8mil) pay for this season, failing to come good in most of the 13 matches he played. Likewise, Yusuf Pathan did not justify his US$2.1mil (RM6.7mil) pay from KKR this season.
Some of the other IPL stats were no less revealing. Nearly two million fans paid to see IPL matches in various stadiums. IPL action was seen live on television by over 160 million. A hundred million saw it online. A good percentage of women saw IPL matches in stadiums while others saw it live on TV. IPL franchisees together were valued at nearly US$400mil (RM1.3bil). Beginning this season, a couple of franchisees, led by KKR, are set to make profit.
So, despite all the controversies, IPL is here to stay. It may not be what fans know as traditional cricket, a slow, languid five-day affair with enough time for players to showcase their finer skills. Yet, Twenty:20 is cricket, too.
To use an example from the media, the proponents of quality, broadsheets might insist that they alone represent the best of journalism, but the truth is that even tabloids can be classy, well-written and well-produced.
In any case, the thing about Twenty: 20 is that it has brought back fans in tens of thousands to the stadiums, while five-day cricket languishes for want of spectators.