Monday, June 2, 2008

IPL: BIGGER THAN BIG AND GETTING BIGGER


The inaugural Indian Premier League tournament has ended in a befitting climax. A last ball win for Shane Warne led Rajasthan Royals over MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in a carnival like atmosphere has left millions of Indians thirsting for more.

In an earlier post, I had written that the future is ‘Glamricket’. This heady, win-win mixture of glamour and cricket, christened ‘cricketainment’ by CNN-IBN, has proved everybody wrong: the future is already here. No one, absolutely no one, ever imagined the kind of impact the very first tournament based on an untried format of privately owned mixed city teams would make. Doubting Singhs and Sharmas, which included cricketers, were many while those who thought that this T20 format would be an instant hit were few. The general consensus was that IPL would become big over a period of time only.

44 days, 59 games 17,937 runs, 689 wickets later, with high drama and a heavy dose of top stars and leggy cheerleaders thrown in for free, no one is in any doubt that the IPL is already bigger than big. Already the mother of all Bollywood blockbusters – move over Gabbar Singh – IPL will not only get bigger than can be imagined but will also spawn a revolution in the way all forms of cricket will be played in future.


Even before the final was played in a jam packed stadium on June 01, 2008, Lalit Modi, the commissioner of the IPL, was talking about having the tournament twice a year, in May and September, from 2011 onwards. Then he was called greedy and mad by some followers of the game for trying to milk the IPL cow to the death of ‘normal’ cricket. Even Virendra Sehwag, captain of Delhi Daredevils warned that this would lead to premature retirement of many players. There were also many who felt that too much of T20 cricket would lead to viewer fatigue.

Now that the tournament has ended, leaving millions of viewers who had got used to their daily dose of glamour and exciting cricket in an unprecedented vacuum, there is little doubt that Indians are more than willing to watch a lot more of such ‘reality shows’. If 44 days have not bored or fatigued them, 88 days will not. On the contrary, that may excite them even more. For the team owners, this almost insatiable demand is great news with the smell of a terrific amount of money and publicity. They are set to rake it in really big time, much to the glee of players as well as the BCCI, the other beneficiaries of this rather unexpected rain of big bucks. So, don’t be surprised if the IPL becomes a biannual affair well before 2011.


The balance of power in cricket has changed decisively forever, as I had mentioned in an earlier post. The ICC and BCCI will no longer exercise absolute control over the world of cricket as they have done quite unimaginatively till now. Why, the BCCI was actually against the IPL to start with. It was the rebel ICL’s T20 tournament that compelled the BCCI to start one of its own in a jiffy, simply to beat competition. Again, BCCI President Sharad Pawar was quick to shoot down Modi’s proposal for having the IPL tournament twice a year on the ground that the ICC’s crammed schedule had slotted IPL only once a year for the next seven years.

Who can understand this fundamental shift in the structure of world cricket better than Sachin Tendulkar? Not yet fully recovered from an injury, Sachin turned out to play for the Mukesh Ambani owned Mumbai Indians team in the latter half of the tournament, with his team missing out a semi final berth after three heart breaking last ball defeats. After the Mumbai Indians were eliminated, Sachin ruled himself out for playing for the country in the forthcoming series against Bangladesh and the Asia Cup. He also gave a thumbs up to the IPL because he believes it will help globalise cricket.

It is not just the IPL which going to get bigger, better, more frequent and a lot more glamorous. Test and One Day cricket, played so far between nations is also set to go the IPL way. Mixed teams, owned by ultra rich individuals like Mukesh Ambani will emerge in these two formats too. Rules of the game may also be substantially altered to make it more exciting and fast paced. This will be accompanied by an unprecedented push to take the game to many more countries.

With more and more money at stake both for the owners of teams and an increasing number of players not restricted to those playing for national teams, international cricket between teams representing their countries will drastically reduce and will most likely be limited to four yearly World Cups only eventually. The ICC’s present schedule is going to be thrown out sooner than one might imagine now. ‘Club’ cricket is set to change the world of cricket forever.

With the benefit of eye popping hindsight provided by IPL, it is clear that the unimaginativeness of the ICC and cricket boards of member countries is responsible for the almost total stagnation of cricket since it was first played. Thanks to them, cricket is no longer the main sport in the country of its birth, England, and is losing ground to other sports in other cricket playing nations too. In fact, the game has survived only because one billion Indians have continued to support it enthusiastically. And they have done so because there is no other sport in which India matches up to top international levels and because, somehow, Bollywood has always provided the dash of glamour for which Indians clamour.

The floodgates of change have been opened by the enormously successful inaugural tournament of the Indian Premier League. Cricket looks set for unprecedented, explosive growth. Ossified purists may say whatever they may want to in their isolated towers. But henceforth, almost all changes will be determined mainly by spectator and viewer feedback and pushed through by alert and dynamic team owners, the new centres of power. That is the way it should be, for a game is played for the enjoyment of those who pay to keep it going and not for those who are stuck in a time machine.