From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.14 :: Apr. 05, 2012

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CRICKET / IPL HISTORY

Will the fans pour in?

An examination of IPL's formative period becomes important as, surely, it has in store indicators of the current scenario besides portents for the future, writes Arun Venugopal.

PTI

Leading from the front… Shane Warne's conversion of a bunch of no-hopers into a winning outfit was a suitably poetic end to a rollercoaster inaugural IPL in 2008.

Chronicling the ‘history' of an entity stepping into only its fifth year would, in most cases, appear both premature and preposterous. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is probably an exception for it has found itself in an crazy, endless whirl of controversy, transformation and intrigue in a short period. Its inception in 2008 has doubtless swayed the balance of cricketing power towards India and the very process has been rapid yet assured.

It is from that context that an examination of IPL's formative period becomes important as, surely, it has in store indicators of the current scenario besides portents for the future.

2008
Charm of the unknown

Marquee players. Check. Feverish promotional activities. Check. Glamour quotient and film stars. Check. The inaugural edition of the IPL seemed to have everything in place — bottomless coffers; enhanced interest in the T20 format, courtesy India's victorious World Cup campaign in South Africa the previous year; and, critically, a large base of upwardly mobile consumers hungry for newer forms of entertainment.

But the animated anticipation among fans — a wonder drug ahead of the start of any event — hadn't hit top gear. On April 18, however, the singular, propulsive force of Brendon McCullum's bat shrugged off the dormancy and unravelled a glittering picture of the things to come. His unbeaten 73-ball 158 for Kolkata Knight Riders against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the opening match was just the kind of advertisement needed to woo the sceptic and re-establish a connection with the already-enthused spectator/viewer.

The quality of cricket in the tournament was on the higher side and even the puritans — who pooh-poohed the notion of ‘cricketainment' — couldn't be entirely dismissive of the fact. Moreover, the duration of games and the razzle-dazzle, provided by celebrities and cheerleaders, ushered in even those audiences who were anything but cricket buffs.

Such an eclectic brand was spiced up further by the many controversies that took centre-stage. The ‘slapgate' involving Harbhajan Singh and S. Sreesanth, while essentially being negative publicity, attracted a lot of attention.

There was also some outrage from sections of the political class over the ‘skimpy' outfits worn by cheerleaders. In the Wisden Almanack of 2009, Lawrence Booth wrote thus: “The imported cheerleaders, meanwhile, angered some sections of Indian society and shone an unforgiving light on others: two black British cheerleaders alleged they were temporarily prevented by organisers from taking the podium at a game in Mohali because of their colour.”

The defining story of IPL-1, though, was Rajasthan Royals' remarkable journey culminating in a last-ball victory over Chennai Super Kings in the final. Shane Warne's conversion of a bunch of no-hopers into a winning outfit was a suitably poetic end to a rollercoaster edition.

2009
Treading South African waters

In keeping with the template created in the first year, IPL-2 stuck to its suspense-filled path. If anything, the bizarre twists and turns had only multiplied. The auction emerged as the primary talking point: Andrew Flintoff (Chennai) and Kevin Pietersen (Bangalore) were the most expensive buys at $1.55 million each. Lalit Modi, then IPL Commissioner, triggered off a controversy recently by claiming that Flintoff's sale was rigged. “I shouldn't have let that (the rigging of Flintoff's sale) happen. I was arm-twisted to allow Andrew Flintoff to go to Chennai Super Kings.” Flintoff, nevertheless, played only three games for Chennai before returning home injured.

The big development, however, was the logistical coup that Lalit Modi & Co pulled off by shifting the tournament from India to South Africa in less than a month. The IPL's schedule clashing with the general elections in India meant security concerns were bound to crop up. The move happened at astonishing pace and the South African government was all too welcoming. “The numbers were almost universally huge, from the 1,000-plus visas the South African government issued in 24 hours (as opposed to the customary 10 working days) to more than 40,000 hotel-room nights, and the alleged $US50m by which South Africa's economy benefited,” wrote Neil Manthorp in the Wisden Almanack of 2010.

RAJEEV BHATT

S. Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh greeting each other during a press conference to announce the decision on the duo's 'Slapgate' incident in Mohali during IPL-1 in 2008. The incident, while essentially being negative publicity, attracted a lot of attention.

On the playing field, Deccan Chargers inverted the hierarchy as it followed up its last-place finish in IPL-1 with a memorable victory under Adam Gilchrist's leadership. Close on its heels was Bangalore, which finished runner-up after securing seventh place in the previous year. In terms of controversies, John Buchanan's multiple-captaincy theory took top honours. The resultant confusion and the alleged fissures in the Kolkata camp took the team straight to wooden spoon territory. The excruciatingly long ‘strategic timeout' was an agonising feature of IPL-2.

2010
Mongoose bats and fatal tweets

The year 2010 was a turbulent one for the IPL with many unprecedented problems coming to light. There were some expansions to start with as two new franchises — Sahara Pune Warriors and Kochi Tuskers — came into existence. Broadcasting matches on YouTube turned out to be a master stroke as record viewership was registered. According to the New York Times, “About 50 million viewers tuned in to YouTube's IPL channel. Approximately 40% of those viewers were outside India.”

There was a prominent scare in the wake of a low-intensity blast around the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. But it was to be only a minor blip as the match between Mumbai and Bangalore commenced after a delay. However, Modi's free fall began with his tweet about the details of stakeholders in the Kochi franchise. The indiscretion led to the resignation of Shashi Tharoor, a minister in the Indian government, and soon enough, Modi himself was ousted. In October, both Rajasthan and Kings XI Punjab were terminated for breaking ownership rules but were re-instated two months later.

Matthew Hayden's mongoose — a baby bat with a hulking middle and long handle — did grab attention as it was meant to but the runs remained elusive. Chennai — the most consistent team in the IPL — brought home its first silverware when it edged past Mumbai in a nervy final. M. S. Dhoni's jaw-thumping gesture after mounting an improbable chase against Punjab in the picturesque Dharamshala and Yusuf Pathan's 37-ball hundred versus Mumbai were the enduring images of IPL-3.

2011
Losing sheen

‘Change' was the operative word in IPL-4 as teams and players went through a major reshuffle.

Gautam Gambhir, bought for $2.4 million, took over as Kolkata's captain.

The Pathan brothers (Irfan and Yusuf), Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma and Saurabh Tiwary were some of the other beneficiaries of princely sums.

With 10 teams in the fray, the format was tweaked in the 74-match competition: the semifinals were replaced with two qualifiers and an eliminator. IPL-4 turned out to be a perpetuation of Chennai's dominant run, especially at home, as it racked up its second consecutive championship. Only Chris Gayle's pyrotechnics for Bangalore stole some of the spotlight.

There were a few simmering disputes as well, such as the one between Rajasthan Cricket Association Secretary Sanjay Dixit and Shane Warne.

The public response, last year, was no more than lukewarm.

A large part of the problem lay in the tournament's scheduling — it began within days of India's World Cup conquest. Viewer fatigue coupled with the increased number of matches proved to be the tournament's undoing.

Four months after the conclusion of the IPL, Kochi Tuskers was terminated for non-payment of the annual fee.

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