IPL 2012 season review May 28, 2012

The IPL earns its cricket cred

The league came of age on the field, but was well short of its crease as a TV spectacle

On a steamy Chennai night, IPL 5 had a finish that it could not have dreamed of or prayed for, with all the good bits of an entire season coming together in symbolic representation.

Major finals tend to be flat and forgettable because the occasion ends up too big, the teams too tense. The 2010 World Cup football final will be remembered for a boot in the ribs, the 2011 World Cup rugby final was a dour, defensive struggle that the All Blacks endured. The World Cup cricket final a year ago ended splendidly for India but left its audience so emotionally exhausted that IPL 4 was played to vast tracts of empty stands and dipping TV ratings.

After 2012, however, the IPL lives again, breathes again and makes some good news again. On Sunday, there was a full stadium at Chepauk for the first time since the World Cup, a new champion, a successful chase of 191, nine needed off the last over, players sweating buckets, spectators sweating anxiety.

If anything has rescued the IPL from its turkey of a 2011, and lifted it, regardless of a frequency of allied scandals, it is its cricket and its crowds.

Over seven weeks, the IPL's presence spread through its audience like the heat of a genuine Indian summer. An annual league that takes far longer than the football, cricket and rugby world cups actually produced memories that may just survive the season. Dale Steyn bowling pure poison in four-over bursts, the pure bafflement caused by Sunil Narine, Ajinkya Rajane's clean strokeplay and Chris Gayle's fiercest statements of independence - this even before Bisla and Kallis snatched the trophy eastwards.

There was enough of the Twenty20 format's madness in there too. Even before the final week, as many as 22 - or 30% - of the total 72 matches ended in the last over. Not including the final, there were 18 last-over victories to batting teams, seven chases ending on the last ball - all, it must be said, in the batting side's favour.

The IPL's popularity in the global cricket village, due to its enormous financial rewards for two months' work, is well known. Its cricketing advantages are much advertised. Yet what underscored the league's sustainability after a dry run in 2011 was the crowds who turned up at every venue. Every franchise can now have ticket sales as a genuine source of income beyond the BCCI's media rights handouts - which will begin to shrink in size as the league gets older - and shirt sponsorships.

The idea of an evening's entertainment through cricket - eight matches over two months in a city near you - was bought into by a very wide Indian demographic. A media industry executive finds the IPL "more inclusive than going to a Test match". The league, she says, is Indian cricket's "baby pool" and its "shallow end" where "you can paddle around and be happy". The sight of casually dressed stars, with Nita Ambani "sitting in the stadium with the guy who has bought the cheapest ticket … that has something that connects with India".

The IPL has been given the healthiest signs of relevance and, with it, profitability by the cricketer and his fan. Now there is an opportunity for payback, for Indian cricket to give to its spectators what has been owed to them for decades: gratitude and appreciation at their presence, and the chance to make a trip to a high-profile match in India worth the trouble.

What remains to be calculated, though, is the earnings from television. The IPL's TV coverage matters, not because it is central to the IPL's cricket but because it is central to the IPL's financial success. In two of three parameters - ad rates and TV ratings - there have been dips, which the experts are calling "course correction". The ratings fell from 4.81 in 2008 to 3.27, when a count was done at 68 matches, in 2012. The surge in crowd figures at venues did not translate on to the TV screen, the 3.27 being down even from the 3.39 of 2011.

According to the Hindu Business Line, the ad rate that began at Rs 5 lakh (US$9000 approx) for a 10-second advert dropped by 25%, though Rohit Gupta of Set Max told the paper it had only dropped "5-10%". The parameter being most widely circulated is that of the cumulative reach of viewership - from around 102 million in 2008 to just under 160 million in 2012. It means more people are watching the IPL, but for shorter periods of time.

It could have something to do with the coverage. Unlike the standard of cricket, which may have risen over five seasons thanks to better-prepared players and smarter backroom moves, the quality of the pre-game show Extraaa Innings and the live match coverage has continued to nosedive.

Extraaa Innings is handled by the TV producers Set Max, a Sony network channel in India that normally airs Hindi movies. The match coverage is directly under the control of the organisers IMG, who in turn are watched by the BCCI, which controls the panel of presenters and commentators for the IPL. So if there are fingers to be pointed, they must point at both the parties involved. Sadly, the commentary and studio chatter undermined the high-quality camerawork - with Ultra Motion, Spider Cam and HD-TV, the game can come much closer to its audience.

In the IPL's fifth year, the wriggling between an old-fashioned, opaque, patriarchal organisation and its new 21st century revenue-generating 'property' remains evident and constant

Every game had commentary in English but the pre-game show lapsed frequently into Hindi - a new push that is believed to be the result of a massive survey conducted by Set Max, but most of it, it appears, in the part of India called "the Hindi heartland", which speaks the language of the soaps televised on Sony. Yet of the nine franchises, six come from outside that Hindi-speaking belt. Go figure.

The studio experts approved by the BCCI included Ajay Jadeja, whom it had banned for five years (overturned by the Delhi High Court in 2003) following the Madhavan Committee report on match-fixing, and perhaps the two loudest people on cricket television: Navjot Sidhu and Danny Morrison. It was as if Twenty20 in itself was declared not "entertaining'' enough unless the commentariat started shouting.

In the league's fifth season, this strategy ends up preaching to the converted: India loves Twenty20, breakaway leagues have flourished at state level blessed or cursed by regional cricket associations, the audience loves the party, can generate its own noise and will wave any flag given free. Ramping it up with stand-up comedy, film and TV promos, and cake-consuming crassness is overdoing it. The IPL's audience in India was given a great gift in some very tawdry packaging.

The IPL's defence has always been its money talk. So, if it is ready to buy into one set of figures, it is only fair that those figures hold over time. Brand Finance India, whose UK arm had valued the IPL at$4.13 billion in 2010, has now said the league is now worth $2.92b. Whatever the numbers may be, the consulting firm's conclusions tell another story: when judged on cricketing excellence, corporate governance, and marketing and commercial strategies, it was the second element that was considered the league's weakest link.

The very idea of the BCCI and "corporate governance" in the same sentence is ambitious. In the IPL's fifth year, the wriggling between an old-fashioned, opaque, patriarchal organisation and its new 21st century revenue-generating 'property' with nine high-profile investors/participants remains evident and constant. The scandals are the least of it.

An industry insider says the public response has been rather blasé because the general positioning of the IPL was of a "tamasha". So the sting operation, Shah Rukh Khan's bust-up, the Pomersbach saga, "all of this kind of stuff just adds to the tamasha. People see it, they accept it. The scandal is going on in society, not in the IPL. I don't think people are shocked, for them it's another tamasha." Tamasha translates as 'a grand show, performance, representation, entertainment'.

On Sunday, Anil Kumble was heard saying on television that the credibility of the IPL would rest on "more discussion about off-field issues". In his mind, young domestic cricketers needed tending in how to cope with two months in the blinding spotlight. Given that the IPL's sporting quotient is expected to be authentic, the tamasha could become par for the course. Of the entire set of scandals that erupted in the space of a week, the sting operation that was centred around spot-fixing and black-money transactions required the most attention; the rest - SRK v MCA, Pomersbach and the rave party raid - were reflective of a culture of high-earning, high-spending celebrity entitlement now commonly found in Indian public life.

In its fifth season, the IPL is a creature of multiple personalities: to start with, the Indian board's own definition of it as a "BCCI sub-committee". Which to the public eye is actually a cricket event. Which to its lucrative media vehicles means a summer entertainment show on TV. In 2012, the cricket event showed itself off in the glittering lights. The other two need some personal reinvention - much like the Kolkata Knight Riders required before they eventually won the IPL.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kannan on May 31, 2012, 9:05 GMT

    Water finds its own level. ICC must prioritize Tests, ODIs and T20s in that order given the fact that every country is likely to have their own T20 leagues in the future. In fact ICC NEEDS to have a WC for T20s and ODIs every 2 years, that way there's always be a WC every year to keep the cricket fan's adrenalin flowing. IPL is good for cricket, 'cos it keep the audience base from drifting to other sports. Sport itself competes for attention and time with the movies and the internet (social media). IPL has managed to make inroads and blend people occupied in these other zones into cricket and we must all be grateful for it. If Tests survive a 100yrs from now it would be 'cos IPL protected cricket! People fail to understand, that IPL's core audience base are the cricket fans and it is THEIR excitement that draws the others to the game. It doesn't matter if the OTHERS don't fully understand the nuances of the game, as long as they bring in the money! Eventually, they'll all learn.

  • Jay on May 30, 2012, 15:50 GMT

    Yes, it's become fashionable to bash BCCI. In his famous Bradman Oration, Rahul Dravid stressed that the "cliched image" of money & power in Indian cricket is a misconception. He said BCCI has "spread revenues" to all corners of the nation. It's primarily due to IPL-generated revenues. Rahul also expressed concern about empty stands. That was clearly not the case in IPL 5. Most noteworthy is BCCI's noble gesture (which Sharda ignores) in awarding monetary benefits of Rs 70 crores to former Indian Test/ODI players! These funds came from IPL 5 profits! In fact, the multiplier effect in the economy is felt not only in franchisee locations (hotels, transport, food, etc) but also in distant Hindi-speaking places like Meerut & Jalandhar - sources of many indigenous sports goods manufacturers. Franchisee locations aside, it's also about the target audience of remote viewers on TV, Internet & mobiles. As Rahul said: "The Indian cricket team is in fact, India itself, in microcosm"! IPL too!!

  • Jay on May 30, 2012, 15:41 GMT

    Sharda - Accept the new reality: The TV show is an amazing spectacle. Cricket is no longer stodgy or mired in the inner sanctums of elitist clubs. The enhanced coverage - with close-up, multi-angled & instant-replay shots - is superb. The broadcasts are livelier, the cross-cultural banter spirited, in sync with all the exciting on-field action. You may not like their style, but the international cricket experts - Morrison, Moody & Co alongside Gavaskar, Shastri & Co - lend a nuanced meaning to the "running commentary". Even the "Extraaa" show has bright spots: How come Sharda ignores the sublime balancing roles played by Isa Guha (expert) & Shibani Dandekar (co-host alongside Vijaya) with their unique "pardesi-desi" approach? Go figure. Most important, the main show on the field is outstanding. Overall IPL 5, by most measures, has achieved high customer satisfaction & product acceptance. The organizers (BCCI, IMG & Co) must be doing a whole lot of things right. Right, Sharda? (TBC)

  • Sharky on May 30, 2012, 12:35 GMT

    Sadly IPL success will be measured by profits in money rather than quality of cricket. But IPL is a 7 week spectacular cricket festival, with games of 3 and a half hours of action, girls, music and festive moods, specially designed for tv. Out of the 52 weeks a year, I feel that the 7 weeks cricket festival, once a year, is the perfect balance for me. Just as much as I like Test cricket and ODI's, this 7 week festival of cheerleading girls, slogging and wickets, and cricket madness are just as important to my balance. Well done IPL. See you next year.

  • Simon on May 30, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    The trouble is, while the standard of cricket may be on the up, it is still relatively poor. With a few exceptions (De Villiers, Kallis, Ghambir) the batting is still wild slogging (look at Gayle, he has a tremendous eye and massive strength but rarely plays a pleasing to the eye crciket stroke). Likewise the bowlers continually gift full tosses and half trackers at the death. Worst of all is the fielding. sur ethere are some stellar catches but there are also some incredible drops and basic misfields.

  • Sharky on May 30, 2012, 10:39 GMT

    This was the highest class competitive balanced IPL season so far. And my favorite. I love all the IPL's and felt the adrenaline when Shane Warne and the Rajasthan Royals won their first IPL in 2008. The second IPL in South Africa was also special with memorabile performances. And it felt great when the third IPL went back home. The fourth one was interesting and a bit dull. This IPL had up a degree of tricky difficulty, and as a fan of bowling, I love the fact that there were more low and slow scoring matches. For me it is more interesting when the bowler also have a bit of a chance to shine in 20/20 matches. And as an experienced old fan of cricket (long before the 20/20 games), I am sure most of the old real cricket fans will agree on this one, it is that the ultimate test in cricket is Test cricket. Therefore I had to watch the Test Series between Eng vs WI which was also brilliant to watch. But don't get me wrong, I've followed most of the IPL live and on the highlites channel.

  • Dummy4 on May 30, 2012, 9:00 GMT

    @ElBeeDubya Quality of your post along with your cricketing knowledge are VERY POOR. Sorry, but 70% of the matches were played on sporting pitches favouring bowlers and were LOW SCORING BELOW 150 OR EVEN 140 . which trundlers did you see in that cricinfo xi? kALLIS IS THE SLOWEST THERE. you are calling likes of Gayle,duplesis, gambhir one dimensional sloggers?

  • Nizam M. on May 30, 2012, 5:47 GMT

    "Tamasha" commentary on Extraa Innings only go to take the soul out of Cricket in IPL, - one possible reason for the TV ratings nose diving. TV viewers want to watch the play on the field of cricket and the multiple camera-angle coverage of the shades and nuances of the game that technology has made it possible today. They also want to see the principal actors on the field and the interplay of their emotions and reactions on what is happening OUT THERE, and NOT side-actors sitting it out in TV studios.

    One little gesture from Billy Bowden out there in the field speaks volumes much greater than 100,000 words from Sidhu or Jadeja or 10,000 stage-managed gesticulations from Sidhu. One camera panning the crowd and showing crowd reactions and moods adds more spice to the game and makes it a movable feast than hours of "Pundits" of the game delivering drab and boring diatribes. THE CAMERA KAMIKAZE shall possibly fetch IPL more TV viewers than all the "Experts" commentary in the studio.

  • Dummy4 on May 29, 2012, 22:12 GMT

    Mark Fuller - i care .. ipl fans care ..!!!

  • Ashwanth on May 29, 2012, 19:44 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas: "Nohit" Sharma... ROTFL :)

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