IPL 2013 April 2, 2013

The carnival's back in town

IPL 6 is a crucial season for the players with the big auction shuffle coming up next year

It may not be everyone's favourite tournament but an indicator of the IPL's status as the biggest annual competition in the cricketing calendar is the reduced number of bilateral series this season. While there have been plenty of calls for an official window, which the ICC has repeatedly ignored, the only series being played in April is the bottom-of-the-table clash between Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. And the next series is England v New Zealand, beginning in mid-May. Sri Lanka have reshaped their scheduled full tour of the Caribbean to a tri-series also involving India starting June, freeing up the Chris Gayles and Lasith Malingas to play the entire IPL, window or no window.

The line-up of controversies ahead of the tournament, several of which are only tangentially related to cricket, underlines the significance of the IPL in India. In Maharashtra, the opposition party doesn't want IPL matches to be held in the state due to the drought in region, claiming each venue will use up 2.16million litres of water during the tournament. In Karnataka, Kingfisher Airlines employees have threatened to disrupt IPL matches in protest at not receiving their salaries from Vijay Mallya, owner of Royal Challengers Bangalore. In Tamil Nadu, the chief minister has barred Sri Lankan IPL cricketers from playing in Chennai, after growing political tensions over the treatment of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka.

For the players, this season becomes particularly important since (almost) all of them go into the auction pool next year. That will mean additional pressure on the players, who will be well aware that a decent season this time could make them millionaires over the next few years. Just ask Saurabh Tiwary, whose 419 runs in 2010 earned him an enormous US$1.6m the following year. He has done little of note in the two seasons since, but continues to earn that fat salary from Royal Challengers. A lacklustre season, especially if you are an overseas player, and you could end up watching IPL 2014 from your couch at home.

Unlike the everything-changes season of 2014, this year fans will at least be able to easily identify with their teams as the core of most teams remains unchanged, and with mainly low-profile signings. Plenty of little-known cricketers earned big bucks - including Sri Lanka spinner Sachithra Senanayake, Australia fast bowler Kane Richardson, South Africa allrounder Chris Morris, Australia allrounder Glenn Maxwell - and there will be plenty of interest to see whether any of them can repeat the star-turn that Sunil Narine provided after pocketing a bagful at the 2012 auction.

The glaring exception to the trend of small names being bought was Ricky Ponting, the Australian legend who returns to the IPL after a four-year absence, and in a delicious twist will captain fellow great Sachin Tendulkar and his supposed bête noire Harbhajan Singh. With Anil Kumble also in as Mumbai's team mentor, most of the central characters of the Bollyline controversy of the 2008 Sydney Test will share a dressing room this season.

Ponting is one of the retired old guard that most fans can only watch at Twenty20 leagues like the IPL. A year after Adam Gilchrist said, "I have played my last game of cricket," he is back leading Kings XI Punjab for another season. There's also Muttiah Muralitharan, looking to prove he has as much guile two years after his international retirement as he did in his pomp. Sourav Ganguly may have finally hung up his boots but Rahul Dravid is still around, more than a year since he last turned out for India.

A new title sponsor has come on board, shelling out $72m for five years, nearly twice what the previous sponsor had paid; Deccan Chargers are no more a part of the IPL after defaulting on payment, but new owners were found for the franchise soon after, sold for a healthy $80m

Dravid is in charge of Rajasthan Royals, who are once again expected to find the going hard. As in the previous season, at the start of the tournament there seems to be two tiers of franchises in the competition - four out of Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Daredevils, Mumbai Indians, defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers are expected to progress from the league phase, with Royals, Kings XI Punjab, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Pune Warriors generally predicted to be also-rans.

Warriors are the most likely of the second lot to put up a serious challenge, bolstered by the return of Yuvraj Singh and the acquisition of New Zealand's Ross Taylor and Sri Lanka spinner Ajantha Mendis, though they will miss the experience of their first buy at the auction, Michael Clarke. Warriors could challenge Daredevils from the first group, as the loss of big-hitters in Kevin Pietersen and Taylor have weakened a team that has typically been among the favourites every year.

There have been plenty of changes in the IPL since tens of thousands of Kolkata Knight Riders fans thronged the streets of Kolkata to celebrate victory last season, several of which showcased how big a draw the IPL remains. A new title sponsor has come on board, shelling out $72m for five years, nearly twice what the previous sponsor had paid; Deccan Chargers are no more a part of the IPL after defaulting on payment, but new owners were found for the franchise soon after, sold for a healthy $80m.

Though the IPL continues to pull in the crowds, the television ratings in the past couple of years - while still very healthy - haven't matched the heady highs of the Lalit Modi years (TVRs of 3.45 in 2012, compared to 3.51 in 2011, well below the 5.51 reached in 2010). Two years ago, among the first lines of commentary in the IPL was about how the tournament had been instrumental in India winning the World Cup. One of the final lines of commentary of the recently concluded home international season before the 2013 tournament was Ravi Shastri informing us how the unexpected and unprecedented whitewash of Australia had "set India up nicely for the IPL".

While the breathless haste with which the IPL followed India's World Cup win hurt the tournament in 2011, India's appalling overseas run in England and Australia hit the ratings in 2012. This season, with the mood in India on the upswing after the Australia victory, the organisers will be hoping for a similar upswing in the ratings.

It still remains popular enough for Bollywood to consider holding back big releases till the end of the IPL season, but the league still has plenty of problems, with several franchises and franchise owners facing financial difficulties. In December, the Sahara group, owners of Pune Warriors and major sponsors of the Indian team, were ordered to pay back Rs 24,000 crores ($4.42billion) to their investors; Vijay Mallya's companies, owners of Royal Challengers, have been weighed down by his debt-ridden airline; in February, Rajasthan Royals were fined Rs 100 crore ($18.77 million) for violating India's foreign exchange laws, while both Royals and Kings XI Punjab were involved in a long legal battle with the organisers after they were threatened with expulsion for violating the IPL contract agreement.

Despite those troubles, the IPL is set to dominate the cricketing landscape for the next couple of months, with its usual mix of cricket, Bollywood and hype.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Lesley on April 4, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster Actually I'm a fan of cricket. If I have time, I will stop and watch matches on the village green as I go by. As with the IPL, I don't support a particular team, I don't know who plays for the teams, I just watch and enjoy. In the IPL, I have no idea who plays in which teams and struggle to recall the names given to each franchise. If I come across a match on television, I might watch it if it's good cricket but I'll move on if I'm not enjoying it and the advert breaks get too much for me. My life is cricket - I coach it - but in all honesty, professional T20 and the IPL in particular is my least favourite format to watch.

  • Raj on April 4, 2013, 0:37 GMT

    IPL is a win win situation for everyone...thats the reason its so successful and popular...The players love it,the teams love it, the indian fans love it and the sponsors love it...what else do we need. Everyone is happy ..And definetly the quality of cricket is top notch..all the worlds best play and excel here..Only the pakistanis are missing..I wish they would play in the future..

  • Abhijith on April 3, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    @cpt meanster if u hate tests wjhy were u commenting on Test match articles so its just like u...

  • Jay on April 3, 2013, 18:25 GMT

    Irrespective of what India do, be it the IPL or as a national team, some people will never acknowledge the good things we as a nation bring to the table. It's always about negativity and minuscule irregularities that draw the attention of non-Indians. They forget the bigger picture which is the dark side of humanity. It's like talking about American foreign policy forgetting about ALL the GOOD things America has given the world like the technology, Hollywood, NASA, basketball etc. So as an Indian supporter, I could care LESS to talk from such people and we have a few examples of them right here on Cricinfo. The IPL may be a cash cow, but it's India's property and we are PROUD of it.

  • Jay on April 3, 2013, 18:19 GMT

    @voice_of_reason: Yes, welcome to the fan club of the IPL. We know all of you 'haters' love the IPL. You are here just for some drama and atmosphere. You are welcome always. We all know how you guys secretly check the scores and follow each of the teams on twitter or facebook. So welcome ! welcome !

  • Lesley on April 3, 2013, 17:58 GMT

    @sweetspot is right. It is fun for the masses. A marketing triumph and cash cow for the BCCI. It is not a showcase of high quality cricket, whatever the commentators, administrators or players try to tell us. They wouldn't say anything else, would they? They get paid huge sums of money for their involvement. It can be exciting at times. It has a huge following in India. But it needs to be taken for what it is. A circus and not a showcase of the best that cricket has to offer.

  • Rajat on April 3, 2013, 17:26 GMT

    Yeah it can only be called a Carnival as there's no intensity in the Cricket which gets played on the pitch. Its a business which has given employment to a lot of professionals who are past their sell by date. Just watch the Big Bash league(Oz domestic T20), the intensity of the players & teams is worth watching and the level of T20 cricket which is played is far above what IPL has. The best international cricketers play IPL but with very low intensity. Guess thats the reason MSD chooses to rest for an International tour rather than IPL as he can make Billions in 1.5 months with no intense cricket!!

  • Jay on April 3, 2013, 16:31 GMT

    @abhiyog: Well hot shot, what has the ICC done to the game of cricket ? Just look at the UGLY head of the DRS issue even before talking about the IPL. Look at all the meaningless test matches played between unequal opposition. Look at the VAST difference in class between teams playing at HOME and AWAY. Can it get any uglier than test cricket in this day and age ? I mean.. I am being practical. T20 virtually eliminates subtle differences between teams and keeps both parties at play which is HOW it SHOULD be in sport. This is why American sport is the BEST in the world. They keep their teams competitive man to man. The IPL and T20 cricket is like that in many ways. So why all the hate ? If you guys hate IPL so much, then why even bother reading these articles ?! Haha.. makes me giggle to no end.

  • Abhijith on April 3, 2013, 15:48 GMT

    To all IPL fans i agree that IPL attracts lots of fans but it only helps BCCI and sponsors not the game of cricket ,IPL is like a Rajnikanth movie lots of followers but no class but Test Matches are classics like a Kamal Hassan movie, VVS is always admired for his 281,Sachin is always respected for his test knocks not IPL,Dravis is respected for his 233 in adelaide test infact Even Ravindra Jadeja will be respected for dismissing Clarke 5 times in test series ,so all IPL fans,IPL is a reson for National Bias.....

  • Luke on April 3, 2013, 15:36 GMT

    @anshu.s: You are quite right Cricket is the poor relation of Football but the fact remains that for most tests the ground are usually sold out and could be sold out many times over despite the tickets costing many times more than tickets to Indian test matches, the most expensive ticket to the second IND-AUS test was 750 rupees (£9 UK pounds) whereas you would very lucky to get any thicket for under £50 in England and would quite easily go over £100 for a reasonable seat.