High on entertainment
If you needed any proof that few of the spectators saw the Indian Premier League as anything more than glitzy entertainment, it arrived after the seventh over of the Royal Challengers' comically inept innings. While Sourav Ganguly warmed up for a bowl, with the scoreboard showing a dismal 33 for 4, the boom box started playing a popular Kannada tune. The crowd roared with approval. Could you think of one serious sport where a home crowd of 55,000 would be cheering with their team being cut to pieces as though with a sushi knife? Neither could we.
So forget all the hot air about the pinnacle of sport and focus instead on the real selling point of the league - entertainment. The cheerleaders borrowed from the Washington Redskins had made their entrance earlier in the evening to bawdy acclaim and though they were a girl short, 11 instead of the customary 12, the fetching yellow costumes and the red pompoms were in evidence right to the bitter Bangalore end.
The opening ceremony snapped and crackled, and the organisers of the World Cup in three years time will have quite a task to even come close to matching it. The acrobats, four on either side of the stadium, were sensational, even if the Scottish music that accompanied them clambering up towards the roof did seem a little incongruous.
The laser show and a fireworks display that rivalled anything you might expect on Chinese New Year had the crowds baying for more, and the only discordant note was struck when Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, was booed before he began his speech. Otherwise, the band kept their feet tapping and their placards waving as the decibel level inside the stadium approached that inside one of European football's great amphitheatres on a big night.
Brendon McCullum's batting afterwards more than matched the previous pyrotechnics. You always knew that the ball would travel in this format of the game, but this was by no means the sort of pitch where you could just plonk the front foot forward and drive insouciantly. As Rahul Dravid was to say later, his astonishing hitting was the difference between the two sides. There were a couple of edges and miscues in an innings that wasn't quite as flawless as the cheerleaders, but how can you argue with 13 sixes and ten fours, with one hit going out of the ground?
For those that came to cheer the local contingent, this was a day to forget. B Akhil, Sunil Joshi and Dravid made five runs between them, and Joshi's three overs went for 26. In the field, Joshi looked very much like a man who'll turn 37 in June, while Akhil too had a couple of bloopers to forget.
The contrast with one of Kolkata's local boys couldn't have been more stark. Ashok Dinda cleaned up Virat Kohli, India's Under-19 captain, and then had Wasim Jaffer caught at slip during an excellent spell. It helped of course to have a mountain of runs behind him, but it was the sort of performance that's needed if the stated aim of giving young domestic cricketers a fillip is to be achieved.
As a spectacle, Bangalore has laid down the marker for the rest of the league. A full Eden Gardens could conceivably match it, and hopefully the matches that follow will be more a contest, and less a one-man show. But what a show it was. The US$700,000 that Shah Rukh Khan and friends forked out is already looking like a steal.