ICL gets underway November 30, 2007

Cricket, and entertainment galore

The Indian Cricket League got rolling with a dose of entertainment and cricket

The opening ceremony featured a performance by Bollywood actor Kareena Kapoor © ICL

It's been nearly 30 years but Tony Greig still remembers the day. It was December 1977, they were at Melbourne, and the VFL Park was hosting the first "Supertest". "Fewer than 500 people watched the start of that game," says Greig, "I can already see around 6000 here." Nobody is comparing World Series Cricket to the Indian Cricket League but the promised party has kicked off in style.

What began with Bollywood heart-throb Kareena Kapoor entertaining the crowd turned into an evening of fun. Firecrackers illuminated the skies, cheerleaders pranced around, pop numbers blared across the stands, and a packed house displayed a high energy. A haze of smoke enveloped the ground before the start of the match but as one organiser quipped, "It's the smoke before the fire".

It helped that tickets were priced at only Rs 100 [approx US$2.5]. It was a Friday evening and families flocked in, being treated to both entertainment and cricket. Posters calling for fours and sixes made a fine pattern across the ground. Identifying a domestic cricketer, a long-standing issue, became much easier here: an announcer made sure the introductions were done and the giant screen turned into a good back-up.

A stuffed lion, used as a mascot to promote the Chandigarh Lions, mingled with the crowd. There was no model aeroplane for the Delhi Jets [which many are jokingly referring to as Jats, a community common in the area]. The Chennai Superstars made it a point to watch the game and Brian Lara, walking in at the break, overshadowed clichéd political speeches on the dais.

An anti-corruption official manned the dressing rooms and the players have been put to random drug testing. A GPS software engineer has been flown in from Canberra to put in place a software that keeps a tab of player heartbeats, distance covered and running speed. It was trialled on Hamish Marshall today but will be live on television and the giant screen from tomorrow.

There's been no shortage of advertisements around the periphery of the ground and the team shirts, which till yesterday were without sponsors, had a new look. As in football games, kids accompanied the players on to the ground and the dug-out was a scene of frenzied cheering. It was a sight to see Chris Cairns and Tejinder Pal Singh, a former Railways player who never got a taste of international cricket, standing padded up, waiting their turn to bat.

It was a thrilling way to kick off the tournament. Abbas Ali and JP Yadav, long-time team-mates at Central Zone, blasted Delhi Jets into contention [wonder whether they were treating this like a Deodhar Trophy match]. But Andrew Hall, despite a dropped catch at a crucial time, bowled a tight final over to clinch the match. A fuzz of fluorescent yellow rushed towards the centre of the pitch once the last ball was bowled and celebrated as if they had just pulled off a major win. It may well be a famous win, not so much for the Chandigarh Lions but for the format - and the beleaguered tournament.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo