Year two, week one
The first leg of games in the second season of the Indian Cricket League is over. The caravan now moves from Hyderabad to Ahmedabad. Cricinfo looks at how the tournament has progressed so far
The big question is why the ICL hosted the tournament at the same time as the India-Australia series. "We thought about it long and hard. Test match cricket does not clash with our cricket. The evenings are free," Tony Greig, who is on the ICL's executive board, said. "We tend to play in the back end and in the front end of English season."
The media strategist for the ICL, Manoj Mayani, adds, "If we are going to wait for everybody to give us a clear time, it would be difficult. The Champion's League was originally scheduled for last month."
The tickets have been priced at Rs 100 each. The opening day, obviously, had the biggest audience: 20,000 people packed into the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium.
The matches featuring Hyderabad Heroes, the home team, and Lahore Badshahs had decent turnouts. There was a threat of rain on the first Sunday, which affected attendance, but the subsequent games brought in 8000 to 9000 spectators on average.
Last year the games moved from one venue to another without a sustained run in any one city, which affected spectator interest. This year they are playing a week in each city.
The organisers claim that, according to the rating agency TAM, the opening game registered a rating of 0.76, which jumped to 1.9 for the close game between Hyderabad and the Dhaka Warriors. Himanshu Mody, the ICL's business head, is looking to reach a rating of 3, but without star power, it remains to be seen how that is achieved.
Quality of cricket
"The best teams in the ICL will finish mid-table in the English County Championship," says Paul Nixon, the former England wicketkeeper who plays for Delhi Giants. It's a fair assessment. The average innings scores are rising slowly.
"The number of runs scored has not reflected the standard of the surface: 130-140 when the pitch [in Hyderabad] suggested 160-170," Greig says. "But it is getting better."
IPL v ICL
The IPL has bigger stars, which was reflected in the TRP ratings last year. The ICL has tried to offset that disadvantage by introducing teams like Lahore Badshahs and Dhaka Warriors, thus trying to position it as a battle between nations.
"IPL will have bad matches, ICL will have bad matches. The format is like that," Greig said. Even in the IPL, most games involving Bangalore and Hyderabad, and some of the Mumbai games, were duds. In the ICL, the Mumbai Champs look the weakest team, though they featured in a last-over thriller in the first round. And importantly, Lahore is yet to get going. That apart, the games have been of decent quality.
The overseas pros have shown impressive commitment. Players like Jason Gillespie, Shane Bond, Craig McMillan, Chris Harris and Damien Martyn have led from the front. They have thrown themselves around on the field, encouraged the local cricketers, and taken their mentorship role very seriously. The coaches, like Steve Rixon and Michael Bevan, are working hard too. The practice sessions have been intense and purposeful.
There's no cause for complaint with the infrastructure in the team environment. Every side has professional coaches, physios, trainers, masseurs, the works. "The local Indian cricketers have relied too much on natural talent. Now it's a leap from amateurism to professionalism," says Deep Dasgupta who plays for the Royal Bengal Tigers.
However, the Hyderabad ground twice suffered technical glitches with the lights - the first game had to be abandoned mid-way during the chase and decided on the VJD method, and the overs were reduced in the second match.
In Hyderabad there were giant TV screens suspended from the roofs at different points in the stadium, apart from a huge, centrally located screen. However, after a couple of games these just became advertising screens.
The cheergirls are ubiquitous . Food and water were available for purchase, and the sanitary facilities were conveniently located.
The ICL has reportedly spent Rs 100 million in refurbishing their new stadium in Ahmedabad.
The promotion spend has been increased to Rs 500 million. There are more adverts and billboards, and large pullout spreads have been booked in many newspapers.
In keeping with the tournament's USP, the promotions have centred on the local cricketers.
The telecast net has spread. More than 100 million people in four continents can, in theory, follow this year's tournament.
Aging stars are usually considered a negative for a tournament. In this case, though, watching them made for a pleasant experience. Perhaps because this is the only place, barring the odd county game, that you can see these players in action anymore. Watching Saqlain Mushtaq, Gillespie and Bond bowl, or Inzamam-ul-Haq and Martyn bat has been a nostalgic experience.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo