April 7, 2011

Finally, the IPL comes back to the cricket

The organisers and the sponsors aim to make up for the off-field debacles and sagas of last year, but the IPL must also prove that India's appetite for the game is insatiable
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Ever thought you'd be sitting around in the first week of April 2011, thinking, "Sober up now, everyone, the IPL is here"?

It is what six weeks of the "Cup that counts" have done. Give or take three decades, the World Cup has produced India's best-ever display of 50-over cricket and fireworks, followed by an outbreak of national euphoria. All of which has led to a lingering hangover. Kindly stop the tuk tuk because after the World Cup victory, India has gone quite giddy.

Suddenly it's the IPL that must throw the switch, and it can only be calculated later, whether that ends up on or off. Indian cricket and its vast audience must now answer the anxious queries of the IPL's marketing men and advertisers. Can India move seamlessly from the not-so-fuddy-duddy and now suddenly meaningful 50-over format to the snap, crackle and pop of Twenty20? Can a country set aside a deep, intoxicating national loyalty and once again indulge in somewhat scripted dancing in the aisles for clubs created out of commercial enterprise?

IPL 4 must prove that India's appetite for cricket is insatiable. That even after a six-week drama that had the happiest of endings for India, the country can still consume more cricket for another 74 matches over six weeks. Everyone involved in the IPL must find a way to make the League the primary option of choice for all summer-night entertainment, over soaps, news and all other sport. (Getting past the soaps should not, truthfully, be difficult.) Actually that's a dilemma the IPL organisers, its chief patrons, the BCCI and their sponsors, wouldn't exactly mind. At least it's about asking what the IPL's cricket can do and whether its sponsors' investments will eventually be worth it.

Anything will be better that what's happened with the IPL in the last 10 months. Everything will need to be better than what happened as the Season 3 drew to a close. In between last season's ceaseless cycle of matches, came a storm that wouldn't stop. It began with a tweet that led to the resignation of a cabinet minister and moved on to other things: Lalit Modi's banishment from his disreputable Eden, a raid across IPL franchise offices by the Income Tax Department, questions from the enforcement directorate about the routing of broadcast and sponsorship deals, the Kochi franchise's tangled web of ownership, Bombay High court battles against Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab, and, a few months ago, the grumbling of the franchises about the auction process.

The IPL's most precious assets, apart from the stars that take part in it, are its bottom line and its brand value. In 2010 a most public of beatings dented its image and the jury will stay out until the end of Season 4 as to whether that has in any way affected profits. The one way the IPL could get the gloss back onto its "brand" is by staging an efficient, watchable and scandal-free season four.

Given the uneven nature of Indian state cricket administration, the franchises work to put out a 21st century event (or "product" if you prefer) with a 1970s delivery system

It will be a season of many firsts: the first with 10 teams rather than eight, the first with a newly shuffled player pool across teams, the first without after-parties and perhaps even cheerleaders, the first without the once-foremost Mr Modi. The man's Twitter bio defines him as "Founder and architect of the Indian Premier League and Champions League T20". The day before the IPL began, he told us all at 7:29pm IST that he "supports Anna Hazare totally" and then philosophically mused at 7:52pm, "The show must Go on. IPL is a world class tournament. It's for the fans globally. Each Game will be riveting."

The 10 franchises must be ready to host this "world class tournament" amid some third-class organisation, whether over-ticketing, crowd control, security or hospitality. Here is where franchises run into trouble every season as they conduct matches in venues they do not own or have any control over. Given the uneven nature of Indian state cricket administration, the franchises work to put out a 21st century event (or "product" if you prefer) with a 1970s delivery system. A Rs 20,000 IPL ticket must somehow become an experience worth the expense, even if the grounds have no parking or kitchen or storage / refrigeration facilities. It is what the ICC ran into a few times during the World Cup and all those old issues - ticket sales versus VIP passes, sponsors' demands versus local association quotas - will once again come into play. At least seven times, if not more, per franchise.

Out in the market, the word is that ticket sales have actually climbed in this fourth season and franchises in the major metros can look to pull in more than the Rs 20 crore (US$ 4.5 million approx) they did over seven games in the previous season, on ticketing alone. The advent of 10 teams means that the sponsors' honey pot will have more gathering towards it. Smaller advertisers may find themselves fatigued after the World Cup. Yet, no matter how severe the government inquiries or bitter the court cases, there was no shortage of cash when the player pool was put into auction again a few months ago. Never mind its non-governing Governing Council or conflicted interests, the IPL is a pie of which the cricket business still wants more than a mouthful.

This season, however, IPL 4's future significance and (shock, horror) brand image will be decided in India's living rooms and the capacity of its audience to get addicted. Cricketers may sometimes choose to make the contest between club and country a little murky, their audience always has more definite answers. Never mind ad spots or strike rates or brand valuations, IPL4's most telling numbers will come from its six-weeks of TV ratings.

Predictions from the living room couches says it may take a while to get used to IPL4, where rival World Cup finalists like Sachin Tendulkar and Lasith Malinga will celebrate the fall of MS Dhoni's wicket. It will take a while but the IPL will succeed for the same reasons it did when it was first launched. Those with large stakes in it will simply not allow it to flounder.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dashgar on April 9, 2011, 9:12 GMT

    Nobody outside India cares about the IPL. Apart from the players who get contracts, but even then most overseas players don't get a game cos they play Indian kids instead

  • SSRajan on April 9, 2011, 8:45 GMT

    Don't worry about the appetite for cricket in India. We cannot have enough of it. At least I didn't know know what to do with 24hrs in the day with no live cricket on TV. I am sure I am not the only one.

  • memoriesofthepast on April 9, 2011, 7:08 GMT

    After IPL, Indian team tours WI and England and dont know how many players will make it fit for WI and England. This is worst schedule for Indian cricket team. Players will get unfit and even retire and the performance will go down. Indian players will have to be selective about which match to play and which not to play if they want a long injury-free career.

  • landl47 on April 9, 2011, 6:50 GMT

    It's a nothing competition, created purely for cash. It will fail simply because money isn't a reason for fans to support teams. When the novelty wears off, it will be cancelled like a TV series which has become merely a formula. It's not real cricket, it's a version of baseball played with cricket equipment. The Indian fans will tire of it as the rest of the world has already tired of it.

  • tompuffin on April 9, 2011, 4:17 GMT

    74 games of 6 weeks- almost 2 games a day is way too overkill.

    IPL will never match the likes of NBA or EPL because these sorta things need to be spaced out to create anticipation and build fan bases, not come, mess things around and blow away like a bad smell.

    Its too long too be a carnival like sevens but too long to actually be a decent sports league competition

  • NP_NY on April 8, 2011, 21:25 GMT

    There is no way IPL will ever fail because there is a large enough fan base (atleast 100 million) just in India. The fans outside India can mock IPL all they want but I bet a lot of them will be watching (for instance, the SL fans will watch the Kochi games because Mahela and Murali play for Kochi) even if they don't admit it. IPL was a success the last three years and it will be this year too.

  • harsha_chu on April 8, 2011, 18:51 GMT

    @gnana, when did sachin, bhajji, Dhoni, Zaheer last play ranji? I am a huge fan of test cricket, but lets admit- IPL gives the local indian players a BIG platform to prove themselves. And dont forget what IPL did to the careers of Watson, Nannes, Yusuf and Ashwin.

  • sams235 on April 8, 2011, 17:53 GMT

    @Hassan.Farooqi: I guess your comments come from the fact that there arent any players from your country?

  • akhilesh0109 on April 8, 2011, 15:38 GMT

    can any1 help me out on how to comment during commentary??

  • Hassan.Farooqi on April 8, 2011, 15:37 GMT

    The WWE of cricket. A circus bigger than the Kerry Packer Circus.

  • Dashgar on April 9, 2011, 9:12 GMT

    Nobody outside India cares about the IPL. Apart from the players who get contracts, but even then most overseas players don't get a game cos they play Indian kids instead

  • SSRajan on April 9, 2011, 8:45 GMT

    Don't worry about the appetite for cricket in India. We cannot have enough of it. At least I didn't know know what to do with 24hrs in the day with no live cricket on TV. I am sure I am not the only one.

  • memoriesofthepast on April 9, 2011, 7:08 GMT

    After IPL, Indian team tours WI and England and dont know how many players will make it fit for WI and England. This is worst schedule for Indian cricket team. Players will get unfit and even retire and the performance will go down. Indian players will have to be selective about which match to play and which not to play if they want a long injury-free career.

  • landl47 on April 9, 2011, 6:50 GMT

    It's a nothing competition, created purely for cash. It will fail simply because money isn't a reason for fans to support teams. When the novelty wears off, it will be cancelled like a TV series which has become merely a formula. It's not real cricket, it's a version of baseball played with cricket equipment. The Indian fans will tire of it as the rest of the world has already tired of it.

  • tompuffin on April 9, 2011, 4:17 GMT

    74 games of 6 weeks- almost 2 games a day is way too overkill.

    IPL will never match the likes of NBA or EPL because these sorta things need to be spaced out to create anticipation and build fan bases, not come, mess things around and blow away like a bad smell.

    Its too long too be a carnival like sevens but too long to actually be a decent sports league competition

  • NP_NY on April 8, 2011, 21:25 GMT

    There is no way IPL will ever fail because there is a large enough fan base (atleast 100 million) just in India. The fans outside India can mock IPL all they want but I bet a lot of them will be watching (for instance, the SL fans will watch the Kochi games because Mahela and Murali play for Kochi) even if they don't admit it. IPL was a success the last three years and it will be this year too.

  • harsha_chu on April 8, 2011, 18:51 GMT

    @gnana, when did sachin, bhajji, Dhoni, Zaheer last play ranji? I am a huge fan of test cricket, but lets admit- IPL gives the local indian players a BIG platform to prove themselves. And dont forget what IPL did to the careers of Watson, Nannes, Yusuf and Ashwin.

  • sams235 on April 8, 2011, 17:53 GMT

    @Hassan.Farooqi: I guess your comments come from the fact that there arent any players from your country?

  • akhilesh0109 on April 8, 2011, 15:38 GMT

    can any1 help me out on how to comment during commentary??

  • Hassan.Farooqi on April 8, 2011, 15:37 GMT

    The WWE of cricket. A circus bigger than the Kerry Packer Circus.

  • mogan707 on April 8, 2011, 13:55 GMT

    The domestic players must be the biggest gainers in terms of getting attention of selectors.It is a stage where the star players must not only prove their worth but also give 100% commitment to their team.After playing together for Team India,they have now geared themselves to compete against each other on behalf of their IPL teams.In terms of numbers,MI and CSK has most number of players(3 each) from WC winning team;In this regard they have snatched some of the advantage to their side.I think the initial games would be not much interesting;As in the previous seasons,only at the business end of the IPL tournament,it may gain intense interest as who would win and eventually an upperhand as who is main player of the Team India to help win WC!!!??

  • InnocentGuy on April 8, 2011, 13:53 GMT

    Say all you want, predict all you care, CSK still rulezz!!

  • whoker on April 8, 2011, 12:36 GMT

    The IPL is a test for readers here too as they have to put up with such tripe dished out by pathetic writers who feed off of the IPL. For that reason alone, one wishes it fails:) just kidding! Food for thought - if the IPL is bad, what about the writers who make a living out of it? :))

  • Kumar_cricket on April 8, 2011, 11:48 GMT

    Nothing bigger than winning the world cup.All teh best for teams playing in IPL.

  • _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on April 8, 2011, 11:41 GMT

    India's appetite for cricket is unsatisfiable? When the inaugural Champion's T-20 league was hosted by Ind, did Indians attend many of the matches that did not include IPL teams (especially after they were knocked out early)? Compare that to the same league hosted in SA, the crowds were quite good and SA's population is much less.

  • bala-chala on April 8, 2011, 10:42 GMT

    @harsha u'll get to watch those matches in the Ranji Throphy if you happened to switch on the TV.

  • RogerC on April 8, 2011, 9:15 GMT

    I love IPL. There are millions like me. Nothing more exciting in the evening than a quickfire cricket match.

  • sdwlrd on April 8, 2011, 8:29 GMT

    Why dont you guys stop the useless yearly IPL bashing? We all know IPL is here to stay whether we like it or not. The only thing that can damage IPL is match-fixing, everything else is only going to add to its glamour. Please ask your stats team to come up with an algorithm to measure the value for the money spent on the players. Is Irfan Pathan really worth the millions spent on him or whether players like Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, while extremely destructive on the international arena, has done nearly nothing to warrant their pay. Embrace IPL, cater to your users and become relevant to the richest cricket sporting league or fall by the wayside at least in regards to this tournament.

  • ananthramanan on April 8, 2011, 8:02 GMT

    The most significant achievement of IPL till date is the "die hard" attitude that it has brought forth in this generation of Indian players. I have seen times when India collapses like a card castle on most occasions. Now the fight is kept alive till the end. The primary agent of this change is the IPL.

  • harsha_chu on April 8, 2011, 7:40 GMT

    Why do we bash IPL every year at this time? To be honest- if given a choice, which match will you follow (1) Aus vs WI or (2) Mumbai Vs Kolkata with Sachin, Malinga, Pollard, Symonds, Bhajji, Gambhir, Yusuf, Lee, Kallis.

    In the end, this is a domestic tournament in India that attracts marquee Indian and foreign players. So stop complaining.

    For all fans who dont want to watch IPL- you have a simple choice: turn OFF the TV. And for all the complaints that here is too much cricket being played, why do you think Dhoni, Sachin, Murali and Kallis are playing the IPL? Its about the money for them and entertainment for the spectators. Murali retired from ODIs but will play IPL.

    The biggest attraction for me from IPL is the chance to watch Bhajji bowling to Dhoni, Ashwin bowling to Gambhir and Zaheer bowling to Sachin. Where else will i get to watch these match-ups?

  • SRT_GENIUS on April 8, 2011, 7:37 GMT

    @Ali_erose: Dhoni is 29, sangakarra is 33 and ponting is 36. Sanga and Ponting will not be around in 2015 in all likelihood - so they have to change leadership, not India. India's succession plan is Virat Kohli - but he needs to prove himself as a worthy player over a period of time before he can captain India - luckily for him Dhoni should be around while he takes his time to mature as a player and a person. The problem India is going to face is different - in tests, especially abroad - when Dravid, laxman, SRT retire - Pujara, Badri and Kohli are raw and untested in tests.

  • Nuxxy on April 8, 2011, 7:22 GMT

    The IPL will succeed if the administrators focus on cricket. People will always be interested in seeing good quality cricket. People are less enthused to see between ball adverts and ridiculous commentary.

  • Provenance on April 8, 2011, 6:21 GMT

    I am surprised by comments here that IPL has lost its sheen. Huh! Is it? Are the commercial managers fools to have put in so much of money? Or are the overseas players fools that they fight their boards to play in this? Yes, accepted that this has tonnes of money but then so what? Guys, move on! I guess all these comments show general 'jealousy' towards people who are making 'easy' money. So be it guys. If so called proponents of game like you don't want to watch it, don't do so but then this will not affect game's popularity at all! Move on!

  • sweetspot on April 8, 2011, 6:05 GMT

    The IPL is PURELY for fun! Who cares? Sure there are skills on display, but after our most loyal and vocal support and success, with the WC safely in OUR hands, we are going to get drunk on IPL. That's it. FUN.

  • WorldsOddestMan on April 8, 2011, 5:57 GMT

    Australian fans were definitely looking forward to the IPL especially after only seeing a handful of World Cup games on free-to-air television but we won't even get the IPL this year because of rights disputes between Network Ten & WSG v/s Nimbus and Times of India group over IPL coverage. It will be a shame for cricket fans in Australia because along with the Champions League, the IPL was the only international cricket we got to view on free-to-air television, not even international Australian tours (except the Ashes).

  • Kashi0127 on April 8, 2011, 5:42 GMT

    IPL should be boycotted by spectatorers. This is no sport - just mock up games to make money

  • Kaze on April 8, 2011, 5:04 GMT

    "Finally the Rock has come back to the WWE". Please tell me that is not where you got this title from ?! @Deepak Kmd "Everyone is interested", "really, really", do I have to pull a Miz on you today ?! Please don't stereotype, "The millions of the Rocks fans don't know or care about IPL".

  • Varsan on April 8, 2011, 4:03 GMT

    i still believe t20 should be restricted to clubs and 50-50 should be for nations. That way you achieve a balance between entertainment and patriotism. that would be the way forward

  • kiwiboy1 on April 8, 2011, 3:22 GMT

    Is there such a thing as too much cricket..?

  • Ali_Eorse on April 8, 2011, 3:12 GMT

    Is it not time for India to get a new leadership? Sri Lanka the best team will not have Kumar as a captain. Same with Australia. What about India? Will Dhoni resign or will be forced out? What is the succesion plan?

  • microno1seanand on April 8, 2011, 2:15 GMT

    Don worry about IPL....An True INDIAN Cricket fan ll watch Australia Vs West Indies Test match also b'coz of his pure luv for the sport!!!

  • SRT_GENIUS on April 7, 2011, 23:26 GMT

    "It will take a while but the IPL will succeed." hmm.....

  • crikbuff on April 7, 2011, 22:25 GMT

    So, is Sehwag going to play IPL thru his shoulder injury? And then miss the West Indies tour to get operated on his shoulder? What's more imp? GMR or India?

  • on April 7, 2011, 21:06 GMT

    I agree. The craze for 20-20 cricket began when we won the 20-20 WC in 2007. During that time the 50 over game had become rather predictable and with Australia winning almost every WC for a decade the copetition had become boring. Enter 20-20 and with India truimph (a.k.a Aussies defeat) everyone was interested and hailed it as the new direction for cricket. But slowly with Australia decline and the competetiveness shown in the 2011WC the 50 over format has too become unpredictable n thrilling. So 20-20 may well find it tough to compete with the 50over games new popularity. As for IPL the initial excitement of watchin players from different countries play together as a team has now lost shine. Its time the BCCI converted IPL to 50 over format games, which test a players talent more, if it really wants to build a national pool of emerging players from it as well as retain its TRP over the years.

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  • on April 7, 2011, 21:06 GMT

    I agree. The craze for 20-20 cricket began when we won the 20-20 WC in 2007. During that time the 50 over game had become rather predictable and with Australia winning almost every WC for a decade the copetition had become boring. Enter 20-20 and with India truimph (a.k.a Aussies defeat) everyone was interested and hailed it as the new direction for cricket. But slowly with Australia decline and the competetiveness shown in the 2011WC the 50 over format has too become unpredictable n thrilling. So 20-20 may well find it tough to compete with the 50over games new popularity. As for IPL the initial excitement of watchin players from different countries play together as a team has now lost shine. Its time the BCCI converted IPL to 50 over format games, which test a players talent more, if it really wants to build a national pool of emerging players from it as well as retain its TRP over the years.

  • crikbuff on April 7, 2011, 22:25 GMT

    So, is Sehwag going to play IPL thru his shoulder injury? And then miss the West Indies tour to get operated on his shoulder? What's more imp? GMR or India?

  • SRT_GENIUS on April 7, 2011, 23:26 GMT

    "It will take a while but the IPL will succeed." hmm.....

  • microno1seanand on April 8, 2011, 2:15 GMT

    Don worry about IPL....An True INDIAN Cricket fan ll watch Australia Vs West Indies Test match also b'coz of his pure luv for the sport!!!

  • Ali_Eorse on April 8, 2011, 3:12 GMT

    Is it not time for India to get a new leadership? Sri Lanka the best team will not have Kumar as a captain. Same with Australia. What about India? Will Dhoni resign or will be forced out? What is the succesion plan?

  • kiwiboy1 on April 8, 2011, 3:22 GMT

    Is there such a thing as too much cricket..?

  • Varsan on April 8, 2011, 4:03 GMT

    i still believe t20 should be restricted to clubs and 50-50 should be for nations. That way you achieve a balance between entertainment and patriotism. that would be the way forward

  • Kaze on April 8, 2011, 5:04 GMT

    "Finally the Rock has come back to the WWE". Please tell me that is not where you got this title from ?! @Deepak Kmd "Everyone is interested", "really, really", do I have to pull a Miz on you today ?! Please don't stereotype, "The millions of the Rocks fans don't know or care about IPL".

  • Kashi0127 on April 8, 2011, 5:42 GMT

    IPL should be boycotted by spectatorers. This is no sport - just mock up games to make money

  • WorldsOddestMan on April 8, 2011, 5:57 GMT

    Australian fans were definitely looking forward to the IPL especially after only seeing a handful of World Cup games on free-to-air television but we won't even get the IPL this year because of rights disputes between Network Ten & WSG v/s Nimbus and Times of India group over IPL coverage. It will be a shame for cricket fans in Australia because along with the Champions League, the IPL was the only international cricket we got to view on free-to-air television, not even international Australian tours (except the Ashes).