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Series/Tournaments: Indian Premier League
The creators and owners of the Indian Premier League pulled off one of the greatest feats of logistical management in sports history by moving the entire tournament from India to South Africa at less than a month's notice. The selfstyled IPL "commissioner" Lalit Modi and his team were impossibly brilliant, almost too clever to comprehend, in relocating rather than postponing or cancelling when the Indian government refused to guarantee security at certain venues because the dates coincided with national elections in the world's largest democracy.
It was pretty obvious, even to the diffident and disinterested, that moving the tournament en masse to South Africa was a big deal but, just in case anybody was in any doubt, Modi announced it and pronounced it. Over and over again.
The numbers were almost universally huge, from the 1,000-plus visas the South African government issued in 24 hours (as opposed to the customary ten working days) to more than 40,000 hotel-room nights, and the alleged $US50m by which South Africa's economy benefited.
One number which was conspicuously low in the greater scheme of things was the $1m paid to Cricket South Africa and its affiliates to bleach their stadiums of adverts, vacate their offices and leave behind their finest wines for the approaching hordes. "We took a very pragmatic view," said a CSA committee member just days after the Deccan Chargers had swapped the wooden spoon for the not-so-subtle winners trophy, encrusted with rubies and yellow and blue sapphires. "Was it worth our while as a cricket board, with member unions feeling trampled on and taken advantage of, with their own members marginalised and unable to make use of executive suites they have owned for 15 years? Probably not. But were we in a position to say no when so many other South Africans could benefit? And when future relations between our countries were considered? Definitely not."
So did South Africa bend over backwards to accommodate the IPL in order to curry favour in future years? "Everyone knows who butters the bread in world cricket these days, and it isn't necessarily us," said the CSA official.
Of more concern to the global game, however, especially given the millions of dollars so boastfully generated by the tournament, was the absence of the ICC's Anti Corruption and Security Unit. All the ingredients for temptation were there. Some mega-rich, egotistical team owners and their hundreds of hangers-on, a cavernous divergence in salaries between players and, crucially, no natural guard against impropriety in the form of national pride or a sense of history.
The IPL did, in fact, enquire about making use of the ACSU, but baulked at the quoted price-tag of more than $1m, even though that was a pittance in the context of the overall budget. Instead, they appointed a private South African security company, Nicholls Steyn&Associates to cover security arrangements.
An extraordinary 11th-hour about-turn saw the Indian board request the ACSU's involvement the day before the tournament began, but it was made clear that the job involved a lot more than standing in dressing-room doorways looking out for dodgy blokes in sunglasses. A minimum of six to eight weeks of research and preparation was required.
Consequently the tournament was awash with events and happenings regarded, more often than not, as peculiar, when they may have been innocent. Late-night franchise parties involved hundreds of guests, most seeking the attention of the eight or nine big-name Indian players and other internationals which every team boasted. It was simply not right and proper, although there was no evidence any of them was approached, that many of the world's best players were exposed to wealthy and influential "fans" at midnight.
The ACSU was not completely excluded, however. Its general manager and chief investigator, Ravi Sawani, along with one of his staff, briefed five of the eight teams, while a couple of the regional security managers supervised the locals hired to perform their usual role. But it was a lukewarm compromise.
While no doubt eyebrows were raised on the field, too, when they need not have been. Sudden promotions to open the bowling or a string of batting failures were innocent extremes of experimentation and form, some were open to misinterpretation and an official stamp from the game's most qualified authorities would have quelled the bar and bookie talk.
Common sense prevailed in the months after the tournament when IPL officials confirmed that ACSU surveillance had been commissioned for the third year of the IPL, when it will presumably be back on Indian soil.
For all the scars and scabs the tournament left behind, there can be no doubting the veracity of the vainglorious yells of success from the organisers. Thousands of tickets were given away, but so what - many stadiums were full, and even the ones that weren't were at 60% capacity. The enormous Indian population in Lenasia, a suburb of Johannesburg, ensured that the Wanderers had few empty seats, while Durban, home to the largest Indian diaspora outside the subcontinent, was positively humming with IPL fever.
The bling and glam of the Indian nouveau riche was obnoxious to many who were exposed to it, but to the majority of locals the tournament had a strong novelty value, the tickets were cheap, and it was never over-exposed in one region for too long. It was backed up with a preposterously huge advertising campaign (ten times greater than anything Cricket South Africa had ever been able to spend on a series) and the country was awash with the IPL to such an extent that even cricket-watching virgins felt compelled to see what all the fuss was about. Or some did, at least.
On the field Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist shone like men a decade away from retirement, not in the first year of the slippers-and-pipe stage of their careers. Other "oldies" blossomed, too, such as Anil Kumble, while some of the "stars" who failed to shine first time around finally came good - like the locals Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher.
The result was that the two teams who finished in the bottom two places in 2007-08 contested the final a year later: the Deccan Chargers (captained by Gilchrist) and the Royal Challengers from Bangalore. The Challengers were brought together by Anil Kumble after a poor start under Kevin Pietersen, one of several England players who failed to shine. Andrew Flintoff's bowling, and his lack of a slower ball, proved costly for Chennai before he was injured; Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah could not get a game for Delhi, and the only redemption came from Ravi Bopara in a matchwinning innings of 84 for Kings XI Punjab. The most expensive and glamorous of the franchises, however, the Kolkata Knight Riders, finished dead last and became the laughing stock of the league when an anonymous online blogger posted a series of embarrassingly accurate accounts of life inside the camp under the increasingly eccentric coaching of John Buchanan and philanthropic hedonism of owner Shah Rukh Khan. Buchanan was sacked a couple of months later.
As a sports and entertainment package, it was big. Very big. It was even good at times, too. As a cricket package, however, it was small. Sometimes very small. Modi has many of the elements which comprise genius, including an intractable belief in everything he does. One of his stated ambitions is for IPL franchises to become popular enough to challenge the world's great football teams for global following. Kings XI Punjab versus Real Madrid, Delhi Daredevils take on Manchester United…
It may even happen, but it will always be a superficial and fickle popularity because even the most fanatical sports following depends on the quality of the product, and so long as IPL teams are limited to playing just four internationals and a couple of Indian stars, the standard of cricket played will always be compromised.
The glass ceiling imposed on teams by the compulsory inclusion of four or five junior players in every starting XI may benefit certain aspects of Indian cricket, but the tournament - while that system remains in place - will never grow beyond the status of circus, albeit one with a bigger marquee and more clowns than any before. In cricket, anyway.
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