After experiencing my first ever IPL match, Royal Challengers Bangalore hosting Rajasthan Royals at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, I asked Twitter to finish this sentence for me:
"IPL is "
Here is a selection of replies:
The crack cocaine of cricket. Overrated. Village. Okay for Indian fans. Rigged. Too good for you (meaning me). Something to watch on days there is no Test or county cricket on. Bent. Boring.
Not one reply with "exciting", "glitzy", and "glamorous". Only one reply said fun, and one other entertaining.
Surprised? Not really. I have a range of all of those thoughts about the competition also. But I also have some that no one replied with.
I was offered the opportunity to play for Kings XI Punjab back in 2009 by Yuvraj Singh, while India were touring New Zealand. I turned it down. The red-ball game was my focus, so I declined and headed off to play for Leicestershire CCC in England.
Do I regret it? Nope. Would I have loved to have been a part of it at some stage? Hell, yes! The stories I've been told about the crowds, the games, the hotels, the lifestyle, the parties, and the whole atmosphere
Given the chance to be in Bangalore for a month covering the IPL with ESPNcricinfo, to be part of the atmosphere, to be part of the IPL, was a no-brainer. Although I wouldn't be here as a player or part of a franchise team, it was an opportunity not to be missed.
"Two friends sit on either side and chat and take selfies across me. I try to work out what they're talking about, using my very limited Hindi. All I can understand is that there is a lot of "bahut achcha" (very good)"
A free ticket, courtesy the RCB coach, Daniel Vettori, and one of the longest (in terms of time) and shortest (distance) car journeys of my life to get to the ground.
I should have walked. I really should have made sure the editor-in-chief didn't steal my car and driver, so I could have set off earlier and not missed the start of the match. I guess he's the boss.
Roads were packed. No lanes, no lines, just a confusion of cars, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks), motorcyclists (riders on each numbering anywhere between one and four), cyclists and pedestrians all sharing the same piece of potholed road and pavement in equal parts. It works. Don't ask me how.
Horns. It's all horns. A toot means I'm coming through, it also means let me in, I'm heading that way, overtaking you. It all sounds the same to me. I'm sure it's a language. I'm sure the drivers understand what each toot means. A language, like any spoken, is best leaned from a young age. A language I will never understand.
I walk the last block to the ground, dodging traffic, men selling outrageous wigs, women selling shirts, and dogs sniffing at overflowing bins. The game has started. I can hear the music, I can hear the DJ, I can hear the crowd, and I can feel the atmosphere.
The ground is already packed. A full house at the Chinnaswamy. No latecomers, no queues, a quick pat-down from security and into the ground.
My allotted seat is taken, of course. Just like the roads - first in, first served. There are a group of three together that are free. I sit in the middle one. Soon after, two friends sit on either side and chat and take selfies across me. I try to work out what they're talking about, using my very limited Hindi. All I can understand is that there is a lot of "bahut achcha" (very good).
What is the IPL doing right?
The IPL's biggest victory has been in being able to pull crowds which makes it stand apart from the other T20 leagues in the world
I could, had I wanted to, have had a tub of sweet corn, ice-cream, drinks, burgers, paratha chicken rolls, all at my seat. And cheap. I don't need to leave my seat to spend my money. I don't need to leave my seat to be fed and watered. I like this. Like American sport: beers and hot dogs to your seat. Although no beers here.
RCB red flags are flying everywhere. Whenever RCB, who bat first, score a run, even just a single, the flags wave in time with the DJ's almost non-stop banging beats. A man with a drum starts bashing away, the crowd reply in echo. Chants of "RCB", invoked by the DJ playing the chant, ring out. It's not the natural highs and lows of a traditional game of cricket. Well, it's hardly traditional, anyway. The atmosphere is forced upon you. Like the sober guy on the dance floor, you start out reserved, trying to not stand out. Eventually the energy intoxicates you and you're throwing shapes like you're at a rave. I love it.
ABdV hits one of the most ferocious chakkas (sixes) I have ever seen. A short ball flies out and into the second tier at midwicket. Unbelievable. The crowd goes absolutely berserk. I get squashed by the two friends either side of me, hugging and high-fiving each other.
The bass from the sound system is immense. I use the words "sound system" to describe the set-up. It's not just ten speakers distributed evenly around the ground boundary, like I've been used to in New Zealand and England. This is concert-quality sound. The bass rumbles through your chest. It envelops you and invades what personal space is left.
Personal space - what's that? It just doesn't exist. And that is probably what I can take away from the IPL experience.
It's like having your best mate by your side, but he's always right there, in your face. They are good fun, amazing fun: great stories, gags, conversation and a full-on source of entertainment. But how much fun is it having them right there, all the time, always talking to you, always nudging you, always pulling pranks? You want to get away but you might miss something. You hang in there. It gets more and more awkward. It gets better. The more awkward, the better it is.
You get used to that guy being in your face. You know you go home at the end of it, senses fulfilled, overloaded.
I can't wait to go back.