IPL hopes to cure World Cup hangover
Within ten days after the World Cup final, the IPL is here. But one factor that will draw Indian crowds in is that after Australia and New Zealand, cricket is now closer to the fans
Kolkata is under the spell of Kalboishaskhi jhor (thunder showers). But within 24 hours from now this grey, besieged city will erupt in joyful technicolour as the eighth season of IPL starts at Eden Gardens with defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders playing Mumbai Indians. Seventy-thousand fans are likely to fill the majestic ground not just to watch the cricket, but also to sing and dance at a party to be hosted by Knight Riders owner and in-house DJ Shah Rukh Khan.
But in contrast to the past, the hype this time has been restrained, eclipsed by the build-up for the elections for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, which take place next week. Take a walk or a drive across Kolkata and you will see more faces of local politicians staring and reaching out from cut-outs hanging across the city than cricketers. Add to the fact that the IPL is being played so close to the World Cup and it might be heading to a damp squib. But IPL has faced bigger challenges before.
One factor that will draw crowds in is cricket is now close to the fans. The World Cup was played far away in Australia and New Zealand. A lot of those match-winners are now in the IPL. It would be a great opportunity to watch the heroes in person.
But it is the stories and feats that will build the excitement. Will there be an almost famous story that Sanjay Bangar's Kings XI Punjab scripted by finishing runners-up last season? Riveting moments like Corey Anderson smashing Rajasthan Royals' fast bowlers to capture an insurmountable asking rate which forced the usually stoic Rahul Dravid to throw his cap in disgust as Mumbai Indians made the playoffs.
The new season has its own attractions: Ricky Ponting enters the coaching arena for the first time as the head coach of Mumbai Indians. Would his team be the no-holds-barred outfits he led wearing the baggy green? Can Virat Kohli, back after a dominant season in the Test series in Australia in his first stint as India's captain, finally inspire Royal Challengers Bangalore to their first IPL title? How many and what kind of records can Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell, Brendon McCullum break in a tournament that favours batting?
Theatre is a huge part of IPL's fabric. One of the most controversial moments of IPL history was witnessed when a verbal tussle between Royal Challengers' Mitchell Starc and Mumbai's Kieron Pollard virtually came close to physical blows. Starc threw the ball at Pollard who responded by flinging the bat in the direction of his opponent.
Even at the World Cup, sledging was one of the biggest talking points and the IPL is bound to witness more. As reported last week players want to sort the issue among themselves
as far as possible without being suffocated by the match officials.
But would the new BCCI administration allow such leniency? Jagmohan Dalmiya, the BCCI president, even when he was the interim BCCI chief two years back when the corruption scandal broke, has always favoured austerity. In his second stint as the BCCI head, Dalmiya wants to get the focus back on cricket.
His administration reportedly did not want to spend too much on hiring very expensive A-list entertainers for the opening ceremony and instead set a restricted budget for the occasion. Probably Dalmiya understands the real entertainment remains in the tournament. It is a place where both cricket and Bollywood come together.
Even the skeptic taxi driver is getting curious. He wants to know the big buys of this year's auction. Who bought and dropped whom? How many matches are Kolkata playing at home in April?
Despite the weariness, the cart puller, the taxiwallah, the man on the street knows the IPL is here. The skies are clear. They know their team is the defending champion. Soon the addas and kattas and local trains will be raging with debates about matches from around the country. The IPL might start on a muted note but the volume is only going to get louder by the day.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo