Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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When mobile manufacturer Intex opted for Rajkot as their home for the next two years, it became the first instance of an IPL franchise setting up a base at a smaller centre. Even as teams like Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings have played their 'home' games in places like Dharamsala and Ranchi in the past, they were anchored to bigger cities like Chandigarh and Chennai.
"The people of Rajkot are really excited and personally this is a very good feeling because I was born and brought up here, and I belong to Rajkot," India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara told ESPNcricinfo. "When you see an IPL team from the same city you obviously have an attachment and you feel proud about it. If I get an opportunity to be a part of this franchise I will be very happy, but that is something that is not in my hand."
According to Pujara, the presence of an IPL franchise will help create a "cricketing environment" in the city, and provide players in the state of Gujarat an opportunity to upgrade their skills. He also felt that hosting all the league games over the next two seasons, instead of only a match or two here and there, will have a knock-on effect.
"For example, [when] a young cricketer who is part of the under-19 Saurashtra team or the Ranji side gets to bowl to a player in the nets, he will have the right idea, the right atmosphere to see what is going on," Pujara said. "If you get seven matches in a season, the amount of time international cricketers, will spend here will definitely help the cricketing environment in the entire region. In times to come, there might be some selection also. Franchises call talented domestic players to be a part of the camp, so there will be opportunities."
The Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, which has hosted two ODIs and a T20I so far, emerged as a dark horse in the bidding process where prospective buyers could choose from nine cities, including Chennai and Nagpur. Intex had also bid for Nagpur and Visakhapatnam, but had quoted Rs 10 crore for each of the two cities. Senior administrator and Saurashtra Cricket Association secretary Niranjan Shah felt the relative affluence of the state of Gujarat probably made Rajkot a viable option.
"[For Rajkot ] to compete with big centres and [become] one of the main centres is a proud moment," Shah said. "One thing I feel is we have a good stadium and economically we are better off so [there is] good chance for [boosting] ticket sales. [The] Best thing is good weather. [All] this will boost the economy of Rajkot."
Shah said Rajkot would not be overawed by the magnitude of the tournament after having hosted high-profile international games. "I think we are equipped to handle all these matches," he said. "We have become [a] Test centre as well. We have better and better matches, and we have created infrastructure and used it properly."
Pujara said such big-ticket events would be cherished by the people of the region for a long time. "It is big news for the city and people have already started talking about it," he said. "Obviously they [react differently to such events] because in metro cities like Mumbai or Bangalore you have so many other things to do, but in a smaller city if it's a big event people will cherish it all their lives. If someone goes to watch an IPL game, they will keep talking about it for years and years.
"Compared to kind of cricket you get to see in Mumbai or Bangalore, the opportunities are less. So when opportunities come up, people are really excited by this and people look forward to be [a] part of it. Whenever there is an ODI in Rajkot, most of the times the stadium is full. In this case, it will be like a festival in Rajkot. I can assure you the stadium will be full," Pujara said.
Brand analyst Harish Bijoor felt a centre like Rajkot made for a more inclusive IPL format from an advertising and branding perspective. "I am very impressed with Rajkot coming to the fore. A smaller town heads into the mainstream of the IPL is a very interesting element," he said.
"Brands can at times look at larger cities to be elitist and smaller towns to be more inclusive. IPL does not remain the game of big cities alone now, and I think it is getting deeper into the hinterland because what started as IPL Bangalore, Delhi, and Kolkata is now IPL Rajkot."