The IPL's identity challenge
If this kind of mood can be replicated at venues other than here and Eden Gardens, the IPL organisers might begin to breathe a little more freely
New arrivals usually have teething problems, and one of the concerns after the first two days of the Indian Premier League centred on the people who will ultimately make or break this competition: the fans.
Observers at Bangalore on Friday and Mohali on Saturday discerned an identity problem. What to do when the two most explosive innings - Brendon McCullum's 158 and Mike Hussey's 114 - are being played by batsmen who are not simply playing for the away team but are not even Indian? After all, sustained passion for a home side you have never watched before - who have never even existed! - is always going to be tricky when it's the opposition who is providing most of the entertainment. The third game at Delhi yesterday told us little: the visitors, Rajasthan Royals, put up so little fight that only the arch-chauvinist would have left the Feroz Shah Kotla satisfied.
This evening, though, things changed. First Eden Gardens overcame the awkwardness of cricketus interruptus (the floodlights went out for 20 minutes just as the climax was approaching) to celebrate wildly as the Kolkata Knight Riders made it two wins out of two. Then, from the moment the Mumbai Indians' Luke Ronchi scythed the Bangalore Royal Challengers' Praveen Kumar over point for four off the second ball of the evening match, we were left in little doubt: the locals had come to the Wankhede to watch a Mumbai victory first and a cricket match second. Well, one out of two isn't bad.
The absence of Sachin Tendulkar might have thrown the Mumbaikars off course, although they had their fix when the Little Master milled around on the outfield before the game got under way. Instead, as the Mumbai innings developed, they chanted for "Robin" (Uthappa of Karnataka) and "Bhajji" (their new captain Harbhajan Singh, from the Punjab). And they went positively berserk as Shaun Pollock creamed R Vinay Kumar over extra cover for four and six in successive balls with that languid swing of his. The run-out of Sanath Jayasuriya was greeted with silence.
The Mumbai cricket fan has always prided himself on his knowledge of the game. It looks as if that might extend to knowing how to support a team. The impression given so far by the organisers has been in danger of patronising the Indian public: lay on enough fireworks and dancing girls, make the players adopt threatening poses on billboards, promise a cavalcade of sixes - do all that and the man on the street will fill out eight venues for 59 matches in 44 days.
But even the Indian cricket fan has his saturation point and it is far more likely to be reached if he feels a lack of connection with events on the pitch. Well, it hasn't been reached yet, and for Rahul Dravid, so used to being the darling of fans in this country wherever he goes, the experience was a novel one. "It was a fantastic atmosphere," he said, "but I'm not used to a crowd like that. Whenever I've played here before for India, the crowd have been rooting for you. But here, I hit a four and no one clapped. I think I'll have to get used to that over the rest of the tournament."
Mark Boucher, who used all the experience garnered in 263 one-day internationals for South Africa to help Bangalore over the line, said he had expected a football-style reception in advance, which might have explained the cool head he kept as the required rate rose to more than ten an over. He admitted that a couple of the younger members of his side might have been intimidated by the pressure of Friday's opener in Bangalore, but he appeared to thrive in the Wankhede cauldron. If this kind of mood can be replicated at venues other than here and Eden Gardens, the IPL organisers might begin to breathe a little more freely.