We hacks are always on the lookout for the defining moment and last night, inside the up-at-heel new One & Only hotel on Cape Town's Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, we may just have found it. If the Indian Premier League could be forgiven right now for suffering an identity crisis, who better than to remind everyone what's what than Shah Rukh Khan and Lalit Modi
. They arrived (55 minutes late, but no one was counting) for a press conference, and ended up staging a hybrid of an evening that was part-propaganda, part-evangelism, part-seriousness and - when one member of the audience wondered about Shah Rukh's attitude to marriage - part-high-farce. And between them, they may just have got to the nub of what the IPL is all about.
Shah Rukh was positively luminous, a flirt who would eat himself if only he could, and the definitive ambassador for brand IPL. Full of verbal pats on the back for Modi's hard work, overflowing with homilies about the nature of sport, and always ready with a quick twinkle of the eye for the ladies. How, asked one journalist, would he get the best out of the Kolkata Knight Riders this year? "This season I'm sleeping with all of them!" he joshed. "Whatever it takes." They liked that very much.
Modi basked in the reflected glow and played the part of nerdy older brother to perfection. He thanked the people of Cape Town, who have lapped up as many tickets as were available for the weekend's matches, insisted the IPL was recession-proof, welcomed the English contingent, and defended the primacy of Tests and ODIs. He even quoted some figures to keep the more serious chroniclers happy. Shah Rukh slapped on the broad brushstrokes; Modi finessed the details.
How would Shah Rukh get the best out of his team this year? "This season I'm sleeping with all of them," he joshed
As a double act, it worked well. SRK kept doffing his cap to Modi's ingenuity; Modi kept insisting it had all been "smooth sailing". Occasionally, SRK went off-piste. He ushered Modi up on to the stage at the beginning of the evening with a cheery "He's controversial - always getting into trouble", and may not have had the chairman and commissioner's undying gratitude when he pointed out that, in the IPL's first two years, everything that could have gone wrong duly has. But a quick one-liner doused any flames: the charm offensive will be one of the themes of the tournament.
Shah Rukh and Lalit. One a Bollywood superstar with the self-regard to match and a passing knowledge of cricket; the other an astute, ambitious business mind with his eye on balls other than the little white ones we'll see soaring into South African skies over the next few weeks. The IPL could not have hit the ground running with a more emblematic pair.