Monday, June 09, 2008

Reflections on Indian Premier League (IPL)

I was supposed to post this entry last week. As I was not well, it got delayed by a week. Hope it is not too late to write about IPL.

The first edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) concluded last week with Rajastan Royals emerging as champions. The Royals played excellent cricket in each department as a team with very few super starts. Of course one cannot rule out the great leadership provided by Shane Warne to these young lads. In spite of having many of hard-hitting players like Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Shahid Afridi, Herschell Gibbs the Hyderabad Deccan chargers finished last in the tally. This once again proves my belief that I don't need a team with super heroes to do great things. All I require is a committed set of young players, who can perform well as a team.

Ever since IPL was announced, it paved way for lot of media coverage and controversies around it. Many called it as a total money spinner with cricket given a backset and auctioning players was considered as if the player is selling himself to the sponsor. As many of the league teams were owned by Bollywood film stars and corporate tycoons, the initial hype was phenomenal. Given the concerns above, one should agree that IPL has been a very successful league ever conducted in Indian sporting history. I also strongly believe that IPL has brought some unique advantages to cricket and India. Here are some of the positives IPL has brought:

No state or region based teams

This is FIRST and BIGGEST shackle that IPL has broken. Even though teams were formed in on city basis, players came literally from anywhere and everywhere. For example: MS Dhoni from Bihar played for Chennai, Sreesanth from Kerala played for Punjab kings XI, Rohit Sharma from Mumbai played for Deccan Chargers Hyderabad. Of course one may argue that these players were taken in auction by respective league owners, but the diversified mix it created among players and states was really wonderful to see. For India it’s very critical to look at things beyond state. In my opinion IPL has played a significant role in breaking the state oriented mindset. People watched cricket with true spirit for the game forgetting state/regional feelings.

Entertainment and sports (Not sentiments and emotions)

For years together, Indians were getting too emotional behind two things: Cricket and Cinema. Stones were thrown; Effigies were burnt whenever a player didn't do well in a particular match or series. On the other hand players were given superior status when they played well and their form was good. Added to that, tensions used to run high whenever India Vs Pakistan matches were held (especially in Sharjah) with media quoting them as ‘Its more than cricket’. People were taking cricket far more seriously than it really deserves.

The maturity of an average Indian cricket fan is pretty low. I spent years thinking why Indians are not able to think cricket as a game and consider it as an entertainment. IPL has taken the first step towards installing maturing among cricket fanatics. Every team had players from various countries and states, which made people, push their sentiments down. In my opinion, it is a significant breakthrough to make Indians think cricket is just a game.

Shorter time duration

As cricket gained undue importance among Indians, they started wasting lot of time watching cricket matches. This might make cricket fans angry, but that’s reality. I have seen many instances where people bunked classes, stopped studying, took leave and sat in front of TV for days together to watch cricket matches. If I think practically, it has wasted a lot of productive hours of the whole country. The T20 matches and the IPL match timings (after 8 PM in the evening) made things much easier. People can catch up with matches after their work/class hours mainly during dinner time.

I have had similar experiences watching some of the NBA matches when I traveled abroad -- come back from work, watch a match and go to sleep. At the same time every match used to be extremely thrilling, which made them worth watching. I got the same experience with IPL matches as well.

New players, more options

The IPL has opened up a new channel for lot of young players to prove their talent. This tournament brought players like Swapnil Asnodkar, Yusuf Pathan, S Badrinath and Shaun Marsh into limelight thereby increasing their chance of getting selected in the national team. Apart from that, IPL also helped some of the out-of-form players like Suresh Raina, L Balaji, Shane Watson and Mohammed Kaif to prove their class once again to their selectors.

Even if a player is not making into the national team, he can play for IPL and make a living out of it. This might altogether change the way sports is perceived as a career in India. Many middle class parents might start allowing their sons to make cricket as a career.

Overall, IPL experience was really great!

Related article: Four cheers for IPL by Shashi Tharoor

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