IPL - The Biggest Cricket Carnival

2008 May 06 by DreamCricket

One thing very clear now is that "the white flanneled gentlemen" days are over. The realization has to sink in that the "Rock Star" image has taken over the Cricket Arena. More than 100 international cricketers have landed in India to participate in the biggest cricket carnival in the form of Indian Premier League (IPL).

In his first column for DreamCricket, Lalit Dhingra writes about the present and the future of Twenty20

Entertainment Factor

One thing very clear now is that "the white flanneled gentlemen" days are over. The realization has to sink in that the "Rock Star" image has taken over the Cricket Arena. More than 100 international cricketers have landed in India to participate in the biggest cricket carnival in the form of Indian Premier League (IPL).

The multi-million dollar competition is revolutionizing the game with cocktail, entertainment and celebrity shows. It has been highly successful in an entertainment starved country where an evening outing is either going to an air-conditioned shopping mall or watching a Bollywood movie in a high-priced cineplex.

IPL's success so far also stamped the ultimate "financial" authority of BCCI on world Cricket. Lalit Modi succeeded in creating a business model that will be difficult to replicate with any other sport in India. After game 22 of IPL it is reported that most of the grounds were more than 80% full even when the mercury was touching more than 40 degrees Celsius. I will be surprised if any other country will come up with an answer to this kind of viewership of the game - India beat all cricket playing countries by sheer numbers.

Since, India does not have any other form of entertainment apart from movies and never-ending soaps on television, this form of "entertainment cricket" had to be successful. If you are watching IPL on television - celebrities are shown whenever there is boundary hit or when a wicket falls. Shahrukh Khan, the owner of "Kolkata Knight Riders", is seen more often on TV during the matches than in his 2 hour movies. IPL cricket matches have been a great family entertainer so far - cheer leaders, movie stars and fast paced cricket are all in a complete "cricket movie" that is shorter than Jodha-Akbar.

Cheer or No Cheer

The controversy over the issue of cheerleaders started first by some politicians of Maharshtra (normally all controversies in India are started by political leaders). Once the fire of controversy is started, almost all political parties of the country decide to make full use of this controversy for their own interest. One is surprised to hear statements such as "It is against the culture of India to watch cheerleaders perform during the match" because the same people will not make any such statements on Bollywood item numbers.

I think it would have been less of a controversy if the cameras showing the cheerleaders while covering the match were decently placed in the initial matches. The television coverage improved over time once they got the balance between covering cricket, celebrities and cheerleaders.

IPL Twenty-20 Cricket

Most of the matches before end of April have belonged to international players. They have adapted very well to the hot weather conditions and the fast paced cricket. However Ricky Ponting, still recovering from the 30-minute spell from Ishant Sharma in Australia, looked dazed and out of place in the matches he played. We would never know if it was the pressure of Saurav's captaincy. Ponting is a much better player than he looked in the tournament.

It is a big disappointment to see Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly struggle with the bat and Sachin struggle with his injuries. These greats from India have not been on fire in any of the matches so far. I sincerely hope that at some point, for the benefit of Indian viewers, we will see them achieving high scores in this form of cricket too. I also do not think that bowlers in this tournament got the hang of Twenty-20 cricket in the first 5-6 matches. We have seen scores averaging 175+ in the first week and then slowly bowlers got their line and length sorted and the average score moved towards the normal 160+.

It is very dangerous to predict which of the eight teams in IPL will be the top four of the tournament as things are changing fast. Knight Riders after their first two games have been struggling. Chennai Superstars after losing their Aussie players are struggling to win a game. Deccan's fire power is struggling to fire at crucial times. It's better not to talk about the Bangalore team; I think they have a very good test team, but I don't believe a team with Dravid, Jaffer , Kallis and Chanderpaul can win big in this tournament. Don't get me wrong, all of them are great in test cricket but even in a 50 over match they have succeeded in bringing victory in 15-20% of matches. Royal Challengers (Bangalore) have good bowlers but again very good "test" bowlers. I am not sure if many of the franchises while choosing the players at the auctions really thought about the combinations required to win in a Twenty-20 cricket game. It can be clearly seen so far that teams with known cricket stars have not been the winner.

I am really impressed by the young team of Rajasthan and also by Kings XI of Punjab. Rajasthan team have young players, not well known and far away from stardom, and they are showing hunger to succeed at this level. The team is blessed with Shane Warne as Captain and Coach of the team who I think has turned out to be the best leader to be seen in the tournament so far. The team has strengthened by addition of Smith, one of the better openers in any form of the game. Kings XI on the other hand is very balanced team with right kind of batting, bowling and all round skills.

Indian Prospects

Here are some lesser known Indian players who have done well so far in the IPL and are good prospects in the shorter form of the game:

Gony - Hits the deck hard and is built like a fast bowler has a good average speed of 135+. He is an excellent prospect.

Amarnath & Ashoke Dinda: These two are good 20-20 players and ODI bowling all-rounders better known for their bowling skills.

In the batting department, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina will be the players to watch out in this tournament. Virender Sehwag will be good in phases and on his day, Delhi can beat any team in the tournament. Dhoni is doing well as a captain but needs to fire up in the batting department to justify his fee.

I am sure each team will have enough learning from the first round of seven matches and we will see different and tested approaches in the next set of games. I am sure the games will be much more interesting and tense.

Future of Twenty-20

Now that the game has become mainstream entertainment, cricket's administrators need to give serious consideration to the way Twenty-20 cricket needs to be pitched in the future. I am sure the game will evolve rather than fade and this involves doing something different than follow the "European or US" approach to promoting sports.

Lalit Dhingra, a keen cricket fan, is a senior executive at one of India's leading IT solutions companies