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By Partab Ramchand
The excitement in the air is palpable and the countdown has started. Exactly a week from now and it will be time to usher in another edition of the IPL. The three magical letters need not be expanded for they are by now a household name not only for cricket followers but also for those whose interest in cricket before the first edition in 2008 may have been minimal. The three magical letters are famous not only in India but also wherever the game is played – and perhaps not even played in an organized manner. The build-up has already started with several eye-catching ads on TV and I must say the marketing gurus for the tournament certainly know their job.
Yes, IPL III will soon be upon us, engulfing us as much as the first two editions did. The stars have been smiling on both Lalit Modi and his tournament ever since he came up with his cash-rich and ultra glamorous competition that caught the fancy of virtually everyone – including Bollywood stars, industrialists, sponsors and administrators. The inaugural edition was a whopping success and the cynics who predicated that the follow-up last year would not live up to expectations because of the shift to South Africa – for reasons all too well known – were proved woefully wrong. Indeed the move out of India gave the IPL a truly international touch, enhanced its scope and it could no more be dismissed as a glorified domestic league. Moreover, on the more responsive pitches in South Africa, the bowlers were not cannon fodder and this meant for interesting contests between bat and ball.
If anything the stars seem to be shining even more brightly for Modi and the IPL. Well before the first ball has been bowled it has already hogged the headlines thanks to the controversial rejection of Pakistan players by the franchisees and cricketers from other countries voicing concern over security aspects. All that is in the past and it is now time to look forward to five weeks of cricketainment – a phrase coined by the success of the IPL. It can be taken for granted that the third edition will be another successful venture. The return of the IPL to India seems to have guaranteed that.
One way or the other there is no denying the fact that the IPL has already left its mark on the game in unmistakable terms. In just two seasons the tournament has been praised and criticized in almost equal measure. There are no ambiguous views about the IPL. It has been hailed as the best thing to have happened to cricket or vilified as something that will ultimately have an adverse impact on the game and the players. The growing popularity of Twenty20 cricket, while being good for the finances of the game, has had its own drawbacks and traditionalists have expressed the fear that the ultimate adverse effect would be on Test cricket. Under the circumstances it was not surprising to read a few months ago that the MCC World Cricket Committee was of the view that Test cricket was on the verge of a sad death in most countries with more and more players considering an IPL contract their ultimate goal.
At this stage my mind goes back to April 18 2008, to the floodlit M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore and the inaugural match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore. Brendon McCullum lit the night sky up with an electrifying, unbeaten 158 – he highest score in Twenty20 cricket – and that set the stage for six weeks of glitz and glamour. The inaugural edition’s success was already guaranteed what with the unbelievable build up, the innovative format of having franchisees complete with auctioning of players and city based teams. With the tremendous interest the project generated around the cricketing world a favourable outcome was always on the cards. But hardly anyone could have expected the kind of roaring success and spontaneity that the IPL attracted. Whichever way one examined the event there was little doubt that the IPL had struck the right chords around the country.
The inaugural edition was also closely followed by cricket fans all over the world, what with the IPL having a truly international flavour. Also keeping a tab on it were administrators who were quick to see Twenty20 as the game’s future. On the eve of the tournament, Sachin Tendulkar predicted that the IPL would be a super-hit and indeed it caught the public fancy in this country like few events in the past. Everywhere you went the discussion among cricket enthusiasts – and even those having only a passing interest in the game – centered around various aspects of the IPL. The fact that film stars, prominent industrialists and media barons were among the franchisees added more than a touch of glamour while the astronomical amount of money involved was the subject of much debate. Various opinion polls focused on the large number of women followers among the millions of TV viewers and also significant according to the pollsters was that the IPL scored over the soap operas.
Describing the IPL as "a landmark time in cricket" Adam Gilchrist was of the view that, after 30 years, when people look back, they would say it is the most important thing to have happened in cricket. "In time to come people will say IPL changed the direction of cricket," he said. On the eve of the third edition’s inauguration, it can be said that the former Australian great was remarkably percipient. Indeed, even as the first edition had just gotten over cricket fans were impatient for the second to get started. Such was the impact the IPL created. Similarly we all just can’t wait for action to begin in IPL III.