The South Africans call it the Bollywood League and going by the dwindling attendance at the venues, their boredom with the event is becoming apparent. At home, the TRP ratings do not seem all that encouraging, which must be making the promoters and cheerleaders of IPL II nervous if not panicky.
There could be many reasons why the IPL has not generated the kind of viewership and involvement which led to it being hailed in its first year as a cricket revolution in the making. The show is not a flop, far from it, but there are certainly signs of T20 fatigue which needs correction if the IPL is to become a money-spinner.
This mix of Bollywood glamour and bang, bang cricket still has many takers and what we are watching after the half-way stage of the tournament could be a “strategic break” which the audiences have taken — at least that is what Lalit Modi and his fans must be hoping.
In a tournament driven purely by calculations of profits and losses, one can expect any innovation howsoever bizarre to be introduced to lure viewers. But to go to the extent of openly encouraging gambling and betting — which the IPL is doing by inviting viewers to predict the runs scored ball by ball in an over in return for cash prizes — should disturb even the most cynical of cricket fans.
The organisers are saying that this is just a “skills game”. They are citing examples from reality shows and even cricket quiz contests which give prizes for predicting a tournament winner. I am sure the majority of sports lovers would be aghast at this twisted logic and what is really shocking is that this is obviously being done with the approval of the Indian Board which runs the IPL. Even in countries where betting is legal, no official body, I guess, has resorted to openly encouraging this kind of “skills” game to make money and enlarge their TV viewership base.
Having once badly suffered because of players selling themselves to manipulate odds, the Indian Board needs to be extra vigilant and not encourage anything which could make players and officials vulnerable to the lure of extra money.
One still presumes that Indian cricket is run by the Board and not by individuals whose sole motive in life is to make money, no matter at what cost. The ICC's anti-corruption unit (ACU) had even last year said that a tournament like the IPL could be targeted by bookmakers.
That the IPL did not accept the ACU's services to “police” the event on the excuse that the charges of $1.5 million were steep, has already raised many eyebrows some Board members included.
And now to have introduced this 'skills' game is even more baffling. Is there an entity called the Indian Cricket Board still in existence, whose prime role is to organise and spread the game in the country and not just sell the game to the highest bidder?