During a Rajya Sabha discussion on the Finance Bill last April, Leader of the Opposition Jaswant Singh had ripped into then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s Budget, connecting it to the inaugural Indian Premier League, which he dubbed a gladiatorial contest from Roman times.
“This is not cricket. This is the greatest divide between the rich and the poor,” he said, adding the “Rs 4500 crore being spent” could have covered the country’s cement shortage.
A year on, Chidambaram’s the bad guy as far as the IPL is concerned, Jaswant’s colleagues in the Bharatiya Janata Party have shouted themselves hoarse in offering to host it and for the rest of us watching, it promises to be a blockbuster summer like no other. On one hand, you have the histrionics of the general elections on the other, the hysteria of IPL. Reality TV doesn’t get bigger.
After the drama of last month, which saw the IPL moving to South Africa, the past fortnight has been quieter. The second edition, with its explosive mix of Bollywood and cricket, is right on us from Cape Town. And despite the lack of Indian venues, it promises to be a far bigger spectacle than the first.
The players will have a better idea of how they need to play, strategists a better idea of how to build their teams and the IPL/BCCI will have a point to prove to its investors --- this isn’t a one-off deal.
It’s basically and unashamedly a made-for-India-television spectacle. It’s not coincidence that the timings of the matches have been adjusted to suit Indian audiences and by extension, its advertisers. The whopping Rs 8200 crore broadcast partner agreement for the next nine seasons, almost double of last year’s 10-year deal for Rs 4700 crore, means that someone thinks it’s worth it, even in these recessionary times.
For purists, IPL is like a virus that will suck cricket’s lifeblood. They echo former Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga’s view, “It’s like three-minute Maggi noodles. Bang, bang, and it is over. For me, it is not cricket.”
Increasingly though, they’re in a minority. This weekend, we’ll know why.