The Chinnaswamy Stadium is a sea of red and golden yellow — the official colours of the Bangalore team. Skipper Rahul Dravid stares down from a larger-than-life cutout; keeper Mark Boucher is just about to take a catch; Zaheer Khan pleads for a leg-before and Praveen Kumar has just delivered one of his wristy swingers.
And as for everyone else, they just anxiously await the first ball of the Indian Premier League — the part-cricket part-entertainment baby of the Board of Control for Cricket in India vice-president Lalit Modi. Setting the ball rolling will be Dravid's Bangalore and Sourav Ganguly's black and even more golden Kolkata.
True to the promise of the tournament, the host of entertainers, including stilt walkers and cheerleaders, who took centrestage on Thursday rehearsing their steps, did not look out of place alongside training teams as dusk melted into darkness.
Martin Crowe, former New Zealand great and the Bangalore team's Chief Cricket Officer, said that the IPL is here to stay. “It will be a turning point in the history of the game,” he said. “Twenty20 is established now and has perched itself comfortably with Test and 50-over cricket. The ICC and nations around the world know that it’s the way forward. The idea of a franchise competition is unique. I am pretty excited to see all this unfold.”
It will be unique for cricketers, who till now have played for the pride of their respective state or countries. But the inter-franchise IPL demands they live up to their monetary value, even if it meant they are up against their otherwise home teams. Bengal’s under-19 wicketkeeper turning out for Bangalore, could be a case in point.
As it is, the T20 format itself reduces the gap between teams and when teams are pretty evenly matched on paper as well, choosing favourites becomes a difficult proposition. “All teams are good. In the T20 format, most teams will be competitive and there are no clear favourites and whoever plays better on that day will win,” was the best Dravid could say on the eve of the slam-glam kick-off scheduled at 8 in the evening. Thank God, it’s Friday and the world will be watching.