As Napoleon Nayudu prepared to face another ball, several thoughts raced through his mind. After being bought by the Gummidipoondi Gumboils for an astronomical $5 million in the 2015 Indian Premier League (IPL) auction, he knew he had a reputation to keep up. Should he try a straightforward Toyota Front Foot Drive this time, or should he aim for a Bombay Dyeing Cover Drive? Or perhaps an ITC Square Cut (Statutory warning: Smoking is Injurious to Health) would be a better idea? He realised he needed to hit an IBM boundary soon. Ever since IBM had announced they would pay Rs 1 lakh per boundary and Rs 5 lakh for a six, he had been trying to run less and hit more. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been doing either in this match, because the Begusarai Bandits had some very good bowlers. The next ball, he played a Pepsi Inside Edge onto his Maggi middle stump and trudged wearily off the field to the accompaniment of boos from the Vodafone Zoozoo stand at the Kellogg’s Special K-Cereal stadium in Gummidipoondi.
Relaxing in the Parle Glucose commentary box, Saurav Ganguly ruminated on the momentous changes in the game that had occurred since the IPL came into being. In 2010, he remembered, the game started to really grow, with huge sums of money being paid for the Pune and Kochi teams. Teams soon started springing up like frogs in the monsoon. And when the Gorakhpur Gorillas won the IPL in 2012, every district town in the country wanted its own side.
The IPL season was extended to six months in the year, then to 12 months and soon, once the villages started having their own sides, you had matches on all 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Industrialists sold off their old companies and bought IPL teams. Twenty five of the 30 Sensex stocks were of cricketing companies. Advertisers fought with each other to sponsor matches, stadiums, sixes, fours, shots, balls, wickets and what not. Every patch of the players’ clothing, his arm guard, helmet, and pads was covered in advertisements. Tendulkar Itch Guard Crotch Guards started a new trend in merchandising, selling like hot cakes.
As the money flowed in, players’ salaries zoomed. Everybody wanted to be a cricketer. Engineering and medical colleges were deserted and Indian Institutes of Management converted themselves into institutes of cricketing management. C.K. Prahalad lectured on the pot of gold at the bottom of the leg stump.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Lalit Modi mooted a radical proposal in the Lok Sabha for nationalising the Board of Control for Cricket in India, pointing out that its profits would wipe out the government’s fiscal deficit. Food production had suffered, he said, as villagers refused to till their fields and spent their time playing cricket instead. A law prohibiting the transformation of arable land into cricket pitches was swiftly passed. A resolution to install a statue of Lalit Modi in Parliament was also adopted unanimously.
Back in the commentary box, Ganguly did a rapid mental calculation and told his listeners that Napoleon was now being paid the equivalent of Rs 10 lakh per run. A twinge of regret passed through him — during the IPL season in 2010, he recalled, he had been paid only about Rs 1.8 lakh per run. He needed to make more money, he thought. Maybe he would join Navjot Sidhu in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and be paid lakhs for laughing. For the rest of the match, he practised laughing hysterically at each ball.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal