Soon after he returned from South Africa, having hardly featured in the playing eleven of Kings XI Punjab in the 2009 edition of the IPL, a domestic cricketer was asked by a friend, "Kya kiya tune do mahine wahaan? (What did you do there for two months?)"
Pat came the reply: "Maine virginity lose kiya, bhaiya (I lost my virginity, brother)." If the friend was wondering how lucky the rookie cricketer was, the player added, "Twice, for free."
Exhilarating as the IPL might appear on TV - and on the ground -, off it, the scene isn't much different from the film world. Though the player grudgingly confirmed his discussion with the friend and requested anonymity, the dark underbelly of the IPL is well-documented.
Hinting at the sleazy side of the IPL, South Africa batsman, Herschelle Gibbs, wrote in his autobiography 'To The Point', "The sponsors arrange a lot of social functions to which at least 40 models are invited at a time. Seriously. At least 40 models at every party. Everything has to be ultra-glamorous. This sort of thing doesn't happen anywhere else in the cricket world."
What usually follows isn't hard to imagine. But if you are an old-fashioned fan who feels cricket is still a gentleman's game, then you haven't read an IPL cheerleader's blog during last year's edition that led to her sacking by the Mumbai Indians.
"I have come to realise that cricketers are the most loose and mischievous sportsmen I have come across. Makes me wonder if I should worry about them more than the commoners on the street!" South African Gabriella Pasqualatto wrote in her blog 'The Secret Diary of an IPL Cheerleader'.
"Graeme Smith will flirt with anyone while his girlfriend walks behind him. The Australian cricketers are naughty, a certain someone played kissing catches with three girls. He told them, 'Come to my room, I want to cuddle'."
For the journalists, players cuddling cheerleaders and models at team hotels between matches are a common sight. Thus it came as no surprise that a model was at the centre of the drama that led to an upheaval in political and cricketing circles two years ago. Most remember Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor as the men who were responsible for each other's exit, as IPL chairman and union minister respectively. Both influential men were good friends until Tharoor declined Modi's request for turning down the visa request of a South African model.
When Tharoor didn't accede to Modi's request to not grant visa to Gabriella Demetriades, a participant in the Miss IPL Bollywood contest held in South Africa during the second edition, it was soon followed by Modi's famous tweet giving details of the shareholding pattern in the now-defunct Kochi franchise.
And when two of the most vicious vices - booze being the other - combine, what can happen is beyond imagination. Co-owners of Kings XI Punjab, Ness Wadia and Mohit Burman, were thrashed in the VIP box during a match in Johannesburg after the latter, allegedly in a drunken state, misbehaved with a female spectator.
But the cricketers still cherish the "good times" they had during the IPL in South Africa. "Parties there were wild. One of the South African cricketing stars, who was the blue-eyed boy, was surrounded at all times by at least three-four cheerleaders. I'm not sure what happened after the parties, but he was certainly lucky to have such beautiful girls around him," said a domestic player, who was with the Deccan Chargers. "Girls were in plenty and star cricketers had to just pick one they fancied."
Agents and owners
The IPL might have been termed a boon for domestic players, providing some with a smoother passage to the national side. But it's not always a fairytale run; there is also a flip-side to it as some have discovered. While some players have caught the eye of the national selectors, for most, failure to make it to an IPL team can also be due to a vicious cycle that involves 'agents'. Those who can afford to pay commissions are promoted in a team while others may have to be resign to their fate, on the sidelines.
"I was in a team camp last year," said an all-rounder. "Although I gave it my best, I couldn't get a contract. Before I could comprehend, I was dumped. It was then that I learnt that I have to put up my case through an agent, who usually strikes deals for uncapped players in lieu of a commission."
The batting all-rounder, who has an excellent record, was hoping to get a chance to rub shoulders with the greats, but due to his 'lack of knowledge' on the ways of the IPL, he ended up playing only domestic events this season. "I would have paid the commission but I just didn't know about it," the cricketer lamented.
Owners can also dig in. That, reportedly, was the case with Kochi Tuskers, who could only play one season. The team management reportedly pushed for Parthiv Patel to be fielded in every match while local icon, S Sreesanth, didn't get much backing. A majority of the consortium that owned the franchise was from Gujarat, like Patel, though coach Geoff Lawson was 'left to take the final decision'. Eventually, Patel started in all 14 matches while Sreesanth played only nine. Apparently, the owners were also not too keen to 'risk' the temperamental Sreesanth as skipper, opting for Mahela Jayawardene.
There is no place for sentiments in IPL. The franchise officials are known to be ruthless when it comes to dealing with out-of-favour players. Once it is decided that a player doesn't fit in the scheme of things, the action is swift.
A prominent cricketer from Uttar Pradesh had to face humiliation playing for a north Indian team in the first three seasons. He was not given a single match and was thrown out of the team hotel in the third season. Another former India player from UP talked about a similar experience. "Not getting a chance to play wasn't a problem, but the way they treated some of us was bad," said the player, adding, "I was asked to leave along with a few others in the middle of the tournament without giving any reason. I feel some officials lack professional ethics to deal with cricketers.
"Most of the time, we (fringe players) were put up in low-budget hotels and forced to share rooms. But the biggest humiliation came when we were asked to vacate the rooms at an unearthly hour. I wasn't in a position to tell my family what happened," he said.
Fun and games
Apart from the big sixes, cheerleaders and loud music, the IPL also has some less publicised tales, such as the ones below.
Kings XI Punjab were playing a crucial match the next day where their qualification for the playoff hinged on winning, but all their Australian players and support staff hit the bar within minutes of entering the hotel. They downed a few beers, but in all fairness, they were sober enough to win the game that mattered.
Playing cards can be a good bonding exercise, as some of the Manchester United stars would testify. It was a hit with the Delhi Daredevils squad in IPL-II; their domestic players would narrate the late-night card sessions they enjoyed with their foreign stars, including Glenn McGrath. It was a good way for the Aussie legend to kill time as coach Greg Shipperd didn't give him any playing time.
And then you have to be in the right team if you love to party. Being part of a more conservative team like the Chennai Super Kings can be frustrating. During IPL-II, some of CSK's out-of-favour foreign players were complaining. During a casual chat with a left-arm pace bowler from Sri Lanka, he shared his frustration: "What maccha, no games, no girls, where are the parties?"
(With inputs from Sanjjev K. Samyal, Somshuvra Laha, Sharad Deep)