The action on the sidelines this season is as colourful as the cricket on the pitch, thanks to the flamboyant lot of cheerleaders at IPL 2011.
This season, the Royal Challengers has roped in girls from South Africa after auditions from more than one agency. Kochi Tuskers Kerala has hired a Mumbai agency that provides cheergirls, mostly Ukrainian nationals, to add glamour whenever the orange and purple brigade plays. The recruits for Pune Warriors, the other new team on the block, on the other hand, are professional dancers lend a local touch with synchronised Maharashtrian dance steps.
Chennai Super Kings have hired male and female cheerleaders seen in yellow sports apparel moving to the beats of renowned drummer Sivamani. The Kochi Tuskers cheerleaders mimic the trumpeting elephant every time Jayawardene & Co take a wicket or hit a six.
Not knowing the game, for those like the Ukraine cheergirls, hasn't dimmed their enthusiasm a tad.
"We have prompters who signal to cheerleaders when to get up on the dais," said a Kochi Tuskers official who travels with the troupe.
Although the dance routine is all-too-brief during matches for the new Pune Warriors cheerleaders, much money and time has gone into it. Bollywood choreographer Ganesh Hegde and globally acclaimed classical dancer Tanushree Shankar have conceptualised the routine. "We rehearsed for hours for one month before the IPL began. It gets really hot out there, but we know how to work around it," said cheer queen Jennifer, 27, a contracted dancer under Hegde.
When it was launched in 2008 in the first year of the IPL, cheerleaders were one hell of a charm offensive. The franchise concept had been borrowed from the U.S. sport and it was only natural it also embraced the most visible glamour quotient from there.
Initially, they were small groups of attractive foreign girls, roped in by teams to dance, bounce and sway to music — celebrating every boundary and wicket. As could be expected from the king of good times, the Vijay Mallya-owned RCB became the loudest in the cheering department when they roped in the Washington Redskins cheerleading squad with their shorts, skirts, tank tops, and teeny-weeny blouses.
Despite the protests of the moral police — and even the Parliament Standing Committee on Finance asking then IPL commisioner Lalit Modi: ‘How do cheerleaders help the cause of cricket?' — the show goes on.
The glitz, glamour & grind
So what's the grind behind the glitz for cheerleaders, four years into the IPL? Do they get to chat up their favourite players? Are they all fun to be with and do the stars care at all for those putting up a show for their sake?
Not many are sure. The scrapping of the after-parties after IPL 3 has meant players no longer mix with invitees of the owners where the cheergirls get a chance to be a part of. Even various cheerleading groups hardly meet up, considering their diverse backgrounds.
For fans among the cheering squad, to see the big names up and close is reward enough. "The day I got to see Sachin up close, I couldn't be happier," said a Pune Warriors dancer.
Although none of the franchises are willing to say how much money they have to shell out, there seems to be good money; and the work and travel to new cities during a season appears exciting to the troupes. In an era of reality shows, there isn't much taboo attached for the Indian cheergirls. Many of them often strut their stuff in private parties, so it is more a change of scene.
It is slightly different for the South African bunch with the Royal Challengers. Would one trade the serene locales of the Table Mountain in Cape Town for the frenzied atmosphere at the IPL matches? Yes, if it is Lauren Pienaar, 24, one of the 10 all-South Africans attached to RCB.
When the IPL came calling, the Cape Town native knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. "I did cheerleading in school, but other than that I haven't done much professional dancing. I've been fascinated by India, and wanted to come here," she said.
Pienaar and her crew got a taste of the passion for cricket in India the very night they landed, on April 2. "The World Cup final was being played. When India won we saw how much the game influences the life of people. I've never seen celebrations like that," she said.
The cheerleaders have six basic dance routines, including different ones for a four, a six or a wicket. However, they also improvise. "We see what gets the crowd going. Of course, when there are 50,000 faces looking at you, it's hard to make sense of it all," said Pienaar.
The girls have been exploring Indian cities. "While we haven't gone into the countryside we are doing a lot of shopping in the cities. We've learnt to bargain. That's been the biggest benefit," she says.
How to be a cheer queen
Cheerful, that's the first thing you've got to be. "Our cheerleaders are always dressed conservatively. We did not hold auditions, but picked people who had lots of energy and a ready smile," said Sreekanth of Show Space, the event management partner for Chennai Super Kings. Other requirements? Hard work, discipline and of course — a cheerful temperament. And one needs to rehearse every move and stay glamorous.