It is that time of the year when the bugle sound merges with the roar of fans in cricket stadiums across India and the thwack of bat meeting ball; living rooms and public spaces see millions celebrate or agonise in front of TV sets. (Full coverage IPL 2017)
The 10th edition of the Indian Premier League gets under way in Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, with defending champions, Sunrisers Hyderabad taking on Royal Challengers Bangalore in a repeat of last year’s final.
It is a perfect time to look back at a decade-long journey.
When the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced the launch of a new Twenty20 league at a five-star hotel in the Capital in late 2007, it was a cricketing voyage into the unknown.
The shortest format of the game had just taken a big step with India, the game’s biggest market but the team reluctant to embrace T20s, having just clinched the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa.
But the IPL plans caught the attention of the cricket world and beyond.
Entrepreneurs and celebrities were shelling out top dollar to buy franchises and splurging more to snap up cricket’s biggest names in player auctions. The template was US sports, but a new era was about to begin.
The IPL’s single biggest brand must surely be Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Fresh from leading India to the T20 world title, the long-haired ‘keeper and power-finisher was installed as the Chennai Super Kings skipper. His magnetic personality turned him into CSK’s pied piper. The entire Chennai turned up in yellow, waving the team’s flag. The entertainment world too embraced the team, with the crowd dancing to the drum beat of Sivamani.
City loyalty established was quickly embraced by Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders as well before others followed suit.
Foreign stars led the way initially. New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum smashed a match-winning century in the opening game while Shane Warne took unfancied Rajasthan Royals to the first title in 2008.
Nothing can stop the IPL now. It was packed off to South Africa in 2009 due to general elections, but sponsorship and viewership were unwavering. That was also the case five years later, when the first half of the tournament was shifted to the United Arab Emirates due to elections.
The 2013 spot-fixing scandal shook the league, but the league bounced back stronger.
The focus had moved from foreign players to Indian stalwarts. Royal Challengers Bangalore, dubbed a ‘Test squad’ in its initial year, had turned into a collection of the game’s biggest hitters.
Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, and then Yuvraj Singh and Shane Watson all packed a punch; rivals knew no total would be enough.
The IPL inspired the Big Bash League in Australia and the Caribbean Premier League. Gayle and Kevin Pietersen made the itinerant Twenty20 basher a fashionable addition to cricket’s lexicon.
Heavy bats, with which sixes were measured by the distance it flew, slow bouncers and clever full-pitched, wider deliveries all arrived as the bowlers constantly looked for ways to fight.
As IPL enters the 10th edition, loyalties have already been reshaped. Playing home matches away --- Dharamsala, Raipur, Ranchi, Kanpur and Indore were all in the mix --- didn’t hurt spectator interest one bit.
Now to discover fresh champions, and stretch cricketing boundaries.