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To cheer or not to cheer?

For many fans, there is an emotional disconnect with IPL matches. For it to take off, there will have to be a connection, writes Pradeep Magazine.
None | By Pradeep Magazine
UPDATED ON APR 21, 2008 10:25 AM IST

The night is still young, the sky radiating many hues of the myriad coloured artificial lights, as thousands of spectators inside the stadium wait with intense expectation for the entertainment to begin. Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium has never looked so bright, colourful and, some might say, even garish.

The decibel levels are as high as can be expected in a gathering like this as the opening match of the IPL has been billed as an extravaganza of almost epic proportions where cricket, Bollywood, dance, laser show and even elements of circus join hands to enthrall the crowds.

In the press box, where even the international media is represented in good numbers, fingers are banging on the laptops and on a few screens it can be seen written “toss report”. This is a ritual for agency reporters before the start of any international match, where they tell the world the final team combination and the winner of the toss.

Before the “toss report” can be filled, the stadium is jolted by iconic singer Shankar Mahadevan, who belts out a few musical numbers and the crowd sways to his tunes.

The mood is set and what follows for an hour or so is a breathtaking spectacle of dancers, trapeze artistes, a laser show and finally the sky is lit with fireworks, the likes of which one may have watched only in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

The thousands, who have for months been told that this new cricket event will revolutionize the way they see and watch cricket, feel their “own” Vijay Mallya has not cheated them and are now waiting for more.

Then begins the cricket. Blood starts to flow again in the frozen fingers of relieved journalists who start completing their “toss report” though not sure how to combine the entertainment with the “reality” of cricket.

It does not matter to the crowd that their own Bangalore team is being ripped apart by some mind-boggling hitting by a New Zealander who is playing for the Kolkata team.

Most in the audience don't even know his name —McCullum is even otherwise hard to pronounce. It does not matter for a while as they have all come for entertainment but as the minutes turn into hours, the response of the raucous crowd somehow goes tepid, not knowing whom to support.

Whether to enjoy Sourav Ganguly's dismissal or to celebrate Ishant Sharma's pace magic in shattering their own Rahul Dravid's stumps.

The second half of the show is turning into a huge disappointment as not only is the home team losing, the contest is too lop-sided to be enjoyed and it is difficult to be as loyal to a state team as they are to India.

In the high-priced ticket area, liquor is flowing, keeping the crowd in good humour, but disappointment is visible, even though one can hear the scorer in the press box shouting the bowling figures of Ishant with all earnestness.

“I feel sorry for Mallya,” says a young enthusiast and admits there is somehow an emotional disconnect in watching this kind of cricket which, as another man puts it, “can't evoke a response which an India-Pakistan match will”.

As the crowd disperses — somewhat confused what to savour and what not to — many feel that to get the stadium packed again, Mallya will have to replicate the same kind of opening ceremony for all other six games scheduled at the ground.

The first day, first show is houseful, but not so the second day, second show in Mohali, though the crowds have turned up in huge numbers for the Delhi game.

The Kotla, in comparison to when the DDCA organizes a match, may have been less chaotic, but that is not saying much.

The stadium is almost full, though most of those inside the ground are “free-loaders”. Like in cinema, a big budget film has to open to full houses, otherwise it will be treated as a flop in the first week itself.

The crowd does not show any disappointment with the opening ceremony, which is nothing to write about.

They scream and dance in an almost tutored frenzy at the fall of every Rajasthan wicket and celebrate each run scored by the Delhi team.

In the high-priced ticket area, booze is again flowing and perhaps helps in keeping the adrenaline flowing.

It is obvious that despite the show of “enthusiasm” most just know the names of a few players who are in any case household names and don't even care to know who the rest of the players are.

The cricket is once again one-sided and boring but the crowd decides to stay on. It is hard to find out whether they feel cheated or satisfied but when most of us have not paid to watch we have no reason to feel disappointed.

Will they go again the second, the third time… and that too after paying to watch? It is hard to predict at the moment. What happens when Shah Rukh Khan's mega show on TV, “Kya Aap Panchvi Pass Se Tez Hain” competes for eyeballs with his own Knight Riders? Who will outstrip whom?

And what about the “toss report”? Well, unlike in Bangalore, the Kotla press box is now an air-conditioned glass enclosed hall and an outsider should be pardoned if he mistakes it for an expensive computer repair shop where everyone is engrossed in their work and has no time to “feel” what is happening outside the 60-yard circle where the cricketing action is taking place.

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