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IPL story: The game, the trade and the glamour

The IPL spawned not just cricket leagues in other countries, but also leagues for other sports in India like badminton, boxing, wrestling, kabaddi, tennis

mumbai Updated: Jan 26, 2018 00:02 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Indian Premier League,Lalit Modi,Ayaz Memon
The IPL brought Lalit Modi, then BCCI vice-president, to centre stage(HT FILE)

Player auctions for the Indian Premier League to be held over this weekend takes me back a decade when the first such event took place at The Oberoi (now Trident) in Mumbai. This was sometime in the third week of a cool February in 2008 when the cricket world was turned upside down.

India’s fascination – and passion – for the T20 format had been sparked off by the unexpected success of MS Dhoni’s young team in the T20 World Championship some months earlier. But the IPL was path breaking.

It created tumult as well as tension in the cricket world. Not everybody was in favour or believed that such a league would survive, but everybody was hooked to see what shape it would take.

In reality, the IPL was not the first cricket league in India. It was preceded by a few months by the Indian Cricket League (ICL), a threat that was quelled quickly. How and why would make for a tome and is beyond the scope of this column.

The IPL brought Lalit Modi, then BCCI vice-president, to centre stage. Temperamentally, he was an impresario, and went about setting up the league with flashiness, one eye clearly on the optics that would enhance the equity of the league, the other his own.

Hard-selling the league to some of the biggest names from Indian business and showbiz to buy franchises gave the IPL an immediate ‘wow’ dimension. The auctioning of teams was telecast live, and was then followed by the player auctions, which got even more eyeballs.

This was an unprecedented and extraordinary occurrence in a sport that had remained rather staid for over a century, despite the Packer Revolution. The world gawked at the spectacle of some star players being ‘bought’ for crores of rupees while some stars were ‘passed over’.

Interestingly, several players from Pakistan also featured in the auction. The Karni Sena was not even a blip on the horizon then, but even the Shiv Sena, which has opposed Pakistan from playing in Mumbai for almost three decades now, didn’t raise a ruckus.

Not everybody approved of the auction, and some players were also left nonplussed. Speaking at a conclave a few weeks later, Adam Gilchrist said, “There was a little element of feeling like a cow… There is a slight uneasiness, but let us allow it to settle down.’’

Since Gilchrist went on to be sold and bought subsequently too, one could presume his compunctions vanished quickly. The IPL settled in quickly to become one of the premier sports properties in the world.

A great deal else has changed in the decade since, not the least the venue for the auctions. It travelled to other places like Goa, before settling down in Bangalore. Why Mumbai has been sidelined, however, beats me.

The IPL brought other changes too. It spawned not just cricket leagues in other countries, but also leagues for other sports in India like badminton, boxing, wrestling, kabaddi, tennis.

Some are thriving, some struggling, but the sports environment in India had been changed.

Yet, it’s not been all smooth sailing for the IPL. Controversies have been frequent, several key figures in the first few years (Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya, N Srinivasan) have either lost their jobs or ownership of the franchise.

The corruption scam in the 2013 season even compelled the judiciary to intervene in cricket matters. The BCCI is still feeling the heat from the Supreme Court and the Committee of Administrators appointed by it, yet, the IPL has gone from strength to strength unfettered.

Media rights for five years starting from this season fetched a whopping Rs16,347 crore.

In the decade since its inception, the IPL ecosystem has provided jobs to approximately 40,000 people each season. But the biggest beneficiaries have been players, particularly from India.

More now have livelihood, several have earned dollars in millions and unlimited fame – many even a passage into the Indian team. In the team currently in South Africa, barring Cheteshwar Pujara, everybody is a stellar IPL player.

Yes, a great deal has changed in Indian cricket since the first season of the league.

The one constant, however, is the performance of the team when playing Test cricket overseas. It remains fragile and vulnerable as always.

Cricket aficionados chastise me for discussing the T20 and 5-day formats of the game together. “One’s chalk, the other’s cheese,’’ they admonish. This is true, but if cheese starts to taste like chalk, as has happened on the current tour of South Africa, I find myself helpless.

First Published: Jan 26, 2018 00:02 IST