And the 'spectacle' unfolds…
The 15th edition of the blockbuster IPL has come into action, giving viewers a two-month long excitement spree, and testing the endurance, skills, innovations and strategies of players — with carefully selected men in leading positions
If the atmospheric temperature is rising across India, the Indian Premier League cannot be far behind. As a fresh season has dawned upon us, with a new title sponsor in Tata and 10 teams to compete, the next two months will be all about slam-bang, whiz-thud cricket, where gravity-defying catches, maximum sixes and close finishes will be discussed.
For purists, a breed which now does not exist, the IPL is not cricket. Old timers will vouch Test cricket is the real thing, and there is no denying that. Yet, what has been proven in the last decade or so is that all formats of cricket can survive, despite what Doubting Thomases think.
At present, cricket is being played concurrently in four different countries. The ICC women's World Cup in New Zealand is heading towards a climax and the IPL has begun. It is up to the (cricket) consumer to decide what he or she wants to watch. Mind you, all those who said the IPL was ugly, as the bright-coloured T-shirts and body language of players was akin to that of street-boxers, had to change their views.
The IPL began as a tournament bringing radical shift in 2008. In 2022, it has become premier in the true sense, where even those not hardcore cricket fans will definitely glance at scores or fiddle with the TV remote to catch a glimpse of the tamasha at night while eating dinner in India. Such is the reach of the IPL today, across several digital platforms, matches are consumed across the globe. In fact, it has become the benchmark for T20 cricket worldwide.
For the IPL to be staged at home now, when Covid cases have hit the nadir, is a very positive sign. Two years of pandemic-induced restrictions, zero-spectator attendance and then a Bio Bubble breach last year in New Delhi saw the IPL being halted. When it resumed, matches were held in the United Arab Emirates — one of the best off-shore hosts.
Hosting the IPL for two seasons in a row was followed by the three cities — Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah — hosting the ICC World T20 Championship last year. Yet, from an Indian point of view, matches to be held this summer at three different venues in Mumbai and Pune are welcome. Spectator attendance in limited numbers has been promised. But then, given the crazy trajectory and unpredictability of the Coronavirus, how each day of the IPL passes will be interesting to see. It is no exaggeration that sport has resumed in India in a big way after the three waves of the pandemic. From football's ISL, to Ranji Trophy and a multitude of other sports — all have adapted and adjusted to the needs of keeping players safe in the bubble. Two recent cricket series held at home saw some players testing positive for the virus. Yet, they were able to return to the sport quite fast.
For those who think there are favourites in the IPL this time and you can lay a wager on teams like Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, be careful. The addition of two new teams from Lucknow and Gujarat cannot be taken lightly. Agreed, the teams which have been here since inception have some sort of advantage in terms of experience. However, with many players (domestic and international) bought / traded at whopping sums this year, one cannot predict like a crystal ball gazer.
The structure of the tournament is very demanding and performance has to be sustained. Initially, the IPL was held on a home and away basis, as is the case with most club events. However, given the fact that the pandemic has still not left the world, the organisers are being extra careful in planning matches. Later, matches will move to the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.
One look at the 10 captains in the IPL offers pointers as to how team owners have gone about the job of finding the best men to lead their side. IPL may be fun to watch from beyond the boundary, but for team owners who have sunk in mega bucks, especially the two new teams, there is a lot at stake.
With MS Dhoni quitting the captaincy of CSK just a couple days ahead of the tournament, flamboyant Ravindra Jadeja is now entrusted with a huge responsibility of leading one of the most successful teams of the IPL. The leading all-rounder has been consistently proving his mettle in all aspects and forms of cricket; and now he faces the challenge of filling the gap left by legendary MS Dhoni.
At the same time, Rishabh Pant, the Delhi Capitals captain has been getting better and better each day. When Pant grabbed captaincy last year after Shreyas Iyer was ruled out initially due to injury, there were doubts. Today, Pant is undoubtedly the most daring and destructive batsman, across all formats. His keeping skills have improved very well and he knows what leadership is. He is definitely an India captaincy material for the future.
There are many more interesting captains in the mix. Rohit Sharma, whose success in white-ball cricket has been phenomenal, will lead the Mumbai Indians with the added advantage of playing "at home." However, the way team compositions have changed, it will take some time for fans to get used to it. As the Team India captain, Rohit knows his fitness will be watched closely. The T20 format is not easy, more so when someone like Rohit has been dealing with a few niggles.
Kolkata Knight Riders did the right thing in picking Shreyas Iyer as captain. The Mumbaikar has shown what it is to score well and impress selectors. For far too long, he has been made to feel like a person who is a replacement. If Shreyas can lead with flourish this time, he is bound to get noticed further.
The other day, Ravi Shastri, now back as a TV commentator, though in Hindi, spoke of how the IPL makes players super fit. He also hinted how captains will be looked at closely as India will be playing two major assignments in 2022 and 2023 — the ICC T20 and ODI World Cup. Given Rohit's frequent breakdowns like an old jalopy, Shreyas and KL Rahul (who leads the Lucknow side) will be watched closely. Playing for India and scoring runs is very different from doing well for a new IPL team. Rahul knows it, and so do Mayank Agarwal who heads the Punjab side and Hardik Pandya, captain of the Gujarat franchise.
One obvious skipper name missing is that of King Virat Kohli. With the former India captain opting for nirvana, he will be playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore as a pure batsman under Faf du Plessis. Kohli has scored 6,283 runs in the IPL. Fans are dying to see the old Kohli light up the arena again.
When the IPL was conceived in 2008, there were doubts. Today, the IPL is a multi-billion-dollar brand which attracts attention, arouses interest and instills desire in even those not playing the sport. The business side of the IPL is an altogether different cup of tea. Yet, for all those who deal with endorsements, advertisements, sponsorships and so on, the IPL has stayed recession-proof.
The common man like you and me can crib about rising petrol prices and gas cylinder price hike. In the IPL, there is no such scope for complaint. As a sport, it brings joy to billions of fans. It is as much a test of endurance and skill as it is of innovation and strategies. For Indians at large who have been through all types of traumas over the last two years of the pandemic, the IPL will result in good adrenaline flow. The best players from the world will figure in a league which has risen like the phoenix. Fasten your seat belt and relax.
Views expressed are personal
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