The Other Side Of Ipl Good,Bad And Indifferent
The maxim that cricket is a religion in India was tested to its limit in the country for the last three months and the worshippers realised that another maxim which said excess of every thing is bad, was—to a large extent—correct. The cricket administrators in the country tried to milk the game to its maximum and end result was that fans finally had to call off their bluff.
Two months of World Cup followed by 74-match long IPL tourney took the sheen off the game and when the fourth edition of the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL) came to an end at Chepauk Stadium in Chennai, there were only few thousand die-hard fans present to bid it adieu.
It is no secret that IPL did not generate the excitement which is associated with it because of cricket overkill following the World Cup. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) took the fans for granted; otherwise there was no reason to start the IPL six days after the World Cup.
BCCI, it seemed, got carried away with the perception propagated by the foreigners that only two things sell in India—Bollywood and Cricket. The BCCI bosses now must have found out, to their dismay, that 24×7 cricket does not sell—even in India.
IPL was played after a season of 11 Tests and 25 ODIs, including a euphoric World Cup, and as cricket writer Sharda Ugra pointed out that the IPL’s governors may well believe that the World Cup victory is the excuse for the 2011 IPL’s flat line, but the businessmen are bound to start getting tetchy anyway. This fourth season of the IPL was to be the year the original eight teams had always believed they would at last begin making profits. The drop in the TV ratings, fall in the sale of tickets, not much excitement amongst the youngsters and empty stands in the matches in which top players figured, told its own story.
According to the latest study by UK-based consultancy Brand Finance, the IPL’s brand value has dropped by 11 per cent since last year. Presently, the IPL is valued at $3.67 billion, against last year’s $4.13 billion. Television viewing numbers were down 22 per cent for the first 26 games across six key markets, according to TAM Media Research.
Though the official figures have not yet been released, but many stadiums were not sold out for games, despite being scheduled in the evening. The addition of two new sides to the competition made it bloated and out of control.
According to Bunty Sajdeh, Chief Executive Officer of Cornerstone, a Mumbai-based sports management company, “There was an overkill of cricket. For any Indian fan, winning the World Cup was the pinnacle. Anything after that is of little value. Other than that, the changes in team’s composition have been a major factor. Fans find it difficult to accept a new player in their local team, who has played for the rival team in the past few seasons.”
The 2011 edition of the IPL started on a wrong note with the sacking of its all-in-one administrator Lalit Modi. Though Lalit Modi was made the fall guy by the BCCI, he had his admirers and one of them being Siddharth Mallya, co-owner of the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise, who compared the IPL without Modi—who faces criminal charges on corruption allegations—to “sugarfree candyfloss”.
“It looks the same, tastes the same but you know something is missing, Modi had a vision,” he was quoted as saying by the media. The IPL is not only cricket, it is more than that. It will not be far fetched to say that cricket is part of the IPL.
However, not everybody was dismissive about the IPL. Despite the grumbles, many point to the IPL’s strengths and its ongoing commercial success. Sponsorship soared about 30 per cent from last year, according to industry estimates. “The IPL is surviving because it is a very great business model with a win-win situation for everybody involved,” commented Shreedhar Swamy, a cricket blogger.
Amrit Mathur, Chief Operating Officer of the Delhi Daredevils, dismissed talks of fans losing interest in the IPL and asserted that reports of poor TV ratings were “misleading”. “Initially there was some spectator fatigue but it has been an unusual year because of the World Cup,” he said. “Things have picked up recently, and on a scale of ten, I would rate this IPL at eight.”
The IPL this year had its own share of on and off the field controversies. The non-inclusion of Pakistani players at the auction, failure of Saurav Ganguly to get himself picked up and later his ill-advised move to play for the Pune Warriors, Shane Warne’s decision to retire from T20 and his spat with Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) Secretary Sanjay Dixit. The pitch controversy and damning statement by New Zealand all-rounder Jacob Oram and to add to that injuries picked up by the players such as Virender Sehwag, Gautam Ghambir, Yuvraj Singh during the leaving, forcing them to opt out of the tour of the West Indies.
Interestingly, Gambhir was named captain of the T20 and one day teams on tour to the Caribbean’s.
Seven members of the World Cup winning team are not in the squad to the West Indies tour. Out of which, only S Sreesanth has been dropped. The remaining six have either been injured, fallen sick or have requested rest. Surprisingly, all the six played all their matches in the IPL.
This has led to another debate—club over country. Whether players should give preference to the country or to the club, which gives them huge money? Former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, who is also the coach of champion team Chennai Super Kings, has a different take on the issue: “It is very tough for a player to say no to IPL and they should not be blamed for wanting to play in the cash-rich tournament, and instead asked boards to manage their workload better.”
While Fleming was giving clean chit to the league and players, another Kiwi Jacob Oram, who played just two matches, shocked IPL organisers when he issued a statement saying, he felt disconnected with the league as the “after-match parties, Bollywood stars and fashion parades” seemed far removed from reality.
Another foreign cricketer who hit the headlines was Rajasthan Royals’ captain Shane Warne, who announced his retirement from this format of the game but not before he had an highly avoidable spat with RCA Secretary Sanjay Dixit.
Warne was fined $50,000 by the IPL’s disciplinary Commission. The Australian allegedly insulted Dixit after an IPL match in Jaipur, and called him a “liar and egoistic”. Mumbai Indians’ physio Patrick Farhat also was given a suspended fine of $10,000 for offence of misconduct during an earlier match. The punishment was handed out due to an incident of misconduct near dug-out during Mumbai Indians’ match against Delhi Daredevils on May 7.
It was not all negative off the field, as IPL emerged as a major job. Firms such as event manager DNA Networks, online booking site Bookmyshow.com and small units such as Cool Maal (merchandising) and Uniform Solutions (clothes supplier) thrive in the shadow of the Twenty20 tournament in its fourth year now.
By Harpal Singh Bedi