Shahrukh Khan waves to the crowd during a  ceremony to honour the IPL champions Kolkata Knight Riders

Shah Rukh Khan: as much of an IPL icon as any player

© Getty Images
13

Essay

The nine lives of the IPL

Nearly a decade on, the tournament that keeps landing on its feet is a festival of the New India

Prayaag Akbar |

Match day. Marine Drive, Mumbai. A ribbon of cobalt and garish gold: college couples, senior citizens, hyper kids and parping parents in a bumper sweat. The queue unfurls with the gentle curve the promenade makes along the coastline. A bamboo cordon seals the pavement from the road, but there is spillage and revelry as balloon sellers and face-painted face-painters and horn-tooters and queue-jumpers and bottled-water salesmen batter the fence, all wearing the same gold-winged, cobalt, unbreathing jerseys. The luxury sedans gleaming in the last sun on their way to Fort and Colaba have been humbled to walking speed. Cops everywhere, lathis and khaki bellies, shy-smiling young policewomen.

It is a tableau reminiscent, local variations permitted, of weekend afternoons outside North London's Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal Football Club, El Monumental in Buenos Aires when the fevered Los Millonarios of River Plate are streaming in, Fenway Park in Boston, where the Red Sox Nation congregates 81 times or more every summer; reminiscent, in truth, of the major sporting stadiums across the world. But a sight still new to India. Less than a decade old, in fact. It is easy to revile the Indian Premier League. Many do. It isn't May in India unless a few curl-lipped wise men have produced 900-word editorials on how crass and un-cricket all this full-throated enjoyment is. To be fair, most objections are valid. In its short history, the controlling interests of the IPL have done their utmost to subvert crucial aspects of the competition. The BCCI's continued mismanagement, and the tawdry, occasionally malfeasant behaviour of some team owners are two genuine threats to the survival of the league.

But in a moment like this outside the Wankhede you glimpse the things that bubble beneath the surface of sport: the manner in which it shapes community, celebration, how it conjures equity and competitive fervour and blind belief. To see the IPL as the ego-grazing grounds of Lalit Modi or N Srinivasan or Nita Ambani is to misunderstand its remarkable impact.

It isn't May in India unless a few curl-lipped wise men have produced 900-word editorials on how crass and un-cricket it all is

The league has entered India's cultural calendar like no other sporting event, a fixture now of the fallow period earlier spent grimly enduring the summer. The streets of the host cities light up with banners and team songs. Foreign stars are welcomed as long-lost prodigals. Price tags and transfers are discussed over office tiffin. Knock-off jerseys are proudly pulled out from the backs of closets. Corporations big and small entreat their ad agencies to produce something, anything that will set them apart from the barrage of inevitable messaging. Even Bollywood producers pattern their summer releases along the ebbs and flows of the IPL schedule. It's hard to think of a better metric of public interest.

It is no coincidence that IPL advertisements aspire to challenge social convention in the exact register of Bollywood, nibbling at our mores but never confronting them outright. The IPL's commercial interests have resulted in a branding campaign hewing directly to the "nation-building" idiom, presenting a series of scenes nearly impossible to find outside advertising's fantasia: a Muslim man giving a Sikh child a perch on his shoulder so he can watch the match on a public screen; servant and master high-slapping in a restaurant; a Kathakali dancer twirling in tandem with a stiff-skirted Ghoomar dancer; a suitably stern, traditionally attired lady telling her daughter-in-law, despite son's diktat, to remain in the room after she has served tea, because a wicket has just fallen. Each vignette intends to bring a small lump to the throat of a nation reared on platitudinous cinema. By the time broadcaster Sony Entertainment Television's tagline for the tournament is sung - led by a distinctive, triumphal trumpet that has been sampled, it might surprise you to learn, not from a wedding baraat but an obscure Euro-house track - you are emotional enough to agree. The IPL, in all its fragile, febrile glory, is the nationwide celebration of the sport we love more than anyone else. A festival India's many creeds can celebrate together: "Indya ka tyohaar"?

It is a tricky case to argue given the festering rot at the heart of the IPL. Lest we forget, the IPL began as the BCCI's unedifying bid to retain monopolistic control over big-ticket cricket in India. Subhash Chandra's Indian Cricket League threatened to upset the status quo. So the board unleashed on world cricket its most dynamic young Dobermann, Lalit Modi, a snarling-smiling industrial scion who had already demonstrated via three colossal commercial tie-ups that he could bring the BCCI bigger bounty than the cricket world had ever seen.

Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi in 2010, before the league was wracked by scandal

Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi in 2010, before the league was wracked by scandal © Getty Images

Modi left the nuts and bolts of setting up the league to International Management Group (IMG). (IMG's bitter ouster three years later, orchestrated by Srinivasan, shocked insiders, because the IPL had been built on the agency's expertise.) From the outset the IPL's over-glossed edifice has been battered by controversy. Sadanand Sule, son-in-law of Sharad Pawar, Modi's mentor in the BCCI and a former chief minister of Maharashtra, was revealed to be part owner of Multi Screen Media, which had the broadcast rights. A company partially owned by Pawar and his daughter Supriya Sule turned out to be behind a bid for the Pune franchise, though they had previously denied it. Srinivasan owned Chennai Super Kings while he was the secretary and later the president of the BCCI. Different members of Modi's extended family owned stakes in the Punjab and Rajasthan franchises.

Despite this morass, or perhaps because of it, the unseemly squabble between Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor over the latter's girlfriend (later his wife) Sunanda Pushkar's stake in the Kochi team might have remained just that. Modi's head rolled in the fallout. The convoluted ownership structures of the IPL teams were investigated; three teams were suspected by authorities of utilising a circuitous method of bringing illegal wealth back into the country, known as "round-tripping". In 2014, after a public fight on Twitter between Tharoor and his wife over an alleged affair, she told the Economic Times, "I took upon myself the crimes of this man [Tharoor] during IPL." A few days later Pushkar was found dead in her hotel room. Investigators continue to examine her death and the controversy over the ownership of the IPL team, though no link has been established.

In May 2013, BCCI president Srinivasan's son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, who had previously identified himself as team principal of Chennai Super Kings, was arrested on charges of cheating, forgery and fraud. Three players from Rajasthan Royals were banned from cricket after phone conversations established their involvement with bookmakers. A Royals owner, Raj Kundra, was caught betting on his team's games. In July last year, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, two of the league's consistently successful teams, were suspended for two years by a panel appointed by the Supreme Court for infractions related to spot-fixing.

Even Bollywood producers pattern their summer releases along the ebbs and flows of the IPL schedule. It's hard to think of a better metric of public interest

The BCCI's standard reaction, when media and public clamour become impossible to ignore, is to announce a "closed-door" meeting. Almost all the work, including elections, of this secretive, ostensibly public-spirited body takes place without real audit from independent verticals such as the media. So it wasn't a surprise when in December 2015 the BCCI held a closed-door player auction at the Mumbai Cricket Association's premises at the Bandra Kurla Complex - a typically frantic attempt to extricate the tournament from the swamp it had been led into by its bosses. Unlike earlier IPL auctions, which were televised, serving as a sort of fiscal forerunner to the main competition, this one was conducted in secrecy because of the numerous embarrassments it promised.

It was apparent by then to most watchers that the BCCI was unwilling to go after its own. Chennai Super Kings, particularly, had links all the way up India's cricketing hierarchy. Yet the success of both teams had also come to define the tournament. The BCCI responded in the way it knew best, by selling rights to two more teams, so that the IPL could continue with a full docket of matches. There is no clear plan for what will happen once the suspended teams return. The tournament is already too bloated and prone to mid-season fatigue. Ten teams playing each other twice would only add to the ennui. As ever, the BCCI demonstrated its disregard for the supporters who fill its vast coffers, deciding its course of action without consulting affected fans.

On August 1 last year, a fortnight after the panel appointed by the Supreme Court had made its decision public, 13,000 fans of Chennai Super Kings, many in the team's distinctive canary yellow, gathered outside the MA Chidambaram Stadium to petition against their team's exclusion. There was no marketing beyond social media, no serving of vested interests. Here was genuine ground-up mobilisation, people coming together to protect an institution that in eight years had come to mean something to them, brought them pleasure, pain and pride.

CSK supporter extraordinaire Saravanan: lives in a yellow submarine

CSK supporter extraordinaire Saravanan: lives in a yellow submarine © BCCI

The protest was led by a thunderous superfan, H Saravanan. Saravanan has acquired a degree of celebrity over the latter IPL years for his presence at every CSK game. In the course of the telecast the camera will return invariably to this arresting figure, half-naked - Incredibrand India's modern-day fakir - his rice belly, chest, legs and face painted entirely yellow, hair tucked into a puzzling Soul Glo wig, convulsively celebrating every micro-achievement of the team even as the sweat streaming off him thins a delta of paint at each armpit.

Saravanan describes himself as "very middle-class. Father's an auto driver. Mother's a housewife." He works as a marketing manager with a local retail chain. Until 2012, he chose to paint only his face for Super Kings' games. After a bad motorbike accident, when he couldn't attend games - he says "thalaivar" [boss] MS Dhoni leading India to the 2011 World Cup was something of a tonic - he wanted to do something special as a tribute to his champion team and Dhoni. "That's when the idea came to paint my entire body," he says. "But it was really hard, you know. I didn't have that much money. I had to use public toilets to paint myself. Several people have called me names because I do this. But I feel I had to for my team. Besides, all they can do is talk. I got to see Dhoni face to face and he calls me by my name now. He calls me Saravanan."

In time Saravanan was taken to away games by Chennai Super Kings. "I go to the match feeling like a player myself," he says. "In a T20 game, if the toss is at 7.30, I get to the ground by 7pm. But to paint everything I have to start at 4pm. From then on I just keep standing. I do not sit down till the match ends at midnight because I want to feel like one of the Super Kings out there. It has nothing to do with superstition. My legs hurt quite severely and the paint also makes my skin burn. I think of it like the pain a woman goes through during pregnancy. Once the baby is born all the pain is forgotten."

"I had to use public toilets to paint myself. Several people have called me names because I do this. But I feel I had to for my team" CSK superfan Saravanan

How does a supporter of such exuberance handle the news that his team has been excluded from the tournament for two years for an infraction that had nothing to do with on-field matters? "I cried," he says. "I thought I had lost someone from my family. Everyone felt bad. The way I saw it, the team did no wrong. Just Gurunath Meiyappan. We don't deny his mistakes, but why can't they punish just him? Why did they have to punish the team? What did the players do? What did the fans do?"

Gaurav Kapur, the beanpole host of Sony's flagship IPL programme, Extraaa Innings, makes a similar point. "If these two [Meiyappan and Kundra] were using insider information, ban them. When there is insider trading, you ban the trader. You don't shut the company down. And you certainly don't shut down the stock exchange."

Kapur, astute, bubbly, Bandra-hipsterish, met me for a quick press of Jamaican coffee at Salt Water Cafe, a favourite hive of Bandra's bubbly, astute and hipsterish. "By suspending these teams for two years, the punishment has gone to people who were innocent," he said. "Fans, players, the 500-1000 people who are employed for eight weeks every year outside the stadium, inside the stadium. Food contractors, the guys making flags outside, T-shirt makers. Why are they being punished?"

Where's my phone y'all? In the IPL's early years, its cheerleaders strutted their stuff against a backdrop of cameraphone-wielding men

Where's my phone y'all? In the IPL's early years, its cheerleaders strutted their stuff against a backdrop of cameraphone-wielding men © AFP

Kapur has his own interest in the league's unhindered functioning, but he has a point. In his book on Indian cricket, The Great Tamasha, the journalist James Astill writes of a group of workers painting the logo of a mobile-phone company on the grass of Jaipur's Sawai Mansingh Stadium:

"They were Bengali sign-painters, it turned out, who migrated to Jaipur for the duration of each IPL season. They spoke no English, little Hindi, and, over 1,000 miles from home in humid Kolkata, were almost as foreign to Rajasthan as I was. They complained about its dry desert heat; yet seemed happy enough. They were earning 500 rupees a day for painting the cricket pitch, more than double what they earned in Kolkata."

One of the stranger things about this undoubtedly peculiar tournament is that exactly half its teams have been able to build a passionate, organic support base. The others have not. Why is it, for instance, that Chennai has this impressive, committed following, while the suspension of Rajasthan Royals - among the more successful teams, year on year - was met without a murmur of protest in Rajasthan? There is, certainly, the widespread allegiance to Dhoni. But it's not just Chennai. Royal Challengers Bangalore, Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians have built avid support. Royals, Delhi Daredevils, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab have failed to do so.

"When there is insider trading, you ban the trader. You don't shut the company down. And you certainly don't shut down the stock exchange" Gaurav Kapur, IPL presenter

Kapur believes the IPL allows for a number of cross-team connections. "Support in the league is certainly personality-oriented," he says. "You have Dhoni, Rahul Dravid, Sachin - and of course, Shah Rukh Khan. They will bring followers everywhere they go in India. Each city also has its own cricket-watching culture. Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, they all have very different fans." He argues that the Indian supporter is able to draw upon multiple strands of allegiance and order his preferences. "Some people come from one place, work in another, or were born somewhere, so they support all those teams," he says. "Others hate the team their mother-in-law supports. Or they had a bad holiday somewhere. Whatever it is, in almost every IPL game, most Indians will have a team they'd prefer to win."

A closer look suggests that the emotional resonance that half these teams generate is premised on their link to ethnicity, or at least tribal pride. In England's football leagues, tribal divides can occur within small cities, sometimes even neighbourhoods, the club and its colours becoming a totem for an imagined division - Tottenham and Arsenal in North London, say, or Everton and Liverpool along the Mersey. In India, ethnic divisions run deeper, drawing from and feeding back into food, religion, caste, perhaps even race. When the IPL teams came up, marketing honchos must have rubbed their hands in glee at the opportunity to fashion from age-old identities a new set of loyalties. But the success of some and failure of others in building a committed fan base shows how difficult it is to imprint ethnic and tribal identities upon nakedly commercial entities.

Saravanan has insight to offer. "CSK has become family for us," he says. "Simply put, their tagline - "Whistle podu" - is very, very Tamil. Everyone whistles here. It's part of the culture. Then there is the colour. Yellow. That's also steeped in Tamil history. Manjal, we call it, and it is immensely special. We use it in our festivals, weddings. That's how CSK has become a part of us, a part of me."

Pravin Tambe: from Mulund to the major league

Pravin Tambe: from Mulund to the major league © BCCI

"Another thing with CSK is that the entire stadium becomes a hub for Tamil people," he says. "They come from everywhere in the state. From Madurai, Coimbatore, from Kanyakumari and Salem." Culture and pride have long been used in service of commerce. Chennai and Kolkata play up ethnic associations. Bangalore and Mumbai have positioned their teams as an extension of pride in the city.

From a sporting standpoint, the tournament would not be what it is today without reciprocation from a wide swathe of urban India. It might never have moved past its first avatar, when each team was composed of a few waning greats and four or five frail and witless passengers plucked from the Ranji squads, has-beens and also-rans.

A quibble some have with the IPL is that it often descends into a procession of hitting on flat decks that make rough equals of Dale Steyn and Stuart Binny. There is an essential sameness to Chris Gayle's long-handled back-foot heaves that make even his remarkable six-hitting somewhat tedious - once he's sent it to the same section of the stands a dozen times, you don't need to watch numbers 13 to 18. But this is not a criticism of the IPL as much as of T20 cricket in general. Further, it is not a criticism of T20 as much as an anguished cry against the steady derogation of the wonderful game of Test cricket.

"If a young boy tells me, I'm not being picked for U-19, I can tell him to just keep working. I am the best example. Age is never a bar" Pravin Tambe

Few who understand cricket would argue that a T20 game yields the same pleasures as a keenly contested Test. With each abbreviation we lose qualities that elevate this sport. Yet T20 is much closer to how cricket is played by non-professionals all over the world - no gully game extends over five days. Look also at viewership. T20 is already the most popular form of the game. All over the cricketing world, yes, even in England and Australia, where Indians imagine cricket fans are somehow more discerning, people crowd in for T20 games. This is a function of its relative convenience. But it is also a function of the democratisation of the audience. Perhaps this is what has the purists so angsty. T20 enables the working class to watch games, much like Kerry Packer once did with night games in Australia. The IPL helps the Indian working man draw a measure of entertainment from his difficult day, to feel part of a community, to support and abuse the heroes and prima donnas who turn out on his dime.

Is there an element of class bias when we, sitting amid our relative comforts, cringe at the sight of 30 or 40 men crowding behind a team of cheerleaders, camera phones out? Yes, it is a distasteful spectacle. But the IPL cheerleaders brought sex onto our screens and into our stadiums in a way no one was quite ready for. Indian popular culture is characteristic of the worst kind of prudery - a good woman must not flaunt her sexuality. So the IPL flew in white women, long fetishised by Bollywood (and in seedy-cinema morning shows) to do the very thing - dancing - that has proxied sex in Indian culture since dasis first started twirling in temples. It is heartening to note that in the last few years this sight is less frequently seen. Year by year the cheerleaders have been normalised, and the number of men goggling and catcalling and thrusting around them has reduced.

While we tell ourselves we're better than the slavering masses, Extraaa Innings, which takes the IPL to its massive middle- and upper-class audience, suggests our own interest is hardly less prurient. The sexual frisson of the broadcast is eerily reminiscent of Indian cinema. The female anchors on the show, all Indian, are softly sexualised, in short and tight dresses, giving glimpses of breast or back, vivacious and simultaneously supplicant. The on-set cheerleaders are all white, though sometimes caramel. Like the Russian back-up dancers who thrive in Mumbai, these girls provide the serious titillation. Perhaps unconsciously, the IPL's flagship show echoes Bollywood's oldest trick. For what else is this but the homemaker and the item girl, the schoolgirl and the slut, Madhubala and Helen?

The <i>Extraaa Innings</i> crew. Gaurav Kapur is first from right

The Extraaa Innings crew. Gaurav Kapur is first from right © Getty Images

The IPL has democratised Indian cricket in another respect. Before it began, the Indian cricket fan had no real way to judge those outside the national XI, unless he was committed enough to attend a sequence of dirge-like Ranji games. The Indian team was a closed club for the most part, one set of players in each generation sanctified and cherished beyond reason. Now the caste-sharp separation between the national team and the others has blurred. One of the real pleasures of the tournament is watching an Indian journeyman who has given his life to cricket without hope of reward finally get a showing in front of a national audience. To have the chance, in a pressure situation, to turn a game for his team in front of swaying, baying thousands.

Perhaps no one exemplifies this aspect of the IPL better than Pravin Tambe, a tubby Mumbaikar who raced into the headlines via a fantastic tournament for Rajasthan Royals in 2013. Tambe was 41 when he first appeared in an IPL match, and hardly looked a modern-day cricketer, which made his story endearing. But it was his pinpoint legspin that really impressed. He was taken by Royals to the Champions League. Here he was the leading wicket-taker, including a three-fer-few in the semi-final against a previously unassailable Chennai Super Kings; he finished with 12 dismissals in five games at an average of 6.50 and an economy rate of 4.10.

Tambe met me on a sunny January afternoon outside the gate of the Sharad Pawar Indoor Cricket Academy in Bandra Kurla, after practice with the Mumbai Ranji team. He is now in excellent shape, soft-spoken, with only one or two accoutrements of the professional cricketer. We found a Café Coffee Day perched atop a petrol pump and here he recounted memories of the IPL. Lurking at the edges of our conversation was the shared knowledge that Tambe's team, Rajasthan Royals, had been suspended for two years, and that he was currently without employment for the upcoming edition. But he had been bowling well, most recently in the Syed Mushtaq Ali domestic T20 tournament, and was hopeful someone would take a punt on a fit 44-year-old. A few weeks later the new Rajkot franchise, Gujarat Lions, would buy his services for Rs 20 lakh (approximately US$29,000).

Ultimately the IPL does not need my or your approval. It will not suddenly disappear because some people think it is in bad taste

"Playing in the maidans, for my corporate team, Orient Shipping, was also good preparation for the IPL," Tambe says. "You come across pure cricketers, unorthodox sloggers. I had to make a plan for all kinds of batsmen. We would work from 10 to 3. From 3pm we would go to Azad Maidan for practice. I was playing six days a week, three hours a day after work. I loved it. I didn't even think about trying out for the Ranji team. I would just practise with the same intensity as the match. Some people notice. The closest I came was being among the Mumbai probables in 2000."

Tambe, who lives in Mulund, a distant suburb, and has run a small academy there since well before his IPL celebrity, worked as a liaison officer at the sprawling DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. "The Deccan Chargers were using the stadium as their home ground in 2010," he says. "They needed net bowlers, so I would chip in. The Pune Warriors also used the stadium. Then we had an all-India T20 tournament at the stadium where the Royals had someone watching. In 2013 I got a call to appear in Rajasthan for the trials, just two or three months before the IPL was to begin. That went very well. Suddenly I was on the same team as Rahul Dravid!"

Tambe has good words for some of the senior management at Royals. "They never treated me as a club player. It gave me such a boost. Just the chance to experience the IPL, to perform, because I came in so late. Even in the team no one made me feel like an outsider, though there is so much competition. And the facilities. Paddy Upton as a mental conditioning coach. It's a real boon for the local players. If you see, all the Royals players have been performing well in Ranji games." Tambe even provides an unwitting answer to those who worry that the IPL will devour all other cricket played in India - or even the world. "My happiest moment? That was being picked for Mumbai [the Ranji team, in 2013-14]," he said. "To wear that lion jersey is every Mumbai cricketer's dream."

Kings XI Punjab fans show just which of their team owners is their favourite

Kings XI Punjab fans show just which of their team owners is their favourite © Getty Images

The unfettered competitive capitalism of the IPL, and the ludicrous contracts even average Indian players command, has resulted in teams casting their nets wide and far to find the best deals. Still, Tambe's story is unique. A couple of years ago, residents of Mulund, where he grew up, organised a felicitation ceremony at an auditorium on his birthday. He is happy he can occasion hope in cricketing backwaters like Mulund, where most will grow up outside the patronage systems that can bear upon selections. "Now I get people of all ages at my academy," he says. "Doctors, lawyers, just to play cricket. And if a young boy tells me, 'I'm not being picked for U-19', I can tell him to just keep working. I am the best example. Age is never a bar."

Ultimately the IPL does not need my or your approval. It will not suddenly disappear because some people think it is in bad taste. Too many people are making too much money from it. Next year, Sony and Star Sports will compete in the mother of all bidding wars, for the right to broadcast the next ten years of the IPL. In Mumbai the advertising industry enters full churn in the months preceding the tournament. Last year Pepsi ran a competition inviting people to submit their own cola ads, to be aired during the tournament. You couldn't walk around my neighbourhood, Bandra, without stumbling into a skeletal film crew being berated by an ambitious assistant director. That's when it occurred to me that the IPL's impact extends far beyond cricket.

But it is this great fusillade of sound and fury that turns the IPL tiresome almost immediately. Within five or six days of the tournament starting, even I, an admirer, am sick of the sheer din it generates. The studio trumpets and the horns in the crowd. The cameras panning from the botox gang on one boundary-side couch to the tummy-tuck mob on the other boundary-side couch (one of the guaranteed perks of owning a team is, you are guaranteed a certain amount of screen time per game). Adverts for every consumer product in India coming at you between overs, between wickets, between balls, through specially designated timeouts, along the boundaries, as the bowler is running up, on every free inch of the team uniforms, suffixed to each wicket, catch, four and six. Often the cricket telecast shrinks to two-thirds of your television so that ads for Bleached and Handsome or Bunty Life Insurance can colonise two thick stripes along the edges of your screen. This year, brand expenditure on advertising is expected to increase by a fifth, up to Rs 1200 crore (approx $175 million).

The IPL cheerleaders brought sex onto our screens and into our stadiums in a way no one was quite ready for

And then, good lord, there is the commentary. It is the delirious, borderline-deranged exuberance of the commentators, some of whom spent their playing careers typifying dignity and grace, that threatens to kill the spectacle for me. Then I made a thrilling discovery. Mute. Now I watch the IPL with the sound turned off and a well-curated playlist ticking over on the stereo. Advertising loses all its maddening power. Hema Malini's voiceless visage is no longer hawking water purifiers. Now she is ambling about the kitchen, mouthing things to herself, same as many people her age. Once I discovered mute, I came to realise it is not the sixes and fours and stumpings that are all the same. They are unique: a shift of shoulders there, a half-step to the leg side here. What, in fact, doesn't change is the language that the commentators use to describe the action. It is their lingual paucity that has us suffering.

Now that the IPL hosts some of the best players in the world, there is plenty of excitement from the cricket itself. Surely we don't need the surrounding noise? But I suspect to those in charge it is the cacophony and not the finer points of the cricket that is vital. Perhaps the broadcasters have it right. The advertising, the prudery and the sex, the senseless hype, as well as the sense of something new, the sweat-soaked effort, the desperation to achieve - all this together makes the IPL New India's garish, glam-ish festival. Though like most religions, it could do with a new set of priests.

Additional reporting by Alagappan Muthu, sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Prayaag Akbar is a journalist living in Mumbai

 

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  • POSTED BY Sriram on | April 9, 2016, 16:01 GMT

    4/n

    Once again, it was a superb piece. Going by the length of my disagreements, you may think I didn't like the article. But if I had written everything I liked about the piece, it would be ten times longer than my disagreements. Cheers :)

  • POSTED BY Jose on | April 9, 2016, 15:59 GMT

    URGENT:

    Though I pointed out the error in the credit to the following post, it still continues.

    POSTED BY SEVENTYTHREE ON | APRIL 9, 2016, 13:46 GMT.

    I submitted the comment.

    My user ID is JOSE...P

    NOT ... SEVENTYTHREE

    I wonder how such an error happened. In fact, I hadnever seen a user with this name (SEVENTYTHREE) so far, in any of the threads.

    TWO URGENT REQUESTS.

    Please correct the error replacing SEVENTYTHREE with JOSE...P

    Secondly, please look into, whether it is a genuine error. Or a mischief by someone.

    I love to post comment

  • POSTED BY Sriram on | April 9, 2016, 15:59 GMT

    (Sorry, this is a long comment split into multiple parts)

    1/n

    Excellent piece, Prayaag: comprehensive and nuanced, capturing all the good and the bad in the IPL. I especially liked the way you brought out the collateral damage in suspending CSK and RR -- the painters, the food vendors and the army of invisible, forgotten people who keep the train chugging along, who all lost their livelihood. This will be my go-to piece in thinking about the complexities of the IPL.

    However, I disagree on a few issues.

    First, the IPL is the apotheosis of crony capitalism, not of "unfettered competitive capitalism". You mentioned a few IPL warts, but here two key ones you omitted.

    A. Fixed auctions: This undermined the legitimacy of the competition, skewing it towards those who are more equal than the rest. Flintoff is the most egregious example (http://www.espncricinfo.com/indian-premier-league-2012/content/story/552470.html)

  • POSTED BY Jose on | April 9, 2016, 13:46 GMT

    Posted by JOSE ... P

    An Orwellian "inequity", mentioned in this fine article captures my attention.

    George Orwell's oft-quoted "Animal Farm" comes to my mind. In his farm all animals were equal, but some were more equal than the others. Same is the case with these IPL franchises. Some franchises are certainly "more equals"!

    Let me jump onto that a bit.

    Concept of "USP" is no more the USP of Marketing professionals! It has become part of the popular lexicon. Let me go to a lesser cousin of USP, that is UFP - Unique Focal Point, conceived and made into a require d 'mantra', by the original Ad guru, Ogilvy. Folklore has it that, he used to tear apart any Ad campaign without a UFP.

    IPL franchises with UFPs are certainly more than equals, than those without.

    UFP need not be one of the players, though. KKR shows up with an owner, SRK. MI shows up with a mentor, SRT. Deccan typifies the lack of it. So on & so forth. Come to think of it, Isn't it obvious?

  • POSTED BY Vikram on | April 8, 2016, 23:10 GMT

    Being the keen observer of society that Prayaag is, it would have been interesting to see him take the sharp distinction in fan following further. Are there underlying sociological reasons why teams in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and above all, Chennai have developed such an intense fan following and those in Punjab, Delhi and Rajasthan not ?

    One conjecture could be that there is an unrequited nationalism in Marathi, Tamil and Bengali societies within India, places which see themselves as' Indian' but yet dont identify themselves as firmly with the 'national mainstream', as those in Delhi or Chandigarh do. The IPL gives them the chance to express this nationalism. Perhaps, for the Dilliwallahs, and in general the Hindiwallahs, the IPL mainly reminds them of economic and cultural independence of other areas, and they are struggling to come to terms with their relative marginality in this setup.

  • POSTED BY Indian on | April 8, 2016, 17:20 GMT

    @A.JAYAWERDENE : IPL naysayers like yourselves have this weird logic that IPL is responsible for everytime Indian team does badly/loses so by the same logic whatever Indian team has won after 2008 i.e since IPL started (Lots of ICC Silverware,Asia Cups, lots of marquee bilateral wins, reaching the Finals, S/F of multiple ICC events) then all the credit should also go to the IPL . As far other international teams getting familiar with Indian conditions IPL is not the only option as there are so many bilateral tours, "A' team, U-19, Off Season tours/camps etc where they get familiarized to Indian conditions. There are so many Australians playing in IPL but it hasn't helped them much whenever they have toured India recently.

  • POSTED BY Jose on | April 8, 2016, 14:02 GMT

    @POSTED BY A.JAYAWARDENE ON | APRIL 8, 2016, 12:30 GMT

    That is part and parcel of any global franchise sport.

    The trade-off is between the betterment of cricket all around, or pursuing a jingoistic win. Though, anyone (including me) would love to win a world cup. No doubt.

    In any case, the world is gradually becoming an even field. Many factors are contributing to it. Franchise is just one. New technologies and astute analysts provide another. Preparing, diverse pitches for training national teams is yet another. I, for one, am delighted. One can see better players. Better games. Everywhere. Helps sift grain from the chaff.

  • POSTED BY exhil on | April 8, 2016, 12:30 GMT

    It's true with there are some outside benefits from the IPL, no question. But the key point is it dilutes India's first team interests definitely, India haven't won the T20 since the start of the IPL & lost now two very good chances when the WC was held in BD & India itself.Indian pitches have become more & more familiar to foreign players as clearly was evident WI triumphing over India in the recent T20.This will be seen more commonly now in ODI & Tests too in time to come & India will slump in main cricket point of view however the franchises & others living off & the players of course will thrive on this.

  • POSTED BY Jose on | April 8, 2016, 12:01 GMT

    Cricket is a species of 'enchantress', with 3 sub-species. Entertained, and be entertained in different parts of the world.

    Of the three, T 20, the youngest, is pandered, and pampered, decked up more, and presented the most. Everywhere.

    IPL is our young one. We made her "Bollywoodian". We love Bollywood, don't we?

    We make her appealing to all: the prince to the plebeian. . She is dancing down to the Indian cricket grounds from tomorrow.

    She may not be the purest, but is certainly the most exciting one - a seductress to those who are addicted to her wild charms. She will be with us for a while. Join your palms. Welcome her. Clap, clap!

    Enjoy the game. Enjoy her charms, though fleetingly short. Every night, till it lasts.

  • POSTED BY Jose on | April 8, 2016, 7:54 GMT

    This article has too many nuggets to comment upon.

    A typo in my earlier post ('disability' becoming 'divisibility') prompts me to pick one, among many.

    That is on the power of CSK as a unifying force.

    Like any other city, Chennai also have had divisive forces.

    Pre "Periyar" days. it used to be on caste lines; Upper V Lower. In fact, one can trace the roots of the "Dravidian" movement to that old divide. The perception that the upper cast controlled everything, in society.

    Post "Periyar", it is on political line. Every new political movement divided society. Most parties mutated and subdivided further like ameba.

    Come IPL season, CSK erased all those divisive lines. Yellow covered every other colour; even 50 shades of every possible colour.

    Yes, "Whistle Podu" became a united clarion call.

    Alas, this season, we will miss that phenomenon, though.

    But, as the author said, it will remain a sociologist delight. To prod and ponder.

  • POSTED BY Jose on | April 8, 2016, 5:51 GMT

    "Discovery of the blessings of the mute button" reminds me, how lucky I am! Being almost deaf. I had been "luckily" watching cricket on TV, with the mute button off, for many years. Wow! Thanks, for giving a positive twist to a divisibility,

  • POSTED BY mituld9033217 on | April 8, 2016, 4:26 GMT

    Brilliant piece. Spot on with the commentary, downright insufferable, and about the ads. Once in a while though, they come up with a clever advert or two. Remember the Vodafone zoo-zoos.

  • POSTED BY Jayaesh on | April 7, 2016, 13:49 GMT

    Wonderful,detailed,insightful and most importantly a well balanced article. IPL bashers specifically Indian ones need to look at Pravin Tambe story to discover another side of IPL. In this era where others sports are vying for eyeball especially European Football leagues IPL will ensure that young kids in India stay interested in game and also pick cricket as a career option, i know playing for India is the ultimate honor and first preference but lets be honest Indian team is limited to 15 or 16 players while IPL provides you 100 or so career spots.