IPL 2018 promises another season of incredible T20 action across nearly two months despite absence of some star names
Test cricket is the highest level of the game. World Cup is the pinnacle of white-ball cricket. Both have a rich and deep history cultivated over decades of incredible results and painful defeats. It has a special place in the pantheon of cricket and will continue to do so for a long time.
And at the other side of the cricketing world there is an entity that has grabbed its corner of the landscape through brute strength – the Indian Premier League.
Absolutely nothing about the league is subtle. From the player outfits, cheerleaders and Bollywood patrons to million-dollar contracts, six-hitting sessions masquerading as T20 matches and sky-high TV ratings, the IPL is a force of nature.
It has been ten years since the idea that was first brought to life by the now-banned Indian Cricket League got turbo-charged by Lalit Modi. What started as an attempt to popularise and monetise a format invented in England exploded onto the scene with the force not even its most ardent proponents had expected.
The IPL is singularly responsible for the rise of T20 leagues across the globe that run parallel to the international calendar, opening up a whole new revenue stream for cricket boards, players and advertisers.
It is the IPL that has brought different cricketing cultures together, putting the best players on the planet in one dressing room and facilitating an incredible exchange of views and perspective, resulting in the elimination of at least a few misconceptions about rival players, mindset and cultures.
And most importantly, players who deliver in the IPL, Indian or otherwise, find themselves fast-tracked into the senior national team more often than not.
But IPL’s unprecedented rise has brought about its own set of problems.
Journeymen players are now a thing and cricketers around the globe are opting for white-ball only domestic contracts to make themselves available for IPL and other such T20 leagues.
Test cricket, or even international cricket, is not a priority for a number of young players in India as a handful of years in the IPL is more than enough from a financial point of view.
And then we have the controversies. IPL’s then chairman and commissioner Modi was unceremoniously shown the door in 2010 over allegations of administrative misconduct by the Indian board.
Then BCCI chief N Srinivasan got embroiled in a conflict of interest saga as he was also the head of the company that owned the Chennai Super Kings franchise.
Two separate spot fixing scandals – in 2012 and 2013 – not only resulted in bans for eight cricketers but also tainted the image of the league and raised questions about its efforts to keep corruption out of the game.
The biggest scandal – the 2013 spot fixing saga – saw Chennai and Rajasthan team owners and officials implicated in corruption and the franchises were suspended for two years in 2015.
In between, franchises were formed and disbanded. The city of Pune had two franchises – Pune Warriors India and Rising Pune Supergiant – while we also had Gujarat Lions and Kochi Tuskers Kerala for brief periods.
FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER
Which brings us to 2018, where we are back to the same eight cities from where the IPL was first launched in 2008.
The 11th edition of the tournament has all the ingredients for a keenly contested affair between eight teams, not only because all teams have the best players on the planet – among those who are fit and available for selection – but also because franchises have become smart with regards to player selections and team matrix.
No doubt the absence of superstars like Steve Smith and David Warner through suspensions and injuries to star bowlers Mitchell Starc and Kagiso Rabada, among others, have taken some sheen off the IPL 2018.
But for Indian fans, the return of two beloved franchises – Rajasthan Royals and especially Chennai Super Kings – plus the availability of all Indian superstars and Under-19 World Cup winners provide adequate razzmatazz to stay glued to the TV screens for nearly two months.
And that is what it all boils down to. The IPL has survived numerous controversies, which might have crippled other tournaments, and even defied market logic by pulling in $2.55 billion by way of broadcast rights for the next five years.
As the rest of the cricketing world hits the pause button for the start of the T20 jamboree in India, let’s tip our hat to the league that can truly claim to be ‘everything-proof’.