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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 February 2008, 08:37 GMT
Will India's cricket league work?
By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Mahendra Dhoni is the most expensive player in the league
The upcoming Indian Premier League cricket tournament is a heady cocktail of sports and commerce on a level that has never been attempted in the game before.

The multi-million pound, International Cricket Council-sanctioned Twenty20 tournament will feature eight city franchises - Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chennai, Chandigarh and Hyderabad - playing a total of 59 matches, beginning in April.

It is a gravy train without parallel - cricketers have been bid for and sold at whopping prices, and the Indian cricket board has already earned over 800m selling TV rights and team franchises for the tournament.

India one-day skipper Mahendra Dhoni attracted the highest price at the auction last week, bought for $1.5m (770,095) by Chennai, while Australia's Andrew Symonds went to Hyderabad for $1.35m (694,180).

The rich and powerful from Bollywood and some of India's biggest companies have dug deep into their pockets to bid for 78 stars.

But many cricketers, fans and experts of the game are sceptical about the tournament whipping up good fan loyalty.

Fan loyalty

They say the city-based club format of the tournament where one mixed nationality team plays the other and players are "bought and sold" will take time to grow roots.

One of them is cricket historian Boria Majumdar.

"One cardinal point about cricket craze in India is nationalism," he said. "Now you have to create fan loyalties based on cities. Do you identify with players or do you identify with cities when supporting a team?"

Indian cricket fans
Will Indian cricket fans root for city teams?

But advertising guru Alyque Padamsee says this will not stop the tournament becoming a success - he reminds critics that cricket in India began with a communal tournament called the Pentagular series.

"Public memory is short. In the Pentagular, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and the rest played league matches. When I was a kid I used to listen to these matches. They were hugely popular," said Padamsee, who was born in Mumbai.

"I want to see Mumbai thrash Delhi in the new league. I would watch it. People will support city teams."

The other big question is will players take the tournament seriously enough?

'Illicit liquor'

Majumdar says the tournament will fail if players treat it merely like a commercial spectacle.

"The entertainment will last a few days. Cricket fans in India are not fools. They will not come unless there is serious cricket."

Veteran cricketer Nari Contractor believes IPL will be good for cricket.

"Youngsters will get a chance to play with international players and learn from them," he said, adding that even being with senior players, sharing the same dressing room, teaches a lot to inexperienced players.

Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta
Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta have bought teams

"Every time cricket has gone the popular way, there have been objections from purists."

Some feel that the "camaraderie" among players may be affected with all the hype about the kind of money they are being offered to play.

It is another thing that most agree that the 20-over format of the game is not exactly champagne cricket.

Historian Ram Guha wryly likens Twenty20 cricket to "illicit liquor". Contractor says the format is "bad for technique" of batsmen. And Majumdar points out that "all the Twenty20 stars have failed in Test matches".

In the end, everybody agrees that the players - and not necessarily cricket - will benefit most from the tournament.

"IPL is good for players. They can make money. I have nothing against players making money, they have short careers," says former cricketer Mohinder Amarnath.

"It won't boost domestic cricket. It is more like a business and entertainment venture".



SEE ALSO
Justin Langer column
21 Feb 08 |  Cricket
Cricket bidding frenzy
20 Feb 08 |  Cricket
Australia warns stars over league
02 Dec 07 |  Australia
Aussie stars join Indian League
31 Oct 07 |  International Teams
McGrath confirms Indian interest
07 Aug 07 |  Australia
Pakistan ban players from league
02 Aug 07 |  Pakistan

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