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Indian cricket bonanza is massive hit

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Mumbai

Rajasthan celebrate their victory
The unfancied Rajasthan team won the competition on Sunday night.
Photo: Indian Express

The great Indian summer blockbuster has ended with a nail-biting climax.

In many ways, Sunday night's final of the Indian Premier League (IPL), cricket's most expensive and hyped carnival, mirrored vintage Bollywood fare.

An unfancied, cut-price team (Rajasthan), led by an ageing, semi-retired spin bowling wizard (Shane Warne), beat a pricey, aggressive rival (Chennai), led by one of the highest paid players in the game and Indian cricket's poster boy (MS Dhoni).

It was the triumph of the underdog over the rich and resourceful and it went down to the wire (a last-ball win).

And like in those films, some high-wire entertainment preceded and interspersed the serious business of cricket.

Kinetic kitsch

Starlets gyrated in various costumes to showcase "various cultures of India". Fire dancers, acrobats, contortionists, and guitarists and violinists gave the show a "global" feel. The pyrotechnics were spectacular.

Salman Khan
Bollywood star Salman Khan entertained the crowds before the match
Photo: Indian Express

The entertainment was Indiana Jones meets home-grown kinetic kitsch. The packed stadium clapped and danced when brawny star Salman Khan took the stage and gyrated a little more.

That the match happened on a sticky evening in the western city of Mumbai, home to Bollywood, is no coincidence.

Nor is the fact that that cricket and Bollywood, India's biggest obsessions, fused seamlessly in the competition - two of the teams are owned by Bollywood stars who routinely cheer their players from the dugouts, and Bollywood remixes and dances dominate on-field entertainment.

It's an irresistible combination and a resounding hit, dismaying the pundit and the purist.

Open auction

The democratisation of cricket has taken a great leap forward - entire families have turned up at the grounds all over India on muggy summer evenings to dance to Bollywood remixes, gorge on burgers and pizza, munch corn, guzzle cola and even watch some cricket.

Preity Zinta
Bollywood star Preity Zinta's team crashed out in the semi finals
Photo: Indian Express
The competition has all the trappings of what Indians call a "tamasha" or an entertainment show, or a "timepass", a way to have good, cheap fun to liven up their stressed lives.

Of course, a lot of cricket has been played as well, and some of it has been very entertaining.

Eight teams, 44 days and 59 matches have yielded nearly 18,000 runs from a group of top international cricketers and promising local cricketers, all bought in an unique open auction.

Nearly 60% of the runs came off fours and sixes, offering value-for-money to the cricket-mad Indians who faithfully succumbed to the temptations of a daily evening fix of speed cricket on television.

"It's all a blur now. Will people remember any memorable moments as the season ends, the way they remember classic Test matches?" wonders cricket historian Ram Guha.

But can purists afford to ignore this competition?

Banned for slapping

For one, IPL has offered excitement aplenty: there were seven victories where the winners scraped through by a margin of anything between one and nine runs; nearly 450 runs were scored between two teams during a single game; and in an early game, a batsman smashed 16 sixes during his stay at the crease.

Although one bowler was hit for 20 sixes through the competition, three others, including a South African, achieved hat-tricks - mopping up three wickets in three balls.

On the margins and off the field, there was abundant action as well.

Two Chennai players in action in the final
The cricket played was largely entertaining Photo: Indian Express

A senior Indian international player was banned from the competition mid-way after he slapped a fellow national teammate; and a polite official asked Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, one of the team owners, to stop hanging around the dressing room in an alleged violation of the code of conduct.

A police officer accused a high profile team owner of abusing him, two black cheerleading girls charged an event manager with racism and banishing them from a game, an inebriated Indian cricketer playing in the competition beat up a man in his hometown.

One team owner, known for his flamboyant ways, sacked his chief operating officer midway through the tournament because of his team's plummeting fortunes.

What more could you want from a tournament?

Great leveller

It also proved that the market - and money - does not always work. This is despite the fact that the only motivation for the competition's existence is money.

How else can you explain an low profile and cheapest ($67m) team like Rajasthan, led and coached by 38-year-old Shane Warne, rising above the hoopla to emerge as the best team of the competition?

How do you explain the law of diminishing returns taking over the most expensive teams, Mumbai ($111.9m, lost half of their 14 games) and Bangalore ($111.6m, lost 10 of 14 games)?

Both teams are owned by India's top businessmen, who have seldom experienced any failure, but the IPL has also been a great leveller.

Supporters at IPL final
Can cricket purists afford to ignore the sheer enthusiasm of the IPL crowds?
Photo: Indian Express

Even Bollywood got a big jolt.

Otherwise, how do you explain the crashing out of the Calcutta team (lost half of their 14 games) owned by India's biggest brand and superstar Shah Rukh Khan?

Khan partied with his cricketers, sent them inspirational text messages, cheered lustily from the dugouts, bought his film friends to dance in the stands, and tied up neat branding deals with companies.

Despite a growing pan-Indian support - his fans began supporting Calcutta because he owned the team - his players let him down.

Changed game

So has the IPL come to stay?

By all accounts yes, going by the resounding thumbs up it seems to have received from players (because of the money) and fans (because of the entertainment).

Will it be equally successful if replicated in other cricket playing countries?

That is difficult to say, going by the lukewarm response to the competition outside South Asia.

But what is clear is that the competition could change cricket since India is now international cricket's financial capital.

So much so that the usually taciturn and reserved Indian Test captain, Anil Kumble, is also singing hosannas in the competition's praise.

"[This is] an event that is likely to rewrite cricketing history," he says. "I'm not sure whether the game will ever be the same again after the IPL."




SEE ALSO
Warne's Royals win inaugural IPL
01 Jun 08 |  Cricket
IPL leading cricket's revolution
02 Jun 08 |  Cricket
But is it really cricket?
22 Apr 08 |  South Asia
How will the IPL change cricket?
17 Apr 08 |  Cricket
Indian Premier League team guide
15 Apr 08 |  Cricket
Will India's cricket league work?
27 Feb 08 |  South Asia

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