The fourth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) got over amidst great celebrations at the M A Chidambaram stadium at Chepauk, Chennai. Seventyfour matches, the largest number in IPL, with 10 teams taking part over nearly seven weeks. This year’s IPL, coming on the heels of the 2011 Cricket World Cup, signalled a long domestic cricketing season which nearly ran for four months and left the players and fans fatigued. There were interesting matches, photo-finish encounters and sedate ones. There were brilliant individual performances, excellent team performances and wonderful tournament achievements in this edition also. Relatively, IPL-4 had lesser spectator patronage and, more importantly, lower television viewership that would be debated by the authorities. Let us take stock of the plusses and minuses of the event.
Critics have been pointing out that viewer fatigue would certainly dent the enthusiasm for IPL-4 and this could be seen at the stadium and TRP ratings. After nearly one-and-a-half months of World Cup, it is almost impossible to sustain interest in the seven-week, 74 match event. Unfortunately, IPL does not have another window in the calendar. With the induction of two more teams, the number of matches had also increased, adding to the long duration of the fixture.
The journey to the fourth year of the IPL was a bumpy one. The chairman and commissioner of IPL was removed from his post and a new one appointed at the end of IPL-3. The governing council also got reconstituted. Various controversies have been raging over the conduct of the IPL in the past years. To add to the woes, one of the new entrants, Kochi Tuskers Kerala, were going through a lot of birth pangs. Two of the existing teams, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab, were removed from the tournament. Both teams got respite through the court and the BCCI had to allow them to participate. They also allowed Kochi to resolve the internal management differences and allowed them to participate. In all, 10 teams participated in the event.
The bidding for the players was a major pre-tournament event. Many teams got totally reconstituted after the initial three-year period. There were teams which did not retain their star players. Only Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians retained four players each in the pre-bidding stage.
The bidding had its quota of surprises. Some big names went abegging without anyone bidding for them. The case of Chris Gayle, who was not bid by any team but came back in the middle of the tournament to bag an Orange Cap, is an interesting and absorbing story in itself. A sentimental tale is that of Sourav Ganguly who was also not bid but finally participated for the new team, Pune Warriors, in a few matches without great success. Many an eyebrow was raised over the prize bid of some of the cricketers and one needs to do a post-mortem as to the effectiveness of the purchase of the high-paid players.
Like the World Cup, there was quite a bit of slackness in some of the matches. No doubt, there were a few absorbing matches which went down to the wire. There were breathtaking performances like Paul Valthaty’s knock for Kings XI Punjab against Chennai Super Kings that made the impossible possible. Virender Sehwag’s blitzkrieg century was a treat to savour. Chris Gayle brought a transformation in the fortunes of Royal Challengers Bangalore. Having missed the earlier part of the tournament, he was a surprise replacement and literally stormed the opponents into submission. The Bangalore team owes its entry into the finals only to Chris Gayle.
Virat Kohli continued his sound and successful IPL performance as did Suresh Raina. Sachin Tendulkar was success personified in the early part of the tournament but did not come up to expectations in the later part; nor did his team. Malinga was the unquestionable king with the Purple Cap.
Kolkota, with a new-look team, did remarkably well to be in the play-offs. Chennai continued the domination with superb team work and an incredible home success rate. But amidst all the great feats, there were long moments of dullness that did not allow the spectator interest to be sustained.
The last couple of matches before the play-offs were quite thrilling. Though the teams had all qualified for the play-offs, the intense competition for placements was remarkable. Unfortunately, the finals and the virtual semi-final were one-sided.
As the tournament was drawing to a close, the injury list of Indian players was also growing. Some of the seniors opted out of either the entire or part of India’s imminent tour to the Caribbeans.
Their debate of Club Vs Country has once again come to the fore. Do some of the cricketers continued to play in IPL, knowing the seriousness of their injuries? Could they have rested during the IPL in order to be fit for national duty? Are the players justified in taking vacation from an important international engagement rather than taking the vacation during the IPL? Individual players, team management, franchise owners and the board would do well to ponder over this issue and come up with a good framework of guidelines for the future.
The board is on the horns of a dilemma as it is the body that selects the national team and also the body which runs the IPL. The board and the players alike have far deeper commercial interests. The edifice of Test cricket is far too important than the Cricket Carnival called IPL and one needs to bear this in mind for the long-term interest of the game that drives millions crazy.