More than ever, the IPL needs the cricket to triumph |

More than ever, the IPL needs the cricket to triumph

15 Apr 2014, 2000 hrs IST,  ,  
More than ever, the IPL needs the cricket to triumph
How fans respond to the IPL could be the tournament's litmus test.
And so, like almost every past season in its six-year existence, the Indian Premier League (IPL) begins against the backdrop of controversy and with critics sharpening their knives as the bandwagon kicks off on foreign shores as a result of India's general elections. For many journalists, writing curtain raisers to the IPL has reached a point where it writing about the tournament could be dealt with in one phrase: "Insert previous comments here." Controversy, scandal and skullduggery have always shadowed the lucrative Twenty20 tournament and it is no different in 2014.

The IPL has been dogged by financial irregularities and spot-fixing probes, and it nearly came to be that two of the league's most-watched teams - Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals - were suspended from this season. A team principal of CSK, the only team to win the IPL twice, who happens to be CSK owner and BCCI president N Srinivasan's son-in-law, was arrested. Sreesanth, an India Test player, was banned for life for his involvement in spot-fixing. It has been alleged that the Justice Mudgal committee report contains names of players from the two CSK and Rajasthan franchises involved in the IPL scandal. It has not been a pretty off-season for the league.

It may sound like a cliche - and indeed this statement has been made before too - but how fans respond to new-look teams could be the litmus test the IPL faces after what has been its most damning off-field period between editions. Will IPL fans stick to their teams or move on to where their favourite players are? Will Virender Sehwag be cheered when he returns to Delhi as part of Kings XI Punjab? Can Delhi Daredevils attract fans without the presence of an Indian superstar? Will CSK fans root for Michael Hussey and Murali Vijay? Will Piyush Chawla find acceptance in Kolkata after six seasons with KXIP? What welcome awaits a beleaguered Yuvraj Singh in Bangalore? It could prove fascinating to watch.

There is also the issue of how fans in the United Arab Emirates will take to the cricket. The IPL's first leg will be held in Dubai and Abu Dhabi owing to India's general elections scheduled in nine phases from April 7 to May 12. The decision was taken after the Indian government said it would not be able to provide security through the tournament which runs from April 16 to June 1, similar to 2009 when the IPL was forced out of India to South Africa.

There, with bouncier pitches and the weather, the tournament saw many low-scoring matches where the contest between bat and ball was more or less on even terms and where runs were not so easy to come by. Who can forget Herschelle Gibbs' match-winning 53* off 48 balls across 20 overs of the final, or Sachin Tendulkar's equally crucial 59* off 49 balls in the opener in Cape Town? It made for intriguing viewing, a scene apart from flat tracks in India where bowlers were regularly caned. The South African fans lapped it up, and how the UAE soaks in the IPL will be a similarly tasty subplot to 2014. Tickets for the first week have been sold out, we are told, and that is a positive sign.

The rest of the tournament, from May 1-June 1, will be back in India where, needless to say, the action really is when it comes to cricket.

Aside from the glamour and glitz that the IPL carries, it remains a cricket contest between bat and ball. That is why for the IPL to remain strong and thrive it is imperative that season seven be a success; not financially but in terms of the cricket played and the number of people who watch it. The Twenty20 format allows for many closer matches than 50-over cricket. In fact, each IPL season has seen a rise in the number of close encounters. In the IPL, if the players ensure competitive, closely-fought matches that will in turn draw fans to the stadiums. That is the IPL's biggest challenge - to ensure a competitive tournament after all that has transpired since the spot-fixing and betting scandal that surfaced in 2013.
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