During the 1990 football World Cup in Italy, the hosts met the defending champions Argentina in the semi final in Naples- home to Napoli Football Club where the Argentina captain and football genius Diego Maradona used to ply his trade. In an unbelievable gesture, the majority of the crowd that day at the Stadio San Paolo supported Argentina because of the presence of Maradona on the pitch- a player who inspired their local club to 2 league triumphs. Now, this was a famous illustration which proves the sort of fan loyalty a club commands because of its deep rooted associations with the people of the city and the old world regional pride it triggers among the people.
The Rationale behind Launching the IPL
I enjoy watching the IPL not only because of the entertainment on offer but also because of the fact that lesser known Indian players or upcoming players from the domestic circuit can test themselves against the best in the game; however was that the reason why the IPL was established? Now the answer to that cannot be a simple yes or no, because there were many things at play when this billion dollar league was launched back in April 2008.
The IPL was the brainchild of the US educated businessman Lalit Modi, who wanted the BCCI to launch an American style league in India and although the idea was shelved for close to a decade the emergence of the ICL meant that the BCCI were forced into starting the wonderful league that we know today, with Mr. Modi at the helm of affairs. So, as the reader can realise, the establishment of the IPL was the result of a power struggle between the pariahs of Zee (promoters of the ICL) and the BCCI.
The Paradigm Shift In The Idea of a Cricket Team
For the first time the cricket watching public in India and worldwide became aware of the exact worth of a cricketer through a televised auction when the leading cricketers in the world went under the hammer. It might have been a hard pill to swallow for some old timers in the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) directors’ box but for the cricketers and fans it was a paradigm shift as the infiltration of club culture together with transfer fees was underway. In addition to that, it was thought that the presence of 8 city based teams would mean that there would be vocal support from the habitually partisan crowds in India. However, the last bit did not turn out as it was thought to be although the supporters might have had their own allegiances depending on a varied set of factors starting from their favourite actors to the companies in which they owned shares
Shah Rukh Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, et al.
However, the support towards a team is not merely about whether the team belonged to the particular city or not but also whether someone like the owners of the team and since most of the owners are prominent individuals it was a given that people would have strong likes and dislikes. For instance, you might easily bump into someone who might be a native of Kolkata but might not actually support Kolkata Knight Riders because of his aversion to Shah Rukh Khan. In a nutshell, the IPL was more about the owners and less about the players that were on view. Successful billionaires venturing into uncharted territory and still emerging winners in a competition among their equals was something that must have been a fascinating thing for most of the owners.
The IPL had a nice strategy when it started off as it decided to name as captain some of the prominent cricketers of that city to which the franchisees belonged but such gestures had to understandably take a backseat when the franchisee owners objected. Indifferent performance and the increasing consternation of the owners with unsatisfactory performances meant that Sachin Tendulkar relinquished the captaincy of the Mumbai Indians and handed it to Harbhajan Singh or someone like Sourav Ganguly was packed off the tournament altogether- albeit briefly. Now all those decisions were based on cold, hard facts and based on performance but Indians are not used to their cricketing gods being treated in such a cavalier way. Case in point, the entire Eden Gardens switched allegiances and supported the Pune Warriors when they came to Kolkata. As you can see, the ‘club for life’ thing has not yet set in.
Indian Premier League – a big money spinning entertainment spectacle
The tournament- pleasant and enjoyable as it is- was not established in order to please the supporters but as a big money spinning entertainment spectacle of cricket- a game which Indians cannot have enough of. The IPL would continue to have a massive collective following as an event no doubt but it will not be an event that would spawn fierce rivalries or regional sub plots that is a part and parcel of any club based league. Fan loyalties can easily shift following the events of an auction when their favourite players depart from the teams they support to a team they might not have thought of supporting a season back- as could be seen from the acrimonious move of Sourav Ganguly to Pune Warriors from the Kolkata Knight Riders.
This is not an attempt at belittling the tournament as a whole because it has been a resounding success and is going to grow as the years go by but you can rest assured that you would never see the crowd in Bangalore cheering for West Indies when they play India in a World Cup semi final just because the West Indians would have a certain Chris Gayle as a part of their team.
Image Source : IANS