Twenty20 Vision

If IPL has to belong to the world’s big leagues,it must be run like one

Written by Sharda Ugra | Published: May 28, 2012 2:12:10 am

If IPL has to belong to the world’s big leagues,it must be run like one

The IPL has left us all after seven weeks of blazing cricket,neon lights and verbal pyrotechnics from superlative-shrieking commentators.

If 2011 was the IPL’s real turkey,2012 has given everyone with a financial investment or even a remote interest in the League,new life and fresh breath. Over and above the scandals.

In real terms,the IPL has been played out on two stages in season five — one on the grounds itself and the other on TV sets at home. One has delighted all “stakeholders”,while the other,the larger audience at home, leave the IPL’s hydra-headed constituency picking between two formal positions: between expressing bewildered confusion and covering tracks by saying they had seen it coming.

This had to be the IPL’s “moving” season because 2011 had been dominated by general spectator fatigue and empty stands. No one cared about it because a six-week-long World Cup had just been won. This year,there were no hangovers of 2011 — crowds packed grounds night after night,the fans were glad to go a bit loco for the cameras and more than one franchise will have earnings from ticket sales touching the format’s magic number — 20 — in crores.

In its fifth season,the IPL has left its fans with much to celebrate,and most of it centred on sport’s two irreplaceable pillars — quality and unpredictability. The TV audience had good cricket to feast on: in a league that largely goes by in a meaningless blur,it is still hard to forget Dale Steyn’s four overs of spitting venom against Royal Challengers Bangalore. There were many lovely UltraMotion replays,several close matches — before the knockout,seven chases ended on the last ball,18 matches were decided in the last over — and last week even produced head-turner results: whimsical Kolkata Knight Riders turned into pillars of solidity and consistency,Delhi Daredevils tripped over themselves,Mumbai Indians got knocked out and,with his derriere on the line,M.S. Dhoni helicoptered his team into contention from nowhere. What more could folks in the stands and on the sofas want?

Everyone who runs the IPL will be pleased because they only care about their audience. From a distance,what remains missing though — from its governors more than the players who remain delighted by the cash — is control and credibility. Not because four loud events broke loose from their edges in a week. Take away the IPL from three: movie stars getting into busts-up with security,a sportsman being hauled off to court by a woman alleging molestation and a rave party raid. Big sports leagues — the NFL,the NBA,the EPL — deal with this stuff all the time.

The fourth,the sting operation from IndiaTV,spoke of spot-fixing,but revealed a larger common truth: the circumvention of salary cap limits through black money. Five players have been suspended and the matter has ended there. In a serious league,punishments would be meted out far more evenhandedly. In 2006,Italy’s most successful football club,Juventus,was stripped of its two back-to-back titles and relegated to a lower division when investigators found they had been cooking results. Last year,along with 19 players,15 SerieB clubs were handed out punishments and fines for fixing games.

If the IPL wants to belong to the world’s big leagues,not merely in terms of cash flowing around,it must run like one. Not like it is at the moment: a spin-off of the BCCI’s patriarchal,somewhat opaque modus operandi,which is pretty out of date in the 21st century.

The “success” of IPL 5 will be pegged around cricket and crowds,which remain at the mercy of the BCCI’s patriarchs. As soon as the league’s branding masters talk business,TV numbers will tossed around in the air and the key words to look out for will be “correction”,“hottest media property” and “general entertainment”.

The ad rates have been reportedly trimmed. Rohit Gupta of SetMax called it a “minor drop” of “5-10 per cent”. That there were far fewer ads between overs will be explained and frankly they were most welcome. We saw a lot of promos of the channel too,but how to be mean about heart-warming Indian Idol stories?

The economics of any event are its bare bones. With an Olympics,for example,the real numbers come about a few years later when no one is paying attention so its lustre can’t be stolen. The IPL,though,is not merely a two-week big spend but an annual event that must be sustained,must keep evolving and must show profits. For that,the pictures on TV will remain the lure. The matches and the fans added to the pictures this year — big pity about IPL’s sound though.

It is easy to identify commentators who are doing the channel’s bidding by ramping up the volume,regardless of that thing called “stature” in the game,and the few who aren’t. Yet,a question remains unanswered: was the live hyperbolic hollering all because the IPL’s target audience is young and getting younger? Therefore,naturally,all lovers of heavy-metal/ kiddie-cartoon decibels? Or,because the TV producers believe the target audience are the middle-aged bordering on senior citizenry who can only hear when shouted at?

What was also not understood was the presenters/ experts in Extraa Innings speaking in large snatches of Hindi. Is it the presumption that the entire country — or the audience of “sau karod” as was advertised by the wonderful “Tashreef Ka Tokra” advert — speaks only two languages? One the cricket is shown in an hour later,and the other of TV soaps?Wonderful cricket,the IPL is at most times,we have to love it and it’s not going away. Pity about its largely crass television production though. They have a year to fix it. Or,keep making it worse.

The writer is senior editor,ESPNcricinfo,

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