Updated: May 26, 2016 4:33:56 pm
Every tournament leaves its images behind. And even though the IPL still has a few metres to the finish line, my image of IPL-9 is done. The many moods of Virat Kohli, the rollercoaster ride of the Royal Challengers and the journey their supporters made with them. It is the holy trinity of sport. The athlete, the club and the fan. It is a bond that sport thrives on, dare I say, lives on. And for a tournament that has just started acquiring a history, it is something to be very mindful of.
In the great leagues of the world; in the football leagues in Europe and basketball and American football in the US, players get defined by the clubs they play for. Lionel Messi is Barcelona, occasionally Argentina (and that is a sore point!) but his club identity is far more powerful. Kobe Bryant is the LA Lakers and since the US plays such little basketball as a national team, that identity is irrelevant.
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Cricket is peculiar in that it is still a nation vs nation sport but as the RCB fans showed this year, club vs club is now far bigger than some country vs country contests. Kohli will always be Kohli of India as AB de Villiers will always be AB of South Africa, but for eight weeks in a year, that takes second place.
It is now impossible to imagine Kohli as being anything but Kohli of RCB. Just as it was almost traumatic for the fans in Chennai to see their own MSD wearing anything other than yellow. Or, for that matter to see Ashwin or Raina wearing anything else. These associations are at the heart of all franchise driven sport and it is critical that the IPL keeps that in mind going ahead. Marquee players cannot be changing sides too often and constant auctioning of players reduces the bond between player and fan. Brendon McCullum, one of the IPL’s key players over the years belongs to….? Dwayne Smith? Murali Vijay?
There is just a year to run before IPL contracts come to an end and I hope the proposal, once whispered about, that everyone goes back into the auction is jettisoned as early as possible. Gautam Gambhir and Yusuf Pathan have to wind down their careers at KKR, Karun Nair and Sanju Samson must grow at Delhi Daredevils, David Warner must have SRH in his veins, Rohit Sharma can only wear blue. And AB and Kohli have to be RCB. But increasingly teams must be allowed to develop players and stay with them for much longer. Mumbai Indians made a great scouting with Krunal Pandya and they must be allowed to reap the benefits of that search. KKR have invested in Kuldeep Yadav and that cannot become a return for someone else.
I realise that the parity in spending, and therefore in acquisition of talent, must remain at the heart of the IPL, but it is relationships like Dhoni and CSK and now Kohli and RCB that must be just as sacrosanct. It is that relationship that caused cricket lovers in Bengaluru to announce that AB’s 100th Test would be a home Test. And he was clearly moved by the sentiment.
I also believe home grounds must be sacrosanct. I realise it goes against the principle of taking the IPL everywhere but as associations grow, watching every home game will become a big thing for fans. Home advantage is critical because it makes it so much more fulfilling for visiting teams to come and win. A couple of years ago, the Wankhede, the Eden Gardens and the Sawai Mansingh Stadium were home fortresses and I thought it was important for the league. You didn’t quite see that this year, largely for reasons beyond control, but I am not yet convinced that you need to play some matches at distant venues.
Virat Kohli will be the player of the tournament and RCB the team of the tournament (as distinct from the team that wins the IPL) but for me, the association of Kohli and AB with RCB and their relationship with the Bengaluru fans was the highlight of the tournament.
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