Moneycontrol PRO
you are here: HomeNewsCricket

Fasten your seatbelts, the IPL is back in town

Love it or hate it, but you can’t escape the Indian Premier League — the two-month window of the year that is designed to fuel our cult of hero-worship begins on March 31

March 25, 2023 / 04:39 PM IST
It isn’t a stretch to term the Indian Premier League the Oscars of the cricketing calendar. The IPL is an international event, yet at its core it is a celebration of India’s cricket and its stars. (Photo: Twitter)

It isn’t a stretch to term the Indian Premier League the Oscars of the cricketing calendar. The IPL is an international event, yet at its core it is a celebration of India’s cricket and its stars. (Photo: Twitter)

It’s that time of the year again. Come March, the rest of the world comes to a standstill, the focus falls on one mega-event, and all its attendant star power, glitz, green dollars and showsha-baazi. It isn’t the only event of its kind, but it's the biggest, noisiest and widely believed to be the most prestigious. And it helps that it is situated at the nerve-centre of the entire enterprise.

I am talking about the Academy Awards, of course. The Oscars cap off the awards cycle for international cinema. The BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, Cannes, Venice — are all just trailers to the main attraction. Success and recognition at the Oscars eventually count for the most cred in the film industry.

It isn’t a stretch to term the Indian Premier League the Oscars of the cricketing calendar. Much like Hollywood is the richest and biggest movie industry in the world, world cricket revolves around India, the BCCI and, more specifically, the eyeball of the Indian cricket fan. And while the Oscars night is touted to be a global event, it really is a show put together by Hollywood, largely for Hollywood. The IPL, similarly, claims to be an international event, yet at its core it is a celebration of India’s cricket and its stars. Make no mistake, there is plenty at stake for foreigners, many of whom make their entire fortunes and careers based on how they fare in the IPL.

And, all of this is made possible by us. It’s important to make the distinction between fans of cricket, and fans of Indian cricket and Indian players. Cricket feeds into India’s sense of nationalism in a way no other activity does — it is the one field where we are genuinely world-class; the one avenue where we get the validation of being a global superpower; a validation that we so badly crave. And ever since that heady day in 1983 when Kapil Dev held aloft the Prudential World Cup, India has consistently been at, or close to the top position in cricket. How many other global leaderboards do we top? As India has grown to be great at cricket, a billion of us have grown adept at watching and cheering them on. We don’t really care for the sport; our interest begins and ends with watching our players, ideally winning.

We are a culture that venerates our heroes, and the IPL — like our movie industry — feeds our cult of hero-worship. Who can forget the early advertising around the IPL that paraded cricketers as larger than life cut-outs in a carnival? In our movies and in our epics, good always triumphs over evil, and the hero always wins in the end. The IPL is that sacred window of the year when our superheroes just keep winning. Whether you cheer for Virat or for Rohit, for Hardik or for MS — for two months, India and Indian cricketers keep winning. India may fail to win every single World Cup — not to worry, for at the IPL, they will never lose.

It’s one of cricket’s oddities that India haven’t won a single T20 World Cup since the IPL came into existence. Early naysayers went as far as blaming the IPL’s excesses as the reason behind India’s failures, which is plain wrong. Even if there is no causation, there is enough correlative evidence to say the IPL has been a massive net positive for Indian cricket. It has coincided with a time when the country has won a lot more than they used to, across formats, and across continents.

That said, the ring-fencing of the IPL’s most important asset — the Indian cricketer — has surely hampered India’s progress in the T20 format. India’s players get to hone their T20 wares at only one T20 league, which puts them at a visible disadvantage compared to their international peers. This ring-fencing helps maintain the commercial primacy of the IPL as cricket’s biggest annual event, at the cost of India’s evolution as a T20 side. It’s a Faustian bargain that the BCCI has willingly signed; as long as we enjoy and vote for the IPL with our feet, it’s a bargain we all must endure.

As a brand, there is no ceiling to just how big the IPL can get. Cricket is a sport made for eyeballs, and starting with this IPL season, there are different routes to those eyeballs. Disney+ Hotstar’s association with the IPL is over for now, with Viacom18 (a Network18 group joint venture) paying an eye-watering Rs 23,758 crore to secure the digital streaming rights for the tournament over the next five years. If that didn’t make you gape, consider this: Viacom18 will stream the IPL in 4K resolution — with multiple camera angles and many other new-fangled tech features in the mix — free of cost to the user. That’s for the small-screen, hand-held version; Star Sports has retained the rights to broadcast the full-screen television version. Virat Kohli is the face of Star’s campaign that cheekily insists that the real experience is the "Stadium-waali feeling" of television, while Viacom18’s Jio Cinema has a quirky ad featuring MS Dhoni promoting their new features. The battle it seems, has begun even before the players have entered the field.

What of the cricket itself, then? The 10 teams, split into two groups for convenience, are set to play 14 games each — seven home, and seven away. There will be 74 games in all, as the carnival zigzags across the country in a whirlwind of action, following a schedule that even the diehards will struggle to track. For the first time ever, wide calls will be open to umpiring reviews — a rule change already in force at the Women’s Premier League. Another interesting tweak to the rules is the introduction of the "Impact Player" — a throwback to the Super Sub law that was used on ODI cricket in the mid 2000s. Once per game, a player from the starting XI may be replaced by one of our four pre-designated substitutes from the squad. Expect this law to have a massive say in outcomes, as potential match-ups and playing conditions give teams reasons to exercise match-defining swaps during games.

The rule changes are revolutionary; at best interesting, and at worst distracting. But let’s not forget that this is the tournament that has forced four "strategic time-outs" into the play time with the sole purpose of airing more commercials during the broadcast. The impact of IPL on cricket’s DNA is far-reaching, and 2023 will only solidify its grip on the moral and financial future of the sport.

Five days after the IPL ends, India and Australia will contest the World Test Championship final in London, in conditions that have nothing in common with what some of their players will encounter in India. And a few months later, an ODI World Cup will get underway in India — a tournament into which India will go as one of the favourites.

In a year with a Test Championship final featuring India, and an ODI World Cup happening in India, the biggest cricketing event of the year will be neither. Chew on that fact for a moment, while the IPL horn blares away in the background.

Disclaimer: Moneycontrol is a part of the Network18 group. Network18 is controlled by Independent Media Trust, of which Reliance Industries is the sole beneficiary.

Nitin Sundar is a part-time cricket writer, and a full-time cricket fan. He can be found on Twitter @knittins