Glamour, entertainment and business apart, the greatest impact IPL made has been in terms of opportunities it brought for Indian players who were good enough to play international cricket but owing to the limitations of having only 11 members on the ground were relegated to playing domestic games and ultimately were lost after decades of struggle.
An emptiness echoed with restlessness at the tea stalls in the evening as there happened to be no T20 match to look forward to at 7 p.m. Most people did not know how to spend the evenings as the annual IPL party came to a thrilling end. IPL gave reasons for husbands to come home early and surveys showed that housewives constituted a big chunk of TV viewership. The format fitted in perfectly with our evenings both as a TV viewer and as an enthusiast who would not mind driving to the stadium to watch the action in flesh and blood. A T20 match featuring Indian and international stars every evening for over 50 days insulated us from most anxieties barring a few regarding the performance of one’s favourite team and players. IPL brought generations together as cricketing nuances were discussed around the dinner table and team loyalties separated the son from the father.
As children, we fantasized about the possibility of Wasim Akram and Sachin Tendulkar playing for the same team, what would happen if Shane Warne bowled to Steve Waugh, how would you pierce the off side that had Jonty Rhoades and Ricky Ponting manning the area from point to extra cover, could Sanath Jayasurya take the cover off the ball when facing Muttiah Murlitharan. It was IPL that made the impossible possible. Unfortunately, most of the above mentioned greats had either retired or were in twilight of their glowing careers when IPL arrived but then every generation has its own greats and who can forget May 4, 2014 when a freak called AB de Villiers took apart the best fast bowler in the world who happened to be his team mate, Dale Steyn, scoring 23 runs in an over. The Eden Garden crowd, that had gone into a daze a few years back as the Rawalpindi Express uprooted the stumps of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar on successive deliveries, erupted in joy for each of Shoaib Akthar’s wickets when he bowled for Kolkata Knight Riders – was it for real, yes it was!
The presence of cricketing superstars was complemented by the dash of glamour represented by Bollywood. Katrina Kaif’s flat abs was as much a point of discussion as a flat six hit by Gayle. A chance to see Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Deepika Padukone and many others resulted in huge crowds thronging the stands. After match parties became the talk of the town – it was a heady mix of cricket and tinsel town.
Besides providing entertainment, IPL brought in serious money. In 2015, BCCI reported that IPL had contributed Rs. 11.5 billion to the national GDP. Sale of sports equipment went up across the nation and tourism got positively affected at least for the months of April and May. IPL also generated employment as various skills were required to successfully see through a tournament of a stature second only to NBA. There was a greater requirement of security personnel and managers who could handle logistics as each match posed a different set of challenges, especially in tier II cities. Creative brains were sought after as the event demanded enormous promotional activity along with regular advertising. People found interesting vocations on television as music bands played in the studios and cheer leaders danced. Talking of cheer leaders, they seemed to be heavily underpaid the evening Chris Gayle scored a massive 175 off 66 deliveries. Senior players got a chance to adorn the roles of mentors and commentators and audience got to see another aspect of their personalities.
Glamour, entertainment and business apart, the greatest impact IPL made has been in terms of opportunities it brought for Indian players who were good enough to play international cricket but owing to the limitations of having only 11 members on the ground were relegated to playing domestic games and ultimately were lost after decades of struggle. Only a budding cricketer would know the enormity of sharing the same breathing space with a legend in the dugout. A young Rishabh Pant would happily give up sleep for a month to just be able to learn about the work ethics of Rahul Dravid and how much Mumbai Indians could learn from Sachin Tendulkar cannot possibly be quantified. Facing international bowlers or bowling to the likes of Ben Stokes can only help a youngster to better assess his technique and temperament. Critics claim that overexposure may lead to burnout but ask a rookie to choose between being overexposed to Shane Warne’s maverick genius and a lonely hot afternoon idling away time at home – it is anybody’s guess what he will pick.
IPL has paved the way for other sports like kabaddi, badminton, hockey and football to have leagues of their own and those looking for a career in sports can heavily benefit from them. Sometimes the aimless youth on the roads just needs a push in the right direction where he can channelize his energy and sports can be such a direction. Uganda innovatively used football to reintegrate child soldiers into their communities and India would do well if we can find a way to become a sports powerhouse and give ourselves some golden goals to achieve.