Here’s wishing the Indian Premier League (IPL) a very happy and safe 14th birthday. The party begins today. Starting 7.30 pm, fans will once again let their hair down and dance to a tune that appeals to one and all. It’s been a ritual since 2008, when India’s single-biggest export to the world was born out of a consummation between the game’s powerful patrons and the country’s corporate echelons.
But how will this year’s party end? Mid-way, owing to a relentless pandemic, or on May 30, as scheduled? That’s a question to which answers will be sought every single day over the next 51 days. Until then, let the music play.
A bunch of Covid-related incidents are rude reminders of the serious virus challenge that lies ahead. All IPL players as well as those involved with its functioning must strictly follow the bio-bubble rules. It is imperative for their safety and for the success of the tournament.
This year, the apple of cricket’s eye will come of age in ways one had only half-dreamt all those years ago. Like any parent wishing their baby well, the T20 league’s stakeholders had envisioned a time when the property would outshine everything else in the sport’s global ecosystem. That pipe dream is coming true.
The league is set for an expansion post this edition. There’s a resale of media rights coming up later this, promising to breach the $3b mark. The cricket itself, in terms of the quality, has gone up several notches. The game’s global calendar now prefers taking a break when this proverbial 800-pound sporting Frankenstein is on the move.
Season after season, the IPL gets trolled for its indulgences, as much as it gets celebrated for global appeal. It’s put India on a map where ‘Bollywood’ alone used to figure not too long ago. On the flipside, be it the general elections, drought or the pandemic threatening civilization right now – the guillotine has hung dangerously close to its neck. “Is cricket more important than human lives?” is this year’s clarion call. Despite these feverishly loud voices of disapproval, the league has managed to get its way season-after-season. Will it get away this year too?
By deciding to not head to the UAE like in 2020, or not build a central bubble like they did in the previous edition, the IPL has invited trouble. It was the same last year, when they shifted bag-and-baggage to another country and got slammed for lack of austerity.
“Just let the cricket begin…” is how one stakeholder puts it, alluding to the league’s immense popularity across nationalities, age-groups, genders and varying appetite for content-consumption. There’s this tacit belief that – no matter the circumstance – IPL brings India and the rest of the cricketing world to a standstill. For that reason alone, its ‘cheerleaders’ remain optimistic as ever. “If there’s a lockdown, you might as well stay home and watch the IPL,” they say.
The IPL is as much entertainment as it is serious business. At a time when the employment sector is succumbing to Covid’s wrath, and livelihoods have been ravaged, the IPL – like any thriving industry – is a source of income to people from various industries, be it a groundsman or an FMCG employee.
It’s not without reason that the IPL has disrupted global cricket’s annual schedule and countries like England, New Zealand, South Africa and Bangladesh encourage their players to participate here to avoid any conflict. It serves the ‘big picture’ too where the rising pool of talent in Indian cricket and the fearlessness shown by young men against big-ticket teams like Australia and England has been credited by experts – in India and overseas – to the IPL.
What used to be a two-month birthday bash, seen from the outside as grooving to ‘sex, drugs and rock-n-roll’ is now modern-day cricket’s ultimate finishing school.
The IPL is busy graduating.