May 29, 2012
After almost two months of non-stop cricket, the IPL 5 is finally over. There were some tight finishes, tough battles and the inevitable controversies surrounding the tournament, but now that it is over, it’s safe to say that this season of IPL will be remembered for the on-field cricket. And that’s how it should be. From a purely cricketing point of view, it was probably the best of all seasons; all the teams barring Pune Warriors and Deccan Chargers competed hard consistently and there was no clear favourite. The start to the tournament was a bit slow – the first week of the tournament had dull and one sided affairs but the heat picked on with time as the teams produced innumerable close matches. The race to the play offs was tighter than ever before, and it all culminated in a fitting final at the Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai where the Kolkata Knight Riders pipped the defending champions in their own den. In a way, it is good for the IPL as a tournament that a new side won the trophy, as it once again reiterates the best aspects of the IPL – unpredictability and equality. Of course, some teams are stronger on paper than the others, but as the likes of Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals displayed, any team can beat anyone in this format.
The biggest success as far as the BCCI and IPL organisers are concerned has to be the way the Indian public has embraced the tournament, especially after the negative aura surrounding it when it began this season. The Television ratings and general interest suffered a drastic dip in the last season due to various reasons, the biggest one being the timing of the tournament immediately after the emotionally draining World Cup. India’s dismal performances in England and Australia and the consequent IPL-bashing threatened to make this season an even bigger flop, but it has turned out to be the exact opposite; the same people who blamed every Indian defeat on the IPL turned out in huge numbers at the stadiums across venues and were treated to some entertaining cricket. It would be unfair to blame the people for being hypocrites though; the average Indian fan had a horrid season and deserved to end the season with some smiles, which is what the IPL is all about.
It is not a bad thing as well.The IPL is often wrongly projected as the mother of all villains that spoils cricket in India, which it certainly isn’t. In fact, it has its own benefits, the biggest of them being the monetary benefits it brings along to the domestic Indian cricketers. When people talk about the money involved in IPL, they often refer to the “excessively paid” players, but often neglect the impact the tournament has created on fringe domestic cricketers who have sacrificed a lot for a career in cricket. The concept of IPL has made the lives of many of them much more secure, and has made cricket a professional career in many ways. Monetary aspects apart, the IPL has made India’s domestic cricketers interact with coaches and players from other countries, and has gone a long way in removing the ‘inferiority complex’ or fear, which is often associated with a young Indian player. In one of the fringe players in the domestic cricket, Arun Karthik’s own words “we don’t see them (foreign players) as someone superior. They are just another human being playing the same game”.
Yes, the IPL has indeed had some bad effects on Indian cricket in the recent past – especially in the Test format – but more often than not, the problems have been due to the way IPL has been managed, and not due to the concept of IPL as such. The success of IPL-5 makes it even more imperative that the BCCI and the administrators of IPL show more responsibility in the way the tournament is handled in future. The fact that people have shown their support for the tournament carries with it an implicit dangerous sign – that no matter how the national team performs, the fans can always be appeased by a couple of months of IPL. This is where the biggest challenge for BCCI arises – they can either use the IPL as a tool to erase nightmares of Australia and England, or stand up to the challenge and prioritise national cricket above everything else. To their credit, the board has taken a few steps in the right direction especially when it comes to domestic cricket, but there is a long way to go. The IPL may have provided a quick relief, but it remains to be seen if it will continue to work towards rectifying the mistakes of the past. Yes, the average fan might have (temporarily) forgotten the disastrous Test results in the last season, but the BCCI cannot afford to do the same. Season 5 has shown that the IPL is here to stay; it is upto the BCCI to show that the IPL can stay without interfering with the national team’s performances.