Dispelling doubts

Dispelling doubts

Cricket

Dispelling doubts

Jacques Kallis and Chris Gayle were faced with the strange situation of facing their old franchise in IPL IV. PTI

The Indian Premier League has always been a crowd-puller since its inception, offering a perfect blend of quality cricket and entertainment in the span of 40 overs. But the league faced a rather strange question before the start of the fourth edition – can it still charm the fans?

It wasn’t a mere apprehension. The IPL came in the immediate aftermath of a highly successful World Cup and the fans were still celebrating an epochal Indian triumph that came after 28 years.

The quadrennial mega show also offered a pointer that the 50-over format can enthrall as much as its ultra-abridged Twenty20 cousin. There was a genuine possibility that fans might not view T20 and IPL as the only source of entertainment post the World Cup.

So it was difficult to fathom the crowd’s attitude towards the league or determine whether they have reached a saturation point after a month and half of relentless cricket.

Thin crowds in some of the initial matches suggested that this IPL might not be a runaway hit like the previous editions and the sceptics could not have been blamed for doubting the wisdom of conducting the IPL close to the World Cup.

A franchise owner agreed. “Yes, it was bit of a concern. Before the start of the IPL, many of us were curious how this IPL would be received by the public. They decide the success and failure of any event. The first match was scheduled six days after the World Cup final, and we were really interested to see whether the crowd had the energy for IPL after a high intensity event like the World Cup,” he said.

The proximity of the IPL to the World Cup has not kept the fans away. PTIBut that lethargic approach remained only for a few days as crowds thronged the stadiums once the IPL began to unfold. It was as if a massive wave of reality hit them – ‘oh it’s IPL time.’ It might have taken a few days for fans to associate with the entirely new set of personnel the franchises presented for this IPL as many sides discarded their regional preferences to acquire players who would fit into their scheme of things.

In that context, there might have been fears of a fan-backlash once many teams didn’t pick local boys. Royal Challengers Bangalore came to the IPL sans Rahul Dravid, Delhi Daredevils let go Gautam Gambhir, Knight Riders snubbed Sourav Ganguly, Kolkata’s biggest icon, and Deccan Chargers never bid for VVS Laxman.

These moves could have attracted protests in a country where regional sentiments often run high. 

Great maturity

But here, the Indian fans showed great maturity. No effigies were burnt, nor were mass protest groups formed to exploit fragile emotions or strong local feelings. Once they got familiar with the fresh bunch of players, fans have been unstinted in their support to their respective teams that translated into huge turnouts in venues.

Veterans like Sourav Ganguly still have enough supporters. PTIPrior to the IPL, doubts were prevalent about the ability of players to produce a top-gear effort after a physically, emotionally and mentally taxing event like the World Cup and also because of the frequent travel that a tournament like the IPL necessitates. But those reservations, by fans and franchise owners, have faded away after a successful fortnight into the tournament. Forceful efforts with the bat, destructive spells and stunning catches followed each other with ridiculous regularity as fans got the full worth of their money.

“Intensity has never been a problem with us. From a bowler’s point of view, it’s all about bowling four tight overs, so it’s not hard to keep your focus. From an Indian player’s perspective, we are buoyed by the World Cup win and I hope the confidence will percolate into our performance in the IPL,” leading pacer Zaheer Khan pointed out.There have been exciting stories of star risings as players like Paul Valthaty and Ambati Rayudu have caught the imagination of public with stellar efforts. Simultaneously, television viewership too increased considerably after a low key response. The first five matches witnessed a rather lowly average viewership of 2.31 percent but as the tournament began to produce some close contests and exceptional efforts, the TV ratings soared over a healthy 3 per cent and with Rs 1200 crore at stake, the advertisers will hope for the trend to remain.

The IPL also have won some fresh set of spectators in the southern and western parts of India with Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Pune Warriors doing well in the IPL. Their performances have ensured a wide open IPL with no team enjoying a clear upper hand, offering a dash of unpredictability.

In sports or movies, Indian audiences can be wooed with a bit of drama and intrigue and IPL IV has so far offered them tose in abundance, making it an already two unforgettable weeks. But fans have been the real winners of the last fortnight, unwavering in backing their teams and not letting emotions affect their good senses.

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