New York : With glitz and glamour, the multi-million-dollar Indian Premier League (IPL) is trying to spin off the country’s colonial inheritance – the game of cricket – into a money-making symbol of a brash, emerging nation, reports the New York Times.
“It is coming of age for both the business of sports in India and for Indian billionaires, who for the first time are staking their prestige on sports teams,” the newspaper said in a detailed story Wednesday.
The Times noted how the rich and famous such as industrialists Mukesh Ambani, Vijay Mallya and film star Shah Rukh Khan own league franchises running into millions of dollars and salaries of players are comparable to the English Premier League of soccer.
The report took note of the IPL upturning many conventions of an erstwhile gentleman’s game by infusing American-style cheerleaders, Bollywood stars and laser shows.
“It is cricket’s version of tabloid journalism,” the story quotes Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN and son of late Dilip Sardesai who played cricket for India.
Upending conventions has also invited its share of controversies, the report said. Cheerleaders, including the Washington Redskins squad imported by Mallya for his Bangalore team, have been greeted by a mixture of enthusiasm and lewd comments from the stands and indignation from the politicians who have found them obscene and in contravention of Indian tradition.
Another embarrassment arose, the Times said, over Harbhajan Singh, the acting captain of Mumbai Indians, slapping speedster S. Sreesanth of Kings XI Punjab, following which the IPL fined and barred Singh.
A striking thing about the new form of cricket, the report pointed out, is that there is no place in it for patriotism unlike before.
“Cricket has been the major vehicle for Indian nationalism, a special and aggressive kind,” Ramchandra Guha, a historian and cricket writer, told the Times.
At a recent match in Mumbai, the home team, Mumbai Indians, were defeated by the Deccan Chargers, but the spectators in the packed 55,000 capacity stadium kept cheering for the away team and its star batsman, Adam Gilchrist, an Australian, the Times wrote.
Then again, the entire Indian cricket establishment had rallied round Singh when he was accused during a match recently in Australia of lobbing a racial slur at Andrew Symonds of the national team Down Under. Now, Symonds plays for Deccan Chargers and is one of the highest paid players in the league.
The story said the IPL’s television ratings had surprised even the league’s biggest promoters who did bet on it drawing audiences beyond the fans of traditional cricket.
“It is a marriage between two major entertainment properties – cricket and Bollywood,” said Lalit Modi, chairman of IPL.
The popularity of the new 20-over game is such, Guha told the Times, that it could create a challenge by cutting into the international cricket calendar, forcing established tournaments to rearrange their schedules.