The year was 2007. India had made an early exit from the 50 over world cup. The angst had given birth to a rebel league called the Indian Cricket League (ICL) led by Kapil Dev and a few others, after a quarrel with the BCCI for its totalitarian methods of running cricket in India. The ICL was the first sign of frustration from an anti-establishment's perspective about the lack of results from its national team. Cricket in India was in the middle of a crisis.
2007 was also the year, when the T20 format was first being tried and tested in an international tournament. India hadn't seen the merit of the format yet. They hardly believed it would be successful and popular, so much so that the BCCI held back its senior players for the tournament after a long tour to England.
The BCCI selected a national side whose average age was in the mid 20s for the inaugural world T20 in South Africa. A rookie captain had the responsibility to help make the Indian public forget the nightmare that was the 2007 50 over world cup. The Indian team, as a reflection of their age and experience, played carefree cricket, which happened to be what the format needed. They ended up landing a trophy in their hands for their exuberance at the end of it all. Another team which was knocked out of the 50 over world cup in the first round had come within just a hit away from the trophy. The popularity of T20 rocketed with the success of the two of biggest countries playing the sport. T20 cricket was here to stay; even at times coming close to eliminating one of the other two formats.
With T20 format, the cricket administrators had an equivalent and alternate product to offer to woo back the younger audience from the fast paced soccer games. The stage was set to commercialise and juice out this money-spinning format.
What somebody would get playing a test match for 5 days in a row seemed like peanuts as compared to their paychecks in the IPL.
The BCCI, after the ICL debacle, couldn't stay blind to this format anymore. It just had to use the ICL idea and package it better, and thus the IPL was born. The BCCI had the investors and the fan base to go big. 8 teams were auctioned out for a few billion dollars each for a period of 10 years. Popular film and business personalities would buy teams and add to the star value of the league. Teams brought in the who's-who of the movie industry to grab eyeballs during each match. Cricket had never been more commercialised before.
The players were a happy bunch. What somebody would get playing a test match for 5 days together was made to seem like peanuts as compared to their paycheques in the IPL. Statistics say that the salary for a few high priced players ended up working to be a few crores for each run they scored or each wicket they took. Add to these remunerative perks, the players were given an environment to hobnob with the best players from foreign countries, learning and practising with them. The learning the newcomers got out of the playing experience in front of packed houses was immense.
Every minute of the league was turned into money. Into the second season, two strategic timeouts of two and half minutes each was introduced during each innings more to squeeze in advertising revenue than for the teams to discuss strategy. The advertising space was hot-selling; as early as the 4th season, every 10 seconds of ad-time in TV was sold for four hundred thousand Indian Rupees.
By the time IPL entered into its 5th season, almost all the other test-cricket playing nations had a IPL-like T20 league tournament of their own. From a purely sporting point of view, these leagues have contributed to the advancements in the quality of cricket played and the skill-level of the players.
With increased popularity and money every year, there grew the possibility of corruption and money laundering in the league. IPL has seen it all in this spectrum too. From betting, to spot-fixing, to arrests to conflict of interests, there has been a dampener every now and then. Where there is money and fame to be had, there sure is trouble as well.
As we come to end of the 10 seasons of IPL, not all team owners have made money and prospered, yet I reckon they have all achieved their purpose. A few owners have sold out with good valuations to new-owners; some others understand the long gestation time it takes for the invested money to reap its benefits and continue to run on losses. However, all are happy to promote their corporate company/group's brand and leverage it in their company/group's sales/services while at it. The BCCI is just milking the money; making them the most powerful sport body in the cricketing world. Cricket only wishes BCCI wouldn’t use its might to bully the rest of the world but rather to grow the sport.
All things said and done, the fan's perspective/outlook to the IPL is the most important of all. As a fan myself, I cherish IPL and the other leagues for one primary reason: Cricket, unlike football, is not a global sport; it is hardly played by 10 teams on the international scene on a regular competitive basis. There seems to be a huge gap in competitiveness between the top 8 teams and the world that follows them. As a fan, it is inevitable to get used to only 8 teams playing against each other all the time and start feeling the want of a different culture to the game; a spell of fresh air amongst the style of cricket that is on offer. Cricket still has China and France only as Chinaman and French-cuts in the game. With IPL, we get new teams with a mixed culture of players coming up with different intrinsic spirit and attitude to the way the game is played which is scintillating.
The IPL will be popular for a long time, if it can manage to keep its issues out of the playing arena and be transparent at it. Having ensured that, if the players can take the field to showcase their best effort, then millions of cricket fans are waiting for a 100 more years of the IPL.