April 18, 2008
I have never seen anything like this. The M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru is packed to the rafters to witness the inaugural match of a tournament previously restricted to the fantasies of cricket’s legions of followers. The decade-long flirtations between India’s favourite sport and Bollywood have been consummated. The most excited fan in the arena is Shah Rukh Khan, co-owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), who are taking on the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), the team belonging to India’s foremost liquor baron, Vijay Mallya.
A mesmerising medley of India’s finest has converged to kick-start what seems to be a sporting revolution, complete with the requisite rapture and razzmatazz. The Indian Premier League, a franchise-based T20 tournament, has created a dizzy of anticipation for months, and the time has finally arrived to unleash cricket’s latest creature.
A NOVEL SPECTACLE
Stilt walkers glide around the ground like colossal butterflies as enormous cables connect the stadium’s roof to the playing square. I am tempted to burst the giant bubble in the centre of the field filling my television screen, but my whim gives way to wonder at the marvellous feats of the acrobats on display. BCCI President Sharad Pawar calls it a ‘historic day’, while his deputy and the mastermind behind the magic, Lalit Modi (also the IPL chairman), declares the tournament open. The Chinnaswamy erupts as the eight captains of the eight IPL teams are paraded, before pledging their allegiance to MCC’s Spirit of Cricket declaration.
The ICC World T20 last year gave us an idea of what to expect from the best in the game slugging it out for a few weeks in the shortest format of cricket, but the IPL is not just an aggregation of leading cricketers, it is an attempt to glamourise cricket into mass entertainment on a scale never attempted before.
I am staring at the screen with awe, incredulous at the intricacy on show. The two skippers for the first match, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, march out to the glare of a spotlight, with the rest of the setting enveloped in darkness. India’s pair of veterans has been part of several spectacular partnerships, but their walk to the pitch for the toss is a sight unlike any other. Amidst the entrancing environment, Dravid calls correctly and RCB opt to bowl first.
THE BRENDON BLITZKRIEG
Ganguly is accompanied by the big-hitting Brendon McCullum as the Knight Riders get their innings underway. In their trailblazing colours of red and yellow, the home team start stronger, with Praveen Kumar troubling McCullum in the very first over. At the other end, however, it is a different story, with Zaheer Khan struggling to contain the New Zealander, as McCullum lets loose. Two fours are followed by the first six in IPL history, a streaky top-edge that squirts over third man and clears the fence. With his trademark baseball bat-swing, McCullum is going all guns blazing, as KKR bring up 50 runs inside the first four overs.
A spate of boundaries from McCullum — who is stroking the ball with reckless ease — is piling on the misery for a clueless RCB attack, with the fielders doing little to help the bowlers’ morale through a series of misfields. Amidst the swashbuckling pulls and slaps off McCullum’s blade, there is the occasional caress from Ganguly, reminding viewers that classical grace is not extinct in this new age of muscle play. But Dada’s stay is shortlived, his edge off Zaheer finds the bucket-esque hands of Jacques Kallis, and RCB have a much-needed first breakthrough. The departure of his opening partner does little to arrest McCullum’s momentum, who is now joined by Ricky Ponting, and continues to tee off in all directions, tearing into the slow left-armers of Sunil Joshi. At the end of 10 overs, KKR are placed comfortably at 87 for one.
(Excerpted with permission from Indian Innings: The Journey of Indian Cricket from 1947 by Ayaz Memon, published by Westland Sport)