TNPL 2023: Seven years and still going strong
The seventh season of the state's T20 league will get underway in Coimbatore on Monday
CHENNAI: When B Sai Sudharsan of Gujarat Titans was smashing Chennai Super Kings' pacer Matheesha Pathirana in the IPL 2023 final, the Tamil Nadu Premier League created a buzz on social media. The reason? Sai Sudharsan, having moved up the ranks with his show in the state's T20 league, had a higher salary in the TNPL auction than what he was getting in the IPL. While in essence, it was reiterating the class of the batter, at some level it was also an indication of the standards TNPL has set.
What started as a platform for youngsters in the region back in 2016, the league has come a long way, with its seventh edition kicking off on Monday as joint-defending champions Lyca Kovai Kings take on IDream Tiruppur Tamizhans in the opening game. This year's TNPL will see an increased number of tickets, including hospitality seats, the tickets are sold completely online, in an attempt to bring in a lot more families and children to the ground; Decision Review System and Impact Player rule have been implemented and what more, with the reshuffle that happened in the auction, teams look a lot more balanced than they used to earlier.
What has it taken for the tournament to become what it is in seven years? TNCA Assistant Secretary Dr RN Baba says that focusing on taking the tournament to districts, and ensuring that it becomes a platform rather than making profits proved critical, especially in the early stages. "When TNPL CEO Prasanna Kannan spoke to the then TNCA president N Srinivasan back then, the focus was on making sure that it was advertised and taken to the nook and corner of the state. And, KS Viswanathan was a key member taking it to the districts. We did not look for expenditures. We wanted to reach the scouts and help players get to TNCA selection and IPL. Several foreign players were involved in commentary and coaching. Prasanna said that you have to do all this to make this tournament a success," recalls Baba.
In the seven years, the market value of the tournament has grown to such an extent that teams have changed owners and have fetched bigger profits. The official sponsors' list goes into double digits. "Organising is key. RI Palani, the current TNCA secretary, travelled to districts to take care of everything. And after seeing the success in Tirunelveli and Dindigul, we got the grounds in Coimbatore and Salem. Now, Trichy, Madurai and Villupuram are interested as well. Also, people are asking when the tournament is starting and whether there is any team available to own and so on," said Baba.
For any sporting league to become a profitable market product off the field, the quality and success on the field is crucial. And the TN state players made sure of it. The state players, who were also India internationals like R Ashwin, Dinesh Karthik, Abhinav Mukund, etc, were seen in the league whenever they were available. For example, Ashwin who is with the India team in London for the WTC Final is set to travel back and in all likelihood will turn up for Dindigul Dragons in Coimbatore on Wednesday. "We should thank our international players for it. They did not see it as a normal tournament but wanted to give back. Ashwin, Dinesk Karthik, L Balaji played in the first season. They set the precedent for the next batch of players. Today if you see, there is a massive following for M Shahrukh Khan in Coimbatore. The number of India and state players in action is the talk of the town. They don't take rest after the IPL, and are here for the tournament."
As for the quality, the graduation of players from TNPL to IPL starting from Varun Chakravarthy to T Natarajan to Sai Sudharsan tells the story. "When the Madurai team picked Varun in the first draft, people in the room were surprised. Today, it has become a platform to enter TN and IPL teams. Scouts from several IPL franchises, including Kolkata Knight Riders, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Capitals, are coming to see the players. In 2021 Sai Sudharsan came through, last year it was Sanjay and Sonu Yadav brothers and G Ajitesh, etc. We are hoping to get 2-3 players to come through for the state this year as well," Baba signed off.