How much ever one tries to deride or loathe the Indian Premier League—an artificial construct of razzle dazzle and serious sport, wheedling an entertainment value from it — the fact is that it you simply can’t ignore it, so much so that it has mutated into an alternative culture.
IPL, in a strictly conformist perspective, is a product of the times. And to underestimate its impact is to ignore the values that govern the society and the market theories. For all its perceived negativity, it has changed cricket, in that it has thrown fresher and smarter avenues to market and spread the game. By inventing the IPL and taking forward a format of the game, which originated in England, the BCCI has created a new income stream. That other boards around the cricket-playing world have begun investigating their own ways of benefiting from the 20-over boom is perhaps the best index of its impact.
Even so, at the start of every IPL season it has to defend and absolve itself, bust the same stereotypes time and time again, reinvent and recalibrate itself. Maybe, that’s the charm of the IPL, its consistent struggle to prove itself, guarding it from the cotton wool of complacency. It seems every edition has to prove more than its predecessor.
The accidental, and significant, blessing this time is that the international calender is relatively free through the breadth of IPL, thus guaranteeing the availability of most of the marquee players. With the exception of a few injured players and a fewer breed committed to domestic cricket, the rest would likely make this edition the most competitive of them all.
Since most teams are full strength and equipped with sufficient depth—and going with the intrinsic unpredictability of this version--predicting the prospective winners is a futile, if not aweless, exercise. Still, one would expect the usual suspects—Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Bangalore Royal Challengers and Kolkata Knight Riders—to mount a staunch title challenge.
There is ample motivation for each of these teams, for two-time champions Super Kings to wrestle back their lost title, for Knight Riders to retain theirs, for Mumbai Indians to seize the title that keeps tantalising them and for Challengers to erase the brunt of their disastrous finals. Mumbai has gone for a considerable overhaul of the support staff, apart from roping in Ricky Ponting.
All the same, the other five sides can’t be undervalued either, as was proved in the inaugural edition. Rajasthan Royals wouldn’t need a reminder of that Shane Warne-inspired heist, while Delhi Daredevils, though they would miss Kevin Pietersen and Morne Morkel, would want to shed their underachieving streak. Kings XI Punjab, Hyderabad Sunrisers and Pune Warrios would all aspire to be the party-pooper.
Also, this edition could see the lines of rivalries and allegiances getting thicker. Then, IPL is never wholesome without its splash of controversies, which this time struck much before the first ball is bowled. In a sense both feed on each other, and the whole soap opera adds colour and narrative to what would otherwise be just another 20-over tournament.