Fan-base is the edifice on which is structured the football leagues of Europe. Apart from the millions of supporters watching on television, there is a retinue of hard-core faithfuls following the team, wherever they play in Europe. Not just for the elites of Europe but even for lesser-known clubs, the support is overwhelming. For them, it’s a social affair with a strong historical import.
The franchisees of the Indian Premier League, still a nascent initiative, may not be furnished with fandom of such frenzy. It’s a work in progress and the fan-base is mostly scattered or rather individual-centric. Here, the individual is bigger than the club, chiefly because club culture is a far-fetched notion in the country, and despite their city-specific names, clubs haven’t truly established an emotional connect.
First, the normal fans need a set of identifiable, constant players and not a floating ensemble of cricket celebs. Few sides in the IPL have thus far managed this and none as efficiently as the Chennai Super Kings. For them, the fulcrum has remained more or less the same from the first edition. The likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Mike Hussey, Subramaniam Badrinath, R Ashwin and Albie Morkel have been with them since the inaugural edition. The additions were drafted in seamlessly, and the team management has been meticulous in retaining the core and measured in signing new players.
Deep-rooted as the son-of the-soil mentality is in the country, the local flavour, too, hasn’t been compromised with. Of the 82 matches CSK have played, Badrinath has missed just five, while R Ashwin and Murali Vijay have figured in 49 matches each. Explained Badrinath, “It’s an advantage that a majority of them are familiar with the environment. They can quickly move in to the system and understand what the captain needs from them. So there are just three or four players starting from the scratch.”
From the team’s perspective, its helps create a wonderful team environment, and naturally the consistency. “The players have been playing here for last few years and they have massive support from the public. All these added up to us keeping the players because we got a wonderful team environment and good leadership from top to down,” explained coach Stephen Fleming.
Contrast this to Deccan Chargers, the most inconsistent side in the last five instalments. They have played 63 players as opposed to CSK’s 41. Pragyan Ojha has represented them the most (54 of their 75 matches, that is 72 per cent). In comparison, CSK have three players who featured in 95 per cent of the matches (Raina, Dhoni and Badrinath). While CSK had only one skipper, they have had four captains, from VVS Laxman to Kumar Sangakkara.
One auction too many hasn’t helped, but CSK have been utmost prudent in auctions. Apart from the Andrew Flintoff blooper, they have approached auctions with a clarity that has eluded many.
“It is one of the challenges of the auction format. That is perhaps one of the reasons that we stuck with our side because we got wonderful support base,” said Fleming.
Hence, for both fan-base and success, the CSK model of management is worth emulating for more reasons than winning titles.