IPL 2023: Milestone match for the pinnacle of franchise cricket

The 1000th IPL game between Rajasthan and Mumbai is another reminder of how much the keague has grown since inception but it’s hard to pin down one legacy
Mumbai Indians players during a practice session ahead of the IPL match against Rajasthan Royals, in Mumbai,  April 29, 2023. (Photo | PTI)
Mumbai Indians players during a practice session ahead of the IPL match against Rajasthan Royals, in Mumbai,  April 29, 2023. (Photo | PTI)

CHENNAI: A half-century. Hundred. Triple century. Five hundred wickets. Eight hundred scalps. In sport, greatness is often measured quantitatively by the sheer numbers athletes produce. The same goes for a team or a tournament. Wins. Trophies. Seasons. Value... it goes on. The Indian Premier League (IPL), on Sunday, will record such a milestone as the tournament will see the 1000th match happen at the Wankhede Stadium between Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals.

It’s been sixteen years since Brendon McCullum helped the people behind the scenes put the league on the forefront with his whirlwind knock in the league’s inaugural game. And yet, it is hard to pin down what the one true legacy of the league is. For the better part of two decades now, the tournament has seen its share of highs and lows. From the blitz and extravaganza of cinema stars and cheerleaders taking centre stage in the early years to the spot-fixing controversies to getting to a stage where franchises are ruthlessly data-driven in building their squads with numbers and quality of cricket being the driving force... the list, again, goes on.

To summarise everything that has happened so far, it might probably take a book. Ask someone to do the same in a press conference, the first response would be, “How much time do we have?” as Chennai Super Kings bowling coach Eric Simons said on Saturday. Their game against Punjab Kings on Sunday afternoon in Chennai is the 999th. Simons also reiterated the well-established fact. “I don’t think the people that brought this tournament into existence realised where it would go. I don’t think people realised what it would do to Indian cricket,” he said.

While the money came in for the BCCI in the first few seasons itself, when the IPL began, it was a bit of entertainment. It still is. For years, the English Cricket Board refrained from allowing their players to take part in the league. After all, at the time, the international calendar wasn’t such that it was clashing with the IPL. This year, after the auction, there were 15 England players in the mix. While that in itself tells the dominance of IPL, there is more.

From an Indian context, it is a platform. A stage where talent meets opportunity. There are too many rags-to-riches stories to count. In many ways, it has been the feeder system of sorts to the top, especially in white-ball cricket. “India have got three or four international teams that could quite easily play now because of the exposure. Because we get to sit in the changing room and have internationals, Indian internationals, and domestic cricketers, share ideas to guys talk about their own teammates. To me, this is the cutting edge of cricket at the moment. This is where the game really develops and evolves... a lot of what happens here is taken into other formats, other tournaments, and other places,” said Simons.

It is true in a literal sense, especially the last point. The success of the IPL has created a template for other franchise-based leagues to follow. The extension of it is such that entities that own teams in the IPL have started buying teams in the other leagues. It should not come as a surprise should the IPL become the premier T20 tournament in the calendar (it already is to a large extent), with other leagues acting as a feeder to the IPL franchises in the future. In fact, with the roadmap that is in place for the tournament, it is hard to dismiss a second leg of the tournament in the coming years should the window permit.

On the field, the sport and the quality of cricket are at the forefront. When the IPL began, it was impossible to imagine one Afghanistan player in the IPL. On Saturday, there was an all-Afghan scorecard entry, with as many as five players from Afghanistan, Namibia, and Ireland featuring in the game between Gujarat Titans and Kolkata Knight Riders.

It is only going to get better.

As the tournament is set to enter the four-digit mark in terms of the number of games, there are so many intricacies and complexities in defining its legacy of it. The IPL has also tested the loyalties of the fans. For two months a year, they are loyal to their cities. For the rest of the time, is the national team. Several Indian internationals have been on the bitter end of reception in away venues during the IPL. The loyalties are still largely star-driven and it will be fascinating to see how that evolves as the first-generation home-grown IPL stars leave the sport.

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