x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Off-field events have take sheen off IPL

After five weeks when cricket made headlines for all the right reasons, two scandals have taken the IPL back to the front pages.

Royal Challengers Bangalore owner Vijay Mallya is known for his flamboyance and party culture.
Royal Challengers Bangalore owner Vijay Mallya is known for his flamboyance and party culture.

Two years ago, the climactic stages of the Indian Premier League were completely overshadowed by the Twitter fiasco that ended up costing Lalit Modi, then the chairman and commissioner of the league, his job.

This year, after five weeks when cricket made headlines for all the right reasons, two scandals have taken the IPL back to the front pages.

First, there was the sting operation a television channel carried out, which featured five Indian players either promising a spot-fix or negotiating contracts that they were not supposed to.

The hullabaloo surrounding that had barely died down when Luke Pomersbach, a peripheral presence with Royal Challengers Bangalore this season, was accused of assaulting a woman and her fiance after a game in Delhi.

He has since been granted bail, but the response from his franchise has further damaged the IPL's reputation.

When the story broke, Sidhartha Mallya, the son of the owner and a team director, had tweeted: "everyone loves a good scandal. Why can't ppl just enjoy the cricket ... "

It was deliciously ironic that someone associated with a team synonymous with the league's party culture was asking fans to focus on cricket for a change.

Had that been all he had said, there would have been no damage done. Instead, he had questioned the character of the woman that claimed to have been assaulted. Now the woman in question is threatening a defamation suit.

A couple of days earlier, Mallya had talked up the tournament, which still had seven teams fighting for the four play-off places.

"This has been a great ipl," he tweeted. "games have been thrilling & the fans great as usual … shame another stupid scandal has to taint a super tournament."

He was referring to the sting operation and he wasn't far wrong.

From a supporter's perspective, this has been a terrific competition, with third and fourth place in the table decided on the final two days of the league phase.

It may have missed the top Australian players for three weeks, and may be lacking the best English performers now, but those in the fray, Indians and overseas recruits, have combined to ensure a really competitive league.

This fifth season has also seen the tournament step out from under the shadow of giants.

The first year was really all about Shane Warne and his exploits with the unfancied Rajasthan Royals.

The following year, the Deccan Chargers scraped into the play-offs before Adam Gilchrist's devastating hitting led them to the final and a narrow victory against Bangalore.

In 2010, with Modi's fall from grace dominating headlines, Sachin Tendulkar's role in guiding the Mumbai Indians to the top of the table was overlooked.

When they went on to lose the final - Tendulkar did not help the cause with some mystifying tactical calls - his run-scoring feats were quickly forgotten.

Last year's story was the Chennai Super Kings, and MS Dhoni adding to the World Cup crown that he had won just weeks earlier.

Chennai's experienced core, kept together despite an auction at the end of the third year, came good when it mattered and they became the first team to retain the title.

They have not looked like champions this year. Delhi have topped the table, courtesy explosive batting and high-quality fast bowling, but five losses in 16 games is testament to how tight the competition has been.

Pitches that have provided the gamut from high-scoring thriller to attritional scrap have helped as well.

Sadly, an intriguing final week looks destined to play second fiddle to events off the field.

sports@thenational.ae

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