x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Love it, hate it but IPL is too big to be ignored

The tournament steamrolls its way through life perennially from the throes of extinction to the prospect of expansion; alive one moment through its on-field spectacle, dying the next because of another off-field wrangle.

Fans braved long queues and early morning hassles to buy IPL tickets in person rather than buy them online, such has been the enthusiasm for the tournament. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Fans braved long queues and early morning hassles to buy IPL tickets in person rather than buy them online, such has been the enthusiasm for the tournament. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

Look around you. If you are from a country in which cricket is the main, or at least a major, sport, has any cricket event ever been as prominent in the UAE as the Indian Premier League (IPL) over the last month?

The UAE hosts a lot of cricket. It stages a huge amount of domestic matches, much of which slips under the radar. In a couple of days, for example, a Superstars T20 in Dubai begins, the most lucrative domestic tournament. Players such as Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi turn out for local clubs.

That, by the way, is a regular occurrence. This season has also been among the busiest internationally for the country. Pakistan has hosted two major international series and do so, pretty much, every winter. There has been an U19 World Cup, the World Twenty20 qualifiers, the opening game of the English county season and various others.

But has any of it matched this, the IPL, in its build-up? There are billboards on Sheikh Zayed road from Abu Dhabi to Dubai of every IPL franchise captain. Let that sink in: cricket billboards on a desert highway in the UAE. Hypermarkets were overrun by people wanting to buy tickets when they went on sale. Online sales have been crazy.

Stadiums are abuzz, dressing themselves up for a grand show. Bollywood stars are flying in.

One official reported rumours of flights from India being completely booked.

All kinds of people, even right-minded, sensible ones who generally let cricket pass by with little notice, want in on the action and are asking for tickets.

Demand for corporate hospitality boxes extended beyond the UAE, into the region and India. It has found its way to the front pages of newspapers.

This must be what Sharjah was like in its heyday during the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the cricket world descended upon it before 24/7 television, the internet and social media.

Whatever else it is, this is a taste of the IPL. This is the veritable manifestation of the strength of Indian cricket, that it can transplant and create this force wherever it goes. It is not as if Pakistan have played low-key opponents in poor-quality matches here for the last five years. They have played all top nations, other than India, and some of the contests have been memorable. Some have been well-attended.

Yet, how many of those have carried the kind of impact beyond their core constituencies? How many venues have been sold out in the fashion that so many IPL games are already?

By the way, if you can feel the IPL’s omnipotency here, imagine what it is like every year when it is staged in India.

It was not for nothing that the Kolkata Knight Riders coach Trevor Bayliss noted yesterday that the IPL in the UAE was pretty laid back by comparison.

Yet, amid all the hoopla and shininess, we would be remiss to ignore that today, the IPL is not making an appearance in the UAE alone. It will also be appearing in India’s Supreme Court, in relation to a corruption case that has dragged on without clean resolution over the last year.

Whatever the decision, it is a reminder that the IPL steamrolls its way through life perennially from the throes of extinction to the prospect of expansion; alive one moment through its on-field spectacle, dying the next because of another off-field wrangle.

Ultimately, the strength of its on-field contests will decide whether it will thrive as a league in the truest sense of that word. In the meanwhile, enjoy the next two weeks,the full stands, the noise and the matches that many of the world’s finest cricketers play.

But also hope that, eventually, it sorts itself out so that the cricket is what matters most.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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