When the IPL first came on to the scene in 2008 nobody knew what to expect. Which is partly why it has become so huge over the years. The unknown quantity always produces the most excitement.
The IPL was known for its massive crowds, after parties and a place where Bollywood and Cricket combine among other things. But as the years have passed, this still young tournament has started to show signs of maturity. Games have started to mean more. Players don’t go straight to pubs after to celebrate. You see many on field spats and instances of flaring tempers.
All this is great! Because it means that the IPL just isn’t a 2-month window to make some good money and chill out. It shows that the players, coaches, staff and the owners care more and are a lot more invested in the results and performance of their sides. The Ashwin-Butler Mankad incident in the first week of the 2019 edition showcases the change in mentality and approach. A few years ago, we might not have had such an incident. But now, the stakes are higher, and the players are using this tournament to show the World what they can do. Ashwin desperate to prove that he is a top captain. Steve Smith and David Warner desperate to prove that Australia needs their services to go for the World Cup. Guys like Shaw, Pant, Yuvraj and Gayle desperate to show that age is just a number. The word desperate pops up again and again. Ravi Ashwin, desperate to win his side the game against the Rajasthan Royals.
The IPL has become a lot more serious over the years. The number of members in the support staff of a franchise has increased. Rather than just have a coach and a few on the support staff, there are now mentors, guys for analytics, guys who only focus on the auction process and so on. It has also become a platform where the coaches, not just the players, can show their worth. Darren Lehman, Fleming examples of successful IPL coaches who have worked/linked with massive international jobs. It also works the other way round where top drawer international coaches and ex-players want to work in the IPL. Mike Hesson, Gary Kirsten, Ricky Ponting, Mahela Jayawardene to name a few.
The BCCI and the IPL are also actively looking to make the tournament a more serious and competitive one. Every team had the same amount to spend in the auction. This means that there is not one side that you look at and go “they’re gonna run away with it this year”. This is what the BCCI wanted from the start. A tournament where any side can beat any other side. The results of the first week of the 2019 edition show the same. Of the 10 games so far, 5 of them have been extremely nail-biting games (i.e., games won with less than 8 balls to spare or games won by less than 8 runs). It’s been one week, and we’ve already had a super over game!
All this is great in terms of crowd pulling. And the highly competitive cricket on display only ensures that the crowd remain glued to the game. There are a lot of debates about cricket losing its charm and values. About not enough people watching games live. But tournaments like the IPL are proving those claims wrong. Sure, it may not be what the cricket purists want to watch (in terms of the format of the game i.e., T20), but it is quite clearly what the people consuming the sport want to see. So, rather than looking at the IPL as a 2-months carnival (which is what it first was) the international cricket community needs to look at the IPL, and tournament like it around the world, as a great tool to keep the sport of cricket exciting, fresh and attractive to make sure this great sport keeps evolving