IPL: Cricket Formally Meets Bollywood

SRK-GangulyThe nexus between cricket and Bollywood has been formalized and is ready for launch. Not surprisingly the theatrics that go with Bollywood have found their way to the launch of the Indian Professional League (IPL). It has all the makings of a movie launch. Prior to this players were bought and sold like cattle. Bollywood stars are geared up for “song and dance” at various points during the matches. Cheer leaders have been imported from across the world. Advertising is at its peak. The teams have uniforms, logos, anthems and what not. The influence of American sports is everywhere except that the game is cricket and not baseball or American football.

Cricket-Bollywood Links

Cricket’s love affair with Bollywood is not new. Tiger Pataudi-Sharmila Tagore, Mohammed Azharuddin-Sangeeta Bijlani, Mohsin Khan-Reena Roy, Sandeep Patil, Salil Ankola and Syed Kirmani’s foray into acting are just a few examples. Even the great Sunil Gavaskar known for great restraint and concentration on the cricket field succumbed to the glamor of Bollywood and had to try his hand at films. More recently Shoaib Akthar was in the news for considering Bollywood offers. With the onsetof the IPL, movie stars and cricketers frequently share the stage whether it is Yuvraj and his Bollywood girl friends or Sreesanth and his dance moves. So the Cricket-Bollywood links are here to stay and be strengthened.

Big Bucks, Match-fixing and Performance-enhancing Drugs

The IPL does raise a number of questions. The monies at stake are huge and with it comes other challenges. There is a dark side to Bollywood as is well-known. Over the years, the involvement of the mafia in Bollywood has resulted in fatalities among other things. The match-fixing scandal of yesteryears has shades of Bollywood-mafia connections. Perhaps the only thing missing from this back-drop is the use of performance-enhancing drugs. India’s recent success in the T20 has been timely and BCCI has managed to cash in on the wave. The BCCI will do well to introduce some checks and balances across the board instead of simply gloating over the booty they have collected for themselves.

The three-four hour format is very much like Bollywood films from a duration point of view except that it is live entertainment. The IPL has players from all cricketing countries. So it remains to be seen if Brett Lee bowling to Tendulkar with both players playing for two commercial teams is going to produce the same excitement and passion among the public as when India plays Australia. It is going to take a while for the viewing public to even understand and remember which player belongs to which team let alone develop team loyalties. A lot is riding on the hype and the hoopla. The success of this “cricketing circus” is ultimately dependent on viewer interest. The initial curiosity is bound to draw the crowds, but it remains to be seen if it can be sustained through the tournament.

On the one hand there is clearly a significant increase in the frequency with which matches are played. Cricket has almost become a round the year effort for some of the leading players like MS Dhoni. Is there too much cricket to sustain the viewer interest? Will the public will take to the newly packaged entertainment and consume it in droves to justify the high price of the teams. As Kevin Pieterson put it, “Hopefully it will be a massive success, and I think it’s going to be, because you have so much money being pumped into it, and you have the best players in the world, so there’s no reason why it won’t be. This could be the way cricket goes – everyone wants to see a result in three hours.”

Whatever happens, these matches are bound to unearth some new talent or witness unseen talents of existing players. So there might be some good news for Indian cricket after all.

A face-off between IPL and ICL champs as mooted by ICL’s Inzamam-ul-Haq does not sound like a bad idea. If the circus has takers, why not let it continue beyond the IPL. Already Cricket Australia is thinking on the lines of a similar league of their own, and the deep pocketed Allan Sanford of the West Indies could do it single-handedly too if he so desired.

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