IPL: The Semi-final Line-up, Top Stars, and the ICL

Money in RupeesA new format of the cricket game targeted at the world’s leading cricket market appears to have become a bumper hit for all and sundry. The three hour duration combined with the day-night schedule has managed to attract a new set of cricket audiences among families with small kids in addition to the already cricket crazy Indian public. Based on media reports, the turn out at these matches and the general interest level, it appears that the IPL is a resounding success and as Dravid said “IPL is here to stay“. Besides, the fact that the IPL has become a B-school topic of study is another indication that big bucks are involved. From a business perspective, the organizers seem to have clearly hit the “sweet spot” of commercial cricket. Fast and furious, quick and dirty (from a cricket traditionalists point of view), movie stars and scantily clad cheerleaders, sixes and fours galore, music and food — its all there, the ultimate Americanized package fine-tuned for the fast rising obsessive Indian consumer.

Understandably, cashing in on the wave the organizers have hiked up the ticket prices significantly.

Prices have been hiked from two to 20 times – depending on the stand – for the semi-finals at Wankhede Stadium and the final at the newly-built D.Y. Patil Stadium. A seat in the air conditioned box will cost as much as Rs.25,000 at the Wankhede for the semis, and it will go up to Rs.35,000 for the final at DY Patil Stadium. See full report.

With about 50 games completed and the final four of the IPL decided here are a few observations that come to mind.

Big Bucks and Big Names Don’t Guarantee The Best Performance

Ironically, the most four expensive teams didn’t make it to the final four. Deccan Chargers, a team with the likes of Symonds, Gilchrist, Afridi, and Gibbs, easily some of the biggest hitters in modern day cricket ended up at the bottom of the pile! The Bangalore Royal Challengers clearly suffered from a case of poor team composition. Mumbai had the excuse that it missed Tendulkar in the early part of the IPL and had to subsequently deal with the Harbhajan mess. To be fair Mumbai lost a few close games. As for Kolkata, they were too dependent on the foreign players and they never really recovered after their departure.

Struggling Big Four

There were a lot of questions raised about having the senior players who are pushing 35+ in the T20 teams. At this stage of the tournament these questions remain and the answers don’t appear to favor these big stars. Barring Ganguly who produced one fighting knock none of these big stars really produced any memorable match winning innings while lesser known stars like Shaun Marsh, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma, Venugopal Rao, Badrinath and Gautam Gambhir impressed throughout the series. Highly rated (and expensive) upcoming stars like Ishant Sharma, Robin Uthappa and Virat Kohli also failed to live up to their promised potential. Ultimately performance matters and there are quite a few players who could probably be phased out in time for the next season (or have their contracts re-negotiated!). The big stars will continue to be around more for their star power than for their cricketing prowess. Interestingly, the teams lead by the next generation of Indian captains Dhoni, Yuvraj and Sehwag qualified for the semi-finals.

Warne Shows His Class, Yet Again

There is no question that Shane Warne is one of the all time greats in cricket. His performance as captain this IPL has been most impressive. Whoever chose Warne to lead the team deserves special kudos and possibly a place on the Indian selection committee! The decision to have Warne lead was a master stroke. He has turned his relatively weak team (on paper) into a formidable force in the IPL. It will be interesting to see how his team performs in the final four.

Top 10 Players: Desi vs. Videshi

Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Kumar Sangakkara, Yusuf Pathan, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Glenn McGrath, Sohail Tanvir, Piyush Chawla, JA Morkel.

This would be my top 10 valuable players in the IPL so far. Notice that only four out the 10 are players from India. Besides, there were other foreign players (Hayden, Symonds, Taylor etc.) who might have made the list if they didn’t have to leave the series sooner than they did. In other words, many of the top players in the T20 format are not from India. While the IPL has been a great opportunity to seek out some new young local talent, it did also highlight the fact that despite being the current T20 champions India has less than a handful of players who can claim to be among the top T20 players in the world. Besides, if the level of the game has to be upped a notch, maybe the four foreign player limit in the teams must be relaxed just a bit, to maybe five.

The Final Four

The four teams in the semi-finals are well-matched, though based on recent performance and consistency Rajasthan and Punjab appear to be the two top teams. Given the uncertainties in T20 it is pretty much any teams game. My prediction (I have seldom been correct) is for Punjab-Rajasthan final.

Hopefully, the pitches are tailored to suit the bowlers so there is at least some even contests as opposed to batsmen dominated games.

ICL vs. IPL

The success of the IPL and the relative failure of the ICL is ample proof of the unfair monopoly that the BCCI holds over cricket in India. The BCCI essentially co-opted the ICL idea (crushed the ICL with several roadblocks including access to grounds, banning of players etc.) and used their reach and muscle to achieve a what appears to be mind-boggling success. One can’t help but wonder what the future holds for the ICL.

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