By Raja Murthy
All but written off after four consecutive losses to start their Indian Premier League (IPL) season 2015, Mumbai Indians bounced back with a typically never-say-die ‘Mumbaikar’ attitude to win the IPL cricket trophy on May 24, in the final of Asia’s biggest and one of the world’s most spectacular sporting leagues.
Mumbai Indians trounced twice champions Chennai Super Kings by 41 runs on a balmy Sunday night in front of a sell-out crowd at the iconic Eden Gardens, Kolkata (*1). They surged ahead with a brilliant counter-attacking innings from their captain Rohit Sharma (50 runs off 25 balls), and dominated the game almost throughout. The Mumbai Indians, who had earlier won the championship in 2013, received the rolling trophy and a winners’ cheque of US$ 2.4 million (Rs 14 crores), out of total prize kitty of $6.3 million.
In its eighth successful annual edition, the $ 3.5 billion IPL (*2) and its eight evenly matched franchisee teams have defied media-hyped controversies to be one of the world’s fastest growing sporting leagues.
Registering over a billion in global online viewership and a 42 % increase in TV ratings for 2015 (over 552 million viewers for IPL 2014), the IPL represents how quickly online and hand-held media like mobile phones is overtaking conventional viewership vehicles like the box TV.
Nearly all 60 IPL matches registered full in-stadia attendance this season, despite the city-franchisee league starting only 10 days after the quadrennial World Cup cricket tournament ending in Melbourne, Australia, on March 29. The final in Kolkata had a full house of over 60,000.
Featuring the best international and domestic Indian players, the IPL involves the intensive, hugely successful 20-overs format of cricket (each ‘over’ has six deliveries, or the baseball ‘pitches’). To ensure transparency, player fees are fixed in an auction conducted on live TV (*3), with the players in the auction having no say in which franchisee they play or how much they earn. Superstar cricketers like Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma and his India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni earn upwards of $3 million for the six-week Twenty20 tournament.
Generous IPL incomes have changed the lives of hundreds of professional cricketers in India and worldwide, besides generating over $100 million in annual taxes for the government exchequer. Hardik Pandya, for instance, is a bright young talent the champions Mumbai Indians discovered this season. Hardik and his older brother grew up in a financially impoverished family in Gujarat that had no money to give them even one square meal a day (*4). “This [IPL] will now change my life, for sure,” Pandya said during the celebratory post-match player interviews on May 24.
The IPL popularity also increases globally as an International Premier League, with each of the eight teams allowed to play four overseas players. The Mumbai Indians, for instance, had Lendl Simmons and crowd favourite Keiron Pollard (both from Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies), Mitchell McClenaghan (New Zealand) and Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka) in their championship winning side. Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting heads their coaching staff, with former cricket stars Jonty Rhodes (South Africa) and Shane Bond (New Zealand) serving as fielding and bowling coaches.
In stark contrast to the IPL being a joyous hit with professional cricketers and open-minded cricket fans worldwide, an acidic Indian media regularly splashes in its front pages IPL controversies and allegations of betting (betting is illegal in India) and financial hanky-panky in this entirely privately-owned league. These media assaults are regularly attributed to mysterious continually anonymous ‘sources’, with no law enforcement agency filing a charge sheet against any IPL team.
While maintaining a sustained front-paged witch hunt against the privately-funded IPL, biased sections of the Indian media have remarkably forgotten to pursue the large scale looting of $8 billion in public funds sunk in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. For any positive news about IPL, read about it in the foreign media.
Like the IPL success, the Twenty20 format itself has defied doomsday prophecies, and thrived as the most successful version of this 300-year old summer game. In a peculiar anachronism, the outdated five-day ‘Test’ matches are largely played in near empty grounds (outside of England and Australia) from 10.am to 5.30 pm during working week days. These five-day all-day games have their costs sponsored by the three-hour 20-overs and day-night 50-over versions.
The realistic 21st century cricket format that crowned Mumbai Indians IPL champions more closely represents the true adventurous, unselfish spirit of sport, and demands the ability to think quickly, highly-honed skills to play innovatively, and change strategies as the game changes from ball to ball, over by over.
Twenty20 in general and the IPL in particular celebrates breathtaking athleticism in the field (fans vote for Best Catch of IPL 2015), closely contested matches (see highlights of Match 51) while providing a global showcase and a unique, invaluable learning school for emerging young talent like 17-year old Sarfaraz Khan, to play alongside and against the world’s best players.
Mumbai Indians invited the city of Mumbai to rejoice the IPL victory in their home ground Wankhede Stadium, the next night on May 25. And typically contrary to perceptions of ‘glitz and glamour’ of the IPL, the Mumbai Indians owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani kept celebrations simple and sincere. No Bollywood stars, no big chief politicians – just a heart-felt family affair of a home team sharing something special with its happy faithfuls, and saying to Mumbai Indian fans worldwide, “thank you for the support, we could not have achieved this without you”.
(*2) The Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket valuation is by global consultants American Appraisal, April, 2015.
(*3) The Indian Premier League Player Auction, 2015.
(*4) ‘Hardik Pandya: Rags to rockstar journey’, The Indian Express, May 16, 2015
Writing for The Statesman since 1990 and Asia Times circa 2004, Raja Murthy’s diverse freelancing included Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, Wisden.com etc. He happily shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas, practicing Vipassana and metta.
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