The story of the rise of the T20 short game cricket format is also the story of the rise of India as a world force.
Twenty20 cricket and the
rise of India
Cricket was brought to the sub-continent by the ruling English. However, today the gentile, white-clad pass time of the Imperial upper-crust, is completely unrecognisable as the Indian Premier League has become the symbol of a modern and dynamic India, complete with the ostentatious aesthetic so loved by the Indian public.
Once upon a time, cricket was a reserved and stuffy game with limitless overs, games could potentially go on for days, the action was slow and it was more for participants than spectators. The beauty of the game of course, is that all you need to play it is a plank of wood and a rubber ball and this was one of the reasons why India took the game to her very ample bosom and in millions alleys and on pieces of dirt all over the country, Indian kids bowled and batted and dreamed of representing their country one day in international cricket.
Young boys play cricket on a piece of dirt in India a scene that is repeated up and down the subcontinent
As the game moved on, the 50-over format or one day international, came into play, which with its limited play-time allowed for the bigger televised tournaments and the World Cup started in 1975. India won the tournament in 1981 which was a great source of pride, for the first time India was the best in the world at something. The growth of the sport premised a growth in economic outlook for India, when in the early nineties, the country began to open up to outside economic influences. Gone was the self-reliant India of mystery and darkness and the new economy began to invite the world’s multinationals.
India was now presenting itself as a land of opportunity with a powerful per capita spending power and a huge emerging middle class and multinational corporations were keen to tap the market. There were two ways to do this. The first was the Bollywood film industry, the second was the burgeoning sports world (cricket) and especially the newly created T20 (20 overs) format.
India was cricket mad, and the creation of the IPL or the Indian Premier League was a marketing man’s dream. For the first time Indians had a cricket team to support that wasn’t the national team and franchises for local cities such as New Delhi, Bangalore, Jaipur and Mumbai became the nation’s gold rush as film stars and entrepreneurs scrambled to become the new owners of these clubs. The focus for Indian cricket was now, for the first time, local and allowed the ordinary Indian to take pride in supporting their hometown team. India’s huge population, which was once considered a big problem had now become the sport’s greatest asset as the fan base of cricket supporters simply knew no bounds.
Only Bollywood can rival cricket for the passion with which Indian people support it.
Before even a single ball had been thrown in the new IPL, it was announced that a consortium consisting of Sony’s India Television Entertainment network and Singapore-based World Sport Group had secured a ten-year broadcasting rights deal at the cost of $1.6 billion. The game was awash with money and the world’s best players were brought in for phenomenal sums on short-term contracts, making them better paid than some of the wealthiest footballers. Andrew Flintoff became the game’s highest paid player when Chennai Super Kings paid $1.5 million for only six weeks of cricket.
One aspect of the competition that is uniquely Indian and is not repeated in professional sports in any other country is the annual player auction. Players are ‘sold’ at auction to the highest bidding team. This year ahead of the 2013 season the IPL player auction was conducted with 37 out of 108 players were sold and the nine franchises spent $11.89 million during the event.
Preity Zinta, Bollywood movie star and co-owner of Kings XI Punjab IPL cricket team
As this is India, nothing is straight forward, and despite the amazing growth of the competition, the fifth season was beset with controversy. A small number of players were allegedly involved in a spot fixing scandal, yet the quality of the product didn’t suffer. A much more competitive season saw 14 matches produce results in the last over and a couple with the last ball.
The next stage for Indian cricket is how to grow and export the game abroad. While the third season saw a dramatic rise in interest from the UK, viewing figures showed the IPL overtake Rugby League, which proved interest was not limited to the Indian diaspora and the quality of the cricket itself was high enough to attract the English cricket fan.
Of course, the new frontier in all sports markets is China, it remains to be seen if India can indeed package the game of cricket in a way that the Chinese would find attractive. China is the Holy Grail for any sport looking to grow its market and Indian cricket would have to compete with football, which is already well established, golf and tennis. Without Olympic funding they could struggle to get a foothold in sport’s biggest untapped market.
Cover by Rupert Conant
Inside photos: Parallelozero
Tagged with: #OUTDOORS
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