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IPL leading cricket's revolution

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Mihir Bose | 13:50 UK time, Monday, 2 June 2008

Twenty20 cricket may teach us very little on the field of play but, off it, the Indians have built a model which will undoubtedly change world cricket.

I must confess that a week ago when I arrived in India I was sceptical as to what the Indian Premier League meant - but its impact soon became clear.

The Indians have now got a tournament that, even before the semi-finals, had been watched by more than 100 million on television, while the final alone was expected to attract some 30 million.

Crowds have packed out stadiums and the final saw 55,000 fill a new stadium two hours' drive from Mumbai.

The unfancied Rajasthan team won the competition on Sunday night.<br />
Photo: Indian Express

In a sense, the Indian Premier League has done for cricket what the Premier League in England has done for club football except that, in the Indian fashion, it has been done like a popular yogic exercise where you stand on your head.

The Indian Premier League closely studied the English Premier League before it was launched and, like the top division in English football, it brought together high profile overseas stars, mixed them with home grown talent and had them tutored and coached mostly by foreign managers - many of them, like Kepler Wessels and Dennis Lillee, great stars of the game.

On my flight was a man from Panini trying to get the Italian football sticker makers an Indian cricket market, while as I left the final I saw an Indian wearing a Cristiano Ronaldo shirt.

This showed the marketing potential of the IPL and it is this football market the Indians want to match.

They will now capitalise on this potential and expand their marketing of merchandise - because they have finally found a formula that can make the domestic game attractive.

Cricket is that odd team game (at least among major sports) where nowhere in the world does the domestic product attract spectators in any real numbers.

Cricket's appeal is based on international games - the Ashes series, Tests and one-day internationals. County cricket, domestic cricket in India, Australia, West Indies, you name it, is often played out in front of empty grounds.

And yet the IPL has proved a success even before fan loyalty, which is the bedrock of the English game, had been secured - this is where the inversion or, if you like, the yogic habit of standing on your head comes in.

The English Premier League may have been a colossal and very successful search for money, but Premier League clubs know that one thing they do not have to worry about is the loyalty and support of their fans.

Now that the Indians have shown that the IPL can work, they have to spend time before the next season working on fan loyalty and making sure supporters can be attracted and retained by the city teams that have so suddenly mushroomed.

The Indians would argue they had to go for this yogic inversion because the success of Twenty20 and India's totally unexpected victory in the Twenty20 World Cup meant they knew they had a market for this.

But this also reflects the way the Indians can seize moments.

Before India, also totally unexpectedly, won the 1983 World Cup, one-day cricket was shunned by Indians. Cricket officials boasted India would never take to it and Indians had particular horror for what they considered the gimmicks of Packer.

Then India won and within months the world of Indian cricket was revolutionised, with one-day cricket taking over from Test cricket.

Something very similar is happening with the 20-over game.

A remarkable feature of the tournament has been the success of Shane Warne's team in winning the trophy.

Part of the only franchise with strong British influence, it has been the best organised and Warne, as captain and coach, has mocked the use of computer models and modern technology, using relatively unknown Indians and Australians, like Yusuf Pathan and Shane Watson, to fashion a winning team.

The Australian influence in this tournament has been significant and other cricketing countries have also been present in South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

The only absence has been the English. The Indians are convinced stars like Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff would love the money and excitement and it is hard to see how the England and Wales Cricket Board can keep them away from the next edition.

Another key to the success of the tournament, Indians believe, has been its marriage to Bollywood.

Bollywood has always had an interest in cricket but now superstars own franchises and some of them performed for the spectators before the final, alongside Cirque de Soleil artistes flown in from Montreal at a cost of $2m or so.

What this has helped do is convert the game of cricket into 'tamasha' - a rich Indian word that means fun, fiesta and excitement - and the crowds have lapped it up.

The franchises may not break even for some time, but the Indian board has made more money from this tournament alone than it did in the whole of last year.

Sony, who broadcast the matches, have never before seen such ratings and so popular has this prime time television cricket show been that, in the last six weeks, Bollywood producers have delayed releases of their major films.

This is the holiday season in India and normally the time for new movies to be released - but they have had to wait for Warne to lift the trophy.

The Indians are convinced that they have attracted new crowds, with women quite prominent, and watching thousands of Indian stream out of the ground at well past midnight was like seeing a dozen movie houses emptying after their last screening.

But, however they have done it, the fact remains that for the first time in many decades the Indians have created a product that is unique in cricket - and world cricket must take note.


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