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Hooked on the Indian Premier League

Last updated on: April 24, 2013 11:23 IST

Hooked on the IPL

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Fierce fan loyalty and physical commitment of its players, says Shreekant Sambrani, makes the cash-rich T20 tournament the envy of all sporting contests.

Twists in the tale so outlandish and brazen as to border on the improbable have been tried and trusted ploys of soaps to keep even the most jaded viewer hooked to them. The Indian Premier League, which steals away a very large proportion of the saas bahu eyeballs this time of the year, appears to have also resorted to this trick to consolidate its hold, or so it would appear from most of the games so far this season.

Not that it needed to do so in the first place, because what show can hold a candle to Chris Gayle's record-smashing (pun fully intended) pyrotechnics in Ben-Gayle-ru (as some fans most imaginatively renamed their city) with the bat and Gangnam-style body movements, as he enthralled us all on April 23?

Consider two matches played on successive evenings in the week of April 15. In the first, the team batting second had two openers who had more than 61,000 runs between them, more than twice as much as the entire opposite team tally, taking on a virtually unknown bowling crew.

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Image: The Awesome Chris Gayle. Who can forget his 175 not out on April 23?
Photographs: BCCI

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The second game the next evening had two of the most destructive openers in the current setting taking on an attack comprising largely discards or newbies. Yet, neither team lasted the regulation 20 overs and went down for under 100 runs.

Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and the Mumbai Indians had the ignominy of facing the worst margin of defeat -- 87 runs -- in the current IPL against the Rajasthan Royals.

Virendra Sehwag, David Warner and the Delhi Daredevils escaped that 'distinction' by a solitary run, but had the lowest score of the season registered against them.

And yet when Mumbai met Delhi immediately thereafter, Mumbai became the only team to lose two games despite scoring over 160 runs.

Mumbai have the highest score in the current IPL -- 209 -- but were also skittled out for 92.

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Image: Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, top run-getters of all time
Photographs: BCCI

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These are just a few instances of outrageous fortune affecting this year's IPL. The current standing after 30 games have Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad jostling at the top with five wins apiece.

Hyderabad currently have only one international star, Dale Steyn.

Sunil Gavaskar dismissed their local batting as 'nothing'.

Star-studded marquee teams Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata trail them. Early days yet, but what marvellous point to generate will-they-won't-they suspense for the rest of the season!

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Image: Dale Steyn, currently the finest fast bowler in the world
Photographs: BCCI

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Eleven of the 30 matches at the time of writing were decided in the last over, four of which on the last ball and two others with a tie-breaking super over.

In eight matches, teams chasing seemed to have had the game well under control until the end of the fifteenth over, only to see wickets falling in a heap at the death and losing the game, mostly to unfancied minnows such as Hyderabad, Rajasthan and Punjab.

Who can ever forget the drama of the Chennai-Bangalore match, when the latter appeared to have won on the last ball with the batsman caught at third man instead of scoring the needed two runs, only to discover that the bowler had overstepped the crease, conceded a no-ball and a free-hit, which was not needed as the batsmen had crossed over?

Poor R P Singh would now grace the Hall-of-Shame as the bowler who lost his Bangalore team a match that was waiting to be won.

Shane Watson scores the only century of the season, but loses it with the ball when he concedes the required 11-run victory margin to Chennai in the last over, a fate he shares with Luke Wright, whose heroics with the bat were erased by the horrors of the last over he bowled for Pune against Punjab.

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Image: R P Singh lost his Bangalore team a match that was waiting to be won
Photographs: BCCI

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Hooked on the IPL

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The star player roster also shows similarly unexpected performances. True, Virat Kohli heads the batting honours, but he is followed by that perennial India bridesmaid, Dinesh Karthik.

The bowling department shows the likes of Sunil Naraine, Kevon Cooper and Dwayne Bravo of the West Indies and Amit Mishra and Vinay Kumar of India.

Last minute replacements Chris Morris and Jim Faulkner have left old pros Dale Steyn, Lasith Malinga and Ravichandran Ashwin behind in contention.

Manpreet Gony and Amit Mishra, batting at number seven or lower, have won matches for their teams through their batting!

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Image: Dinesh Karthik has led the Mumbai Indians batting even as the likes of Ponting and Tendulkar have disappointed
Photographs: BCCI

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Amit Mishra took four wickets in an over including a hat-trick and ended up on the winning side on April 17, but Sunil Naraine, with a similar feat the day before, could not be the man-of-the-match because his team lost.

Every tournament has its share of surprises, but surely IPL VI ranks at the top of the list of its profusion of these black-swan events!

The IPL has become the envy of all sporting contests everywhere because it possesses perhaps the fiercest and most demonstrative fan loyalty.

European and South American football has fanatical followers, but their numbers do not add up to a billion.

The stark reversal of Ricky Ponting leading a team in blue against Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men in yellow does not faze us, because we cheer for either Mumbai or Chennai.

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Image: Amit Mishra has surprised many with his skill
Photographs: BCCI

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Gautam Gambhir's or Virat Kohli's exploits on the Firozeshah Kotla ground evoke boos.

Every Tamilian -- regardless of which Kazhagam s/he supports -- treats Dhoni as Chennai's favourite son and Lingayat and Vokkaliga Kannadigas alike vie for fawning over Kohli. And the loyalty extends not just to Indian players.

Ask any Marathi manoos to name the second favourite Mumbaikar and the answer will be Lasith Malinga, closely followed by Kieron Pollard.

Kannad chaluvaligars will gladly overlook Chris Gayle's ignorance of their lovely language while anointing him an honorary Kannadiga. And Mumbai Indians Mentor Anil Kumble is now persona non grata in his hometown, Bengaluru.

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Image: Lasith Malinga, one of the city's fave Mumbaikars
Photographs: BCCI

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Hooked on the IPL

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The cricketers have in turn earned the fans' respect and loyalty fairly and squarely. Their physical commitment night after night under trying heat and humidity is exceptional.

No one in the last five years -- four if you ignore the second season in South Africa -- has ever complained about the weather or the toll it takes on them.

The batsmen wield their cudgels in the manner of some modern-day Bhimas and run between the wickets like the proverbial hares, the bowlers bend their backs as if they were made of rubber to get that extra yard of pace, and the fielders, young and old alike, throw themselves on the ground as if it was a flowerbed and leap in the air to pluck impossible catches.

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Image: The latest attraction in the IPL: Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards
Photographs: BCCI

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All this makes for a spectacle far grander and more exhilarating than the finest jewellery and dresses on display in the soaps. Therein lies the audacious charm of the IPL.

For the seven weeks of the IPL, we put aside concerns of scams, governance, irresponsible politicians, rouge lawmen and even killing inflation every day for the duration of the game.

We become frenzied flash mobs for the 240 legal deliveries of the white ball.

Pudgy schoolchildren stay up late and become even more tense if their team isn't doing well.

Film personalities follow their favourite teams as some kind of barmy armies.

Titans of industry, including the biggest of them all, Mr Mukesh Ambani himself, loosen their ties and root for their sides just like the rest of us mere mortals.

Pretty young ladies and matronly grandmothers lose their poise alike when their favourite falls at a key juncture in the death overs.

I bet the good Lord hears more prayers in the final over of a tense match than in a national calamity.

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Image: A rare image of Mumbai Indians's Mukesh Ambani celebrating at the Wankhede stadium
Photographs: BCCI

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Hooked on the IPL

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Whether we have ever handled a bat and a ball or not, we all don the coach's hat with ease.

We know exactly what should be the batting line-up for every team. We are utterly sure of ourselves regarding whether to open with a spinner or a pacer.

We know in an instant what the field and television umpires cannot decide after umpteen replays. All we ask for in return for this unbelievable expertise is that just occasionally, the on-field events should actually reflect our take on them. That is enough to keep us fully engaged and asking for more.

Which of the conniving Desperate Housewives could ever have plotted to make long-time India and Delhi teammates Gambhir and Kohli nearly come to blows with each other as they did in an IPL match?


Image: Virat Kohli in a heated exchange with Gautam Gambhir
Photographs: BCCI

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