This year’s Celebrity Cricket League kicks off as Chennai Rhinos take on Bhojpuri Dabanngs tomorrow

On Saturday, as defending champions Chennai Rhinos take on Bhojpuri Dabanngs in Kochi, Celebrity Cricket League would capture the imagination of the whole country.

With eight regional teams of over 100 movie stars playing across eight venues around the country (and one international venue in Dubai) and telecast on eight TV channels during the next month, there’s no escaping the CCL fever!

As founder and managing director of the league, Vishnuvardhan Induri explains his vision of bringing two national passions — cricket and films together. “The average TRP for an international match when India plays was around four and we noticed that when filmstars played for the matches organised by the Andhra Movie Artist Association, the average TRP was 12 to 14. So we knew there was a huge potential.”

For just four teams in its first year (Mumbai Heroes, Telugu Warriors, Karnataka Bulldozers and Chennai Rhinos), the league added two teams last year (Kerala Strikers and Bengal Tigers) and two more this year (Veer Marathi and Bhojpuri Dabanngs).

This year’s edition kicked off with a star-studded televised launch in Mumbai hosted by Riteish Deshmukh (who also owns the new Veer Marathi team) and Ayushmaan Khurana, featuring performances by Salman Khan, brand ambassador Bipasha Basu and Katrina Kaif.

Regular practise

“They don’t take it lightly or treat it as an exhibition match,” says Induri. “Their passion for the game is too much. That’s the only thing driving this league.” As the Bhojpuri team captain Manoj Tiwari said: “We have been practising seriously for the past few months and daily for over a month.”

Induri says that Rs. 40 crore has been invested in the league and that they should start breaking even by next year. “Kalyan Jewellers has picked up the title sponsorship for three years for Rs. 28 crore. And the Star Network has signed up for eight to 10 million dollars. We are able to pay only a token amount to the stars and they are playing purely out of passion.”

As with every sport, it’s all about the heated competition. And when it comes to CCL, a confrontation between defending champions Chennai Rhinos and Karnataka Bulldozers is nothing short of war.

“It’s like India-Pakistan,” as Vishal, captain of the Chennai Rhinos puts it, fully confident of retaining the title.

Most matches in the last edition went up to the last over. “We are on our way to a hat-trick,” says Ramesh Srinivasan, manager of the Chennai Rhinos.

The players make it a point to practise when they can. Earlier this week, Vishal took a flight out of Tiruchi just to be able to get in for the practice. Jiiva used his break day in Mumbai to practise there. “Vishnu, vice-captain Vikranth and Shantanu practise every day.”

The matches featuring the teams will be shown in the respective regional channels: Star Gold (Mumbai Heroes matches), Asianet (Kerala Strikers matches), Suvarna (Karnataka Bulldozers matches), Zee Telugu (Telugu Warriors matches), Star Vijay (Chennai Rhino matches), Jalsha Movies (Bengal Tigers matches), Star Pravah (Veer Marathi matches) and Anjan (Bhojpuri Dabanng matches). The semi-finals and finals on March 9 and 10 will be telecast on all eight channels.

For a schedule of matches, visit www.ccl.in/schedule.php