Perceptions about the Indian Premier League have a schizophrenic touch. It is either the spotlight-grabber for unheralded players like Swapnil Asnodkar and Paul Valthaty or it is fame's dark alley that leads you astray. As usual, truth is lost in the middle.
Since 2008, the league has unveiled frenzied chases and whipped up shrill debates about after-match parties. Amidst the cacophony, the IPL's few but fine contributions cannot be overlooked.
Exposure, money and camaraderie that briefly erases jingoism, are intrinsic to the league. A match-winning performance equally lures brand managers and selectors.
For instance, Shane Watson revived his international career thanks to his exploits with Rajasthan Royals. And the phenomenal money on offer helps lower middle-class lads afford flats in the central business districts of India's metros while also helping a Chris Gayle keep his home-fires burning during his recent spat with the West Indies Cricket Board.
Most importantly, the constant dismantling of inflationary run-rates has bolstered self-belief in batsmen. “When we have to chase 120 from 20 overs, we think it is no run,” Shakib al Hasan said recently in Dhaka.
The all-rounder was referring to the positive influence of his nation's latest indulgence — the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) — but those are words that hold true for the IPL too.
Ask men like Virat Kohli, who refuse to blink at a 300-plus score and it is obvious that the league has helped batsmen break targets into miniscule portions and take it one hurried step at a time.
A few years back, a picture of Mathew Hayden and Suresh Raina having a laugh and enjoying their play-station stints, did the rounds. It proved that their time with Chennai Super Kings had helped them leap across national divides.
Similiarly, warring rivals Shane Warne and Graeme Smith developed mutual respect while playing for Rajasthan Royals and the frost thawed a wee-bit when Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds turned out for Mumbai Indians.
The league though is not just about performance, money and feel-good friendships. It also tests a young player's ability to withstand the distractions of the fame-factory.
“It is important to stay grounded and not have a swollen head,” Sachin Tendulkar said at the party hosted by industrialist Mukesh Ambani. It is a line that holds good for some cricketers who lose their sanity in IPL's fancy frills.
Limelight often causes an athlete's first stumble and in his autobiography ‘Open', Andre Agassi wrote about his initial years: “I am an adolescent who has seen too much, a man-child without a checking account.”
Venkatesh Prasad, who has seamlessly moved from playing to coaching, observed: “The IPL is a fantastic opportunity for young cricketers but a true test of a player's ability is in the longer format of the game.
“There is a tendency among young players to think about playing in the IPL and then hoping that this will help them to play for the country.
“Youngsters should play first class cricket for a minimum of three years before they can think about playing for the country. There is also the glamour factor in IPL in which a player gets to rub shoulders with a Shah Rukh Khan.
“Name and fame is assured but that should not affect the bigger dream of playing for the country.”
The IPL has also chewed up the seasonal break during April and May in Indian cricket. Players are spreading themselves thin across all formats and with no off-season, a burnout is a lurking tragedy despite the altruistic expectations of cricket administrators to spread the game to nations like China and Morocco.
Until then relish your memories of the extended careers of men like Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar.
Keywords: Indian Premier League