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Maintaining interest will be the hard part

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GLITZ AND GLAMOUR: With shining stars like cricket’s Shane Warne and filmdom’s Preity Zinta being an involved and integral part, the Indian Premier League has become an extravaganza and a joyride thrilling fans around the globe.
GLITZ AND GLAMOUR: With shining stars like cricket’s Shane Warne and filmdom’s Preity Zinta being an involved and integral part, the Indian Premier League has become an extravaganza and a joyride thrilling fans around the globe.

All the signs suggest that IPL is going to work in Africa, writes

Peter Roebuck

IPL has a startling way of suspending disbelief.

Like other successful mass entertainments, it takes followers on a journey full of thrill and spills, heroes and villains, blends fantasy and reality, contains frequent climaxes and manages to dress even the dullest match in the eye-catching finery.

Along the way it turns critics into drudges. In short it is an extravaganza that dare not pause for thought, a joyride, an escape, a means of combining the 20th Century’s two main sources of entertainment, sport and television, to which has been added another mighty force, the Indian dream. So far it has proved irresistible.

IPL conquered its home country in 2008 and shows every sign of luring South Africa to the party. Naturally Lalit Modi and chums have used every showbiz trick to ensure South Africa feels the excitement.

On Thursday the teams were paraded through the streets of Cape Town, a performance shown live on television. All the champions of the age were on display, waving, smiling, chatting, drawing attention to the forthcoming event. Thousands lined the roads to greet the players.

Since South Africa too, is in the middle of an election campaign it was quite an effort by the host nation and city. But, then, a prodigal son often feels the need to perform public feats to mark his return to the fold.

All the signs suggest that IPL is going to work in Africa. 2,500 VIPs and VVIPs have flown in, filling the posh hotels, boosting the economy, brightening the humdrum of daily life.

Every ticket has been sold for the first few matches, and the papers have been full of interviews and stories about the various outfits.

Cold weather

Between them cold weather and cold crowds could kill the golden goose, so IPL is seeking to arouse not merely curiosity but frenzy.

All and sundry are heaping praise on everything African, most of it deserved as at every level the host nation has put out the red carpet. Charm offensives usually pay dividends.

Already it seems certain that the first week will surpass expectations. Maintaining interest will be the hard part. South Africa is in the middle of its rugby season and excitement is mounting about the imminent arrival of the British Lions.

Preparations are well underway to stage first the Confederations Cup, the biggest soccer tournament on the continent, and next year the World Cup. Moreover autumnal evenings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town can be chilly. Teams from the Punjab especially will not complain, but spectators may need scarves and hot soup.

Probably the brilliance of the players and the standards of the matches will sustain the tournament. Even serious followers of the game will relish the chance to watch Sachin, Kevin, Sanath and the rest on the same day. After all a single Tendulkar straight drive is worth the price of entry. And the stroke play was better than expected in the first season.

Inventive aggression

IPL does not encourage slogging so much as calculated, powerful and inventive aggression. Admittedly it lacks subtlety and depth.

Only scholars, though, can contemplate the classics all the time. Lesser mortals need to mix it up. Also IPL unexpectedly encouraged spin, promoted fielding, released youth and required brains. And the tickets are cheap.

Africa will not destroy IPL. Only self-indulgence can do that. IPL will last as long as its current levels of discipline. Bookies and drugs hover around enterprises of this sort, waiting to pounce on the weak and unscrupulous.

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