If you are a Shikhar Dhawan fan, looking forward to his return from injury so you can watch him give the opposition bowlers the old heave-ho in the Indian Premier League, you might be slightly confused about which team to follow.
In the sixth edition of the IPL, Dhawan will represent the latest team to join the fray – the Sunrisers Hyderabad – his fourth in six years, having previously turned out for Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils and Deccan Chargers.
Ravindra Jadeja – also impressive in the Tests against Australia – is onto his third IPL outfit. Bought by the Chennai Super Kings last year for $US 2 million, Jadeja was earlier with Rajasthan Royals and Kochi Tuskers Kerala.
Out of the Indian team but still very much in the thick of IPL action, RP Singh has made his way through four teams – Deccan Chargers, Mumbai Indians, Kochi Tuskers and now Royal Challengers Bangalore – and Robin Uthappa through three (Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers, Pune Warriors India).
This team-hopping phenomenon is not restricted to Indian players. Ross Taylor, the former New Zealand captain – now with Pune Warriors – was earlier on board with the Royal Challengers, Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals. I doubt there are too many Owais Shah fans holding their breath for the English cricketer’s next move but here goes anyway: after stints with Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders and Kochi Tuskers he will now represent Rajasthan Royals.
Some of these changes were, of course, forced, when franchises like Kochi Tuskers and Deccan Chargers were scrapped in 2010 and 2012. But you can hardly be blamed if your head is in a tizzy from trying to keep pace with who plays for which franchise.
These examples are more the rule than the exception. A quick survey across the nine teams for this edition reveals that of 65 key players – Indian and foreign – only ten have not changed a team in the past six years. Around 50 per cent have been part of as many as three sides, and the nucleus of every team has changed radically since the start of the tournament.
If you take Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians out of the equation –two franchises that fought tooth and nail in 2010 to retain key personnel as the IPL governing council conveniently amended the rules – the numbers are even more skewed. And every franchise has seen the captaincy change hands at least once, if not twice or three times, except for the Super Kings.
So what or who exactly are fans pledging their loyalty to when they queue up to catch the action live or cheer lustily each year from the comfortable expanse of their living room couches? Or spend hours online monitoring scores and fixtures and news reports?
What is this relationship based on since there doesn’t seem to be much of a personal or personnel connect. If it’s not star cricketers or a core group of players or team owners (any Subrata Roy or Kalanidhi Maran fans out there?) or city-based franchises (several matches are played away from the regional fan base), what is it exactly?
Is it just as simple an explanation as this: the 1.6 billion dollar cricket league is a 45-day spectacle that provides men temporary respite from the hackneyed, regressive soaps their wives watch every night on primetime television. Something to look forward to as they vegetate mindlessly in front of the telly and get to the end of another gruelling day, and are now increasingly being joined by women who have taken quite a shine, as evidence suggests, to this form of cricket?
What of those who go to the stadium? Is it just a fun night out that has everything to do with entertainment and very little to do with cricket. Fans I speak to in Mumbai say they are diehard Mumbai supporters because of Sachin Tendulkar and will stop supporting the team the day he is no longer associated with the franchise.
Others are not too caught up with who plays for which team; they support franchises because of a regional partisanship. Yet others don’t really care about any team – they’re going for the dazzling razzmatazz of sixes, cheerleaders, Bollywood stars and a big bash.
My abiding memory from an IPL game dates right back to April 2008 – the tournament’s inaugural match between the Royal Challengers and the Knight Riders at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Brendon McCullum was playing one of the best Twenty20 innings ever played until then but I can assure you there were more people with their heads cocked sideways watching Shah Rukh Khan and his coterie in the gallery than following McCullum’s histrionics on the pitch.
What happens on the pitch seems almost incidental to the action off it. But it might be worth remembering that this was not the idea with which this league began. If it was indeed meant to be modelled on English Premier League (EPL), as Lalit Modi, the former IPL commissioner and chairman repeated ad nauseaum during his tenure, then the action off the pitch was only meant to add some spice to the main ingredient – cricket.
Teams were meant to build a loyal fan base who flocked to the stadium or their television screens to follow a continuing storyline that involved the same set of characters.
Local players were meant to be affiliated with a catchment area and infrastructure built to ensure fans had the best facilities to support their city-based franchises. But breaking existing rules and making new ones along the way has been the IPL’s most consistent feature.
There are few answers to the logic of Delhi playing in Raipur over Faridabad or Lucknow or Kanpur or Kolkata playing Bangalore in Ranchi. Fans in Hyderabad have been particularly shortchanged after the IPL moved to South Africa in 2009 and the Telangana crisis meant all matches were moved out of Hyderabad in 2010. One day they were meant to support the Deccan Chargers, the next the Sunrisers.
While the IPL profits continue to swell the overflowing coffers of the BCCI, television ratings, for the last three years, have shown a consistent dip. Perhaps this year will show us which way the IPL is going after all.