Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fan,Fireworks & Cheerleaders - The IPL cricket

When you are a South African who has coached your own national team, you may think you have seen everything cricket has to offer in your homeland.

But the fast, furious and very noisy Indian Premier League - relocated to South Africa less than two months ago yet now entering its final weekend - is changing that, as fireworks, flame-throwers, cheerleaders and colossal sixes light up the arenas.

"I am over the moon that South Africa has responded in such an unbelievably positive way to the IPL," says former South Africa coach Ray Jennings, whose Bangalore Royal Challengers side are in the semi-finals.

"The enormous crowds, basically during the rugby season, have been amazing - especially all the Indians who have supported this."

As cricket's biggest razzamatazz rolls in, the bevy of cheerleaders showing off their hips and pom-poms to accompany the on-pitch entertainment, South Africans have lapped up the chance to watch Sachin Tendulkar, Matthew Hayden, Muttiah Muralitharan or Shane Warne live.

Endless fireworks

"I used to be an armchair fan," admits a beaming Molefe Moko, 28. "But the IPL's drawing my couch potato behaviour out of me.

"There's a wonderful atmosphere and it is fun - you basically get non-stop action from the start."

The organisers have definitely fulfilled their promise to deliver entertainment, which has also included a beauty pageant from the crowd, with the winner landing a Bollywood part.

To a heady background of deafening Indian music, machines pump flames into the sky whenever there is a four, while wickets and sixes are greeted by endless fireworks.

Of course there have been hiccups, various IPL demands ruffling the feathers of local businesses, but that is hardly surprising when some claim the organisers are protecting an asset worth $2bn.

While the relocation has undoubtedly damaged the big-spending and marketing-driven IPL financially, as no atmosphere can match a local Indian one, South Africa has not done badly - with the event seemingly inspiring the next generation of Graeme Smiths, Herschelle Gibbs and Makhaya Ntinis.

Unrivalled promotion

"To say I am happy about the IPL being here would be an understatement," says Dr Mtutezeli Nyoka, president of Cricket South Africa.

"It has put smiles on many South Africans' faces, including those who are involved in the game and, most importantly, those who are not.

"And it has been unrivalled promotion. Lots of parents are now saying to us: 'Our kids want to play cricket', when just a few weeks ago, we were having to approach them."

Furthermore, all South Africans can be heartened by the nation's ability to stage the event at such short notice as next year's football World Cup looms.

Cricket fan wearing huge horns
Policing the games was easy, as there was no animosity between the fans

"I cannot speak highly enough of the security that's been around this tournament - it has been first-class," says Deccan Chargers coach Darren Lehmann, who represented Australia between 1996-2005.

"And the crowds have been fantastic throughout which is unbelievable since we have had so many games in so few days, so we have really enjoyed it."

The circus has another couple of days to run, before moving out of town.

The first semi-final on Friday pits the Delhi Daredevils against the Deccan Chargers. The second, between the Chennai Super Kings and Royal Bangalore Challengers, takes place the next day. The finalists will meet in Johannesburg on Sunday.

As they prepare for a kaleidoscopic sunset to a wonderful cricketing summer, which included an enthralling home series against Australia, South Africans are already plotting to stop the IPL permanently returning to its rightful home.

"It has been a true Indian experience, with a great vibe and everyone seems to have loved it," says local fan Rory Beeden, 28.

"I would love to see it come back, perhaps with us hosting it one year and India the next!"

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