Friday, May 22, 2009

IPL Cricket

IPL ugly ducklings are sitting pretty

A recent survey by Brand Finance India suggested that the Indian Premier League's "brand name alone" was worth $311-million.

The value of the tournament, it suggested, as it approached the end of just its second season, was $2-billion.

How these figures are reached would, no doubt, include processes well beyond the comprehension of most cricket followers. But one thing we do know, as cricket people, is that the boffins with calculators who put the survey together have a very different perspective on things.

The Kolkatta Knight Riders are seen as the most valuable franchise, despite coming last in the eight-team league with a single victory from 11 games. They tell us that Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who bought the franchise for $75,1-million, could expect to fetch $42,1-million should he decide to sell now.

They reckon that the Mumbai Indians, bought by businessman Mukesh Ambani for $111,9-million, could expect $41,6-million should he sell now, while bargain basement team, the Rajasthan Royals, bought by Manoj Badale and Lachlan Murdoch (son of Rupert) for a mere $67-million, could fetch $39.5-million despite winning the inaugural tournament.

The greatest loss, however, was reserved for the Chennai SuperKings, who were bought for $91.9-million, but are now valued at just $39,4-million despite reaching last year’s final. And yet the whole shebang is worth $2-billion and the name alone $311-million?

Make any sense?

Neither does much of the cricket, but at least there’s a serious element of thrill and desperation now that the scramble for semi-finals has reached its climax. Some franchise owners can measure their success by the amount of television exposure they have received, which makes sense given the tournament's stated aim to "combine sport and entertainment".

But for others, such as business tycoon Vijay Malya, who invested more than $120-million in the most expensive team, the Bangalore Royal Challengers, it is crunch time. With three games left in the league, one more defeat will probably mean a second season of ignominy among the also-rans. Not what a billionaire who owns airlines and 90% of India’s liquor trade expects.

The Mumbai Indians must win their three remaining games to be sure of a semi-final spot, while Chennai and the Deccan Chargers can still be caught if they falter in the final rounds.

The keys to success are mixed. Luck is certainly one of them, but can be overplayed. Runs upfront? Wickets at the death? Economy rates in the middle? Everyone has a theory and most are right.

But there are two realities that cannot be denied. Big-name players do not win an elongated competition such as this, especially when you're allowed to play only in the starting XI. They may win isolated games, but it is the other seven Indian players in the team — and mostly the four or five "no-name brand" players -- that decide the fate of their teams.

And second, teams with the least-inflated egos are succeeding far more than those with most attachments of glitz and glamour.

Among overseas players, the Delhi Daredevils have Tillekeratne Dilshan to thank for their surge to the top of the log, with AB de Villiers and Dirk Nannes. And the king of anti-bling for more than a decade, Glenn McGrath, hasn’t even played a game for them yet.

Chennai, too, have made do with Albie Morkel, Jacob Oram and the ageless Matthew Hayden.

All magnificent cricketers, but without an ounce of bling between them. Matter-of-fact and down-to-earth. And when they did lurch into the glam market, Andrew Flintoff beat a hasty retreat back to England after a week -- injured.

Perchance there is an element of coincidence that the glam franchises are being overpowered by the dull ones. Perchance not. If the King’s XI Punjab make the semis, that would be three out of four ugly ducklings sitting pretty.

Indians from all over the world have rightly rejoiced in the success of the tournament and the attention it has brought to the country. India
now "rules" world cricket and has done for the best part of a decade, though we were all (India included) a little slow to recognise the obvious.

After a century of fielding for its colonial masters and only being given a token bat and bowl when they deemed it appropriate or convenient, India’s cricket-loving masses -- and all Indians, for that matter -- are damn right to be celebrating their ascendancy to the highest seat in world cricket.

Power, however, as history tells us, in all walks of life is best accepted with large sidedishes of responsibility and humility. The Indian national team were courted and pampered to the point of embarrassment on their recent tour of New Zealand, so desperate is that country to curry favour with the new superpower. Only England and Australia can reasonably be expected to survive comfortably without India's financial clout.

Which is exactly why India needs to be fair and consistent when handing out fixture gifts and other assorted aid packages and appearances to the hungry cricket-playing nations -- starving in the case of Pakistan and West Indies.

Otherwise, India will be king -- but of what?

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