M A I N   N E W S

IPL set for a pulsating start
Ashis Ray writes from Cape Town

Worthy semi-finalists last year, King XI Punjab have their work cut out as the 2nd edition of the world’s most lucrative cricket competition - the Indian Premier League - unveils here on Saturday. The Kings XI Punjab make their first appearance in the tournament on Sunday against Delhi Daredevils, spearheaded by Virender Sehwag.

Speaking exclusively to The Tribune, KXIP captain Yuvraj Singh asserted: “We are a very good team. We can go all the way.” He elaborated it is important to get the combination right in the first two games. Australian fast bowler Brett Lee is, however, unlikely to be fit for the first match; and his compatriots, Shaun marsh and James Hopes will only be available after Australia’s one-day series against Pakistan.

England’s Andrew Flintoff, for Chennai Super Kings, and Kevin Pietersen for Bangalore Royal Challengers, are the major new attractions this year. Jointly, at $1.55 million, the two highest paid players, they will make a fortnight’s appearance before returning home for the less remunerative but more prestigious matter of a home test series versus the West Indies.

Lalit Modi, commissioner of the league, claimed 90 percent of tickets at the eight venues of the tourney are sold out. This, if true, is a remarkable achievement and proof that IPL as a product has made an impact in South Africans.

Having to relocate and arrange a tournament faraway from its original venue within three weeks was in itself a massive logistical challenge. South Africa’s inherent infrastructure, its hunger to host international sporting events and its speed of operation have helped to meet a stiff deadline, not to mention the backroom boys of the IPL and its event managers, IMG.

Thus, an extended cricket season in this genuinely sports-loving country will seamlessly shift from international mode in the form of a South Africa-Australia ODI on Friday to IPL mode on Saturday. And, from a South African standpoint, from an embarrassing controversy about the legitimacy of left-arm spinner Johan Botha’s bowling action to the relatively tension free experience of watching Indian franchises clash swords at neutral venues.

While healthy attendances transmit a positive signal, what’s crucial to the IPL is the revenue from TV rights. Indeed, the matches will be played at exactly the times they were held in India last year, in order to take advantage of prime time potential. Half past 12 in the afternoon (the start time of first games) on a weekday is, for instance, not ideal for the hosts.

If it’s hazardous to make forecasts on a one-day championship, it’s insane to venture this in T20 circumstances. Last year, many a pundit tipped the Deccan Chargers of Hyderabad to win. They ultimately brought up the rear.

It may be safe to say, though, that the South African stalwarts would relish the familiarity with the playing conditions; and teams with more locals than otherwise could, therefore, benefit. In this respect, the Royal Challengers spring to mind. Not merely do they possess Jacques Kallis, Dale steyn and Mark Boucher in their ranks, but will be captained in the first two weeks by Pietermaritzburg-born Pietersen. Indeed, their coach Ray Jennings is also South African.

By the same logic, batsmen from the subcontinent - especially the less experienced ones - could find the extra bounce of South African pitches harder to digest, although, if the wickets are as flat as they were for the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 - which India clinched unexpectedly - and the boundaries likewise short (which they will be), the marvellous modern-day willows could be adequate to cart even miscues over the ropes.

Just as much as the 1983 World Cup triumph swept Indians off their feet, India’s performance in the WC T20 riveted a nation. Consequently, an IPL-type bonanza became a no-brainer for the BCCI. In fact, securing sponsors was not the issue, ensuring organisational success was.

IPL 2008 was a dream sequence. A thrill-a-minute from a buccaneering two-runs-a-ball 158 by Brendon McCullum in the opening encounter to a final decided off the last ball. It’s hard to believe that as intoxicating a script will be re-enacted.

Also, knowledgeable cricket lovers may realise that the high percentage of runs scored backward of square in T20 is unappetising; as well as the difficulty of judging the true merit of a successful bowler when batsmen have been seeking to despatch him uncricketingly. All this is, of course, macho to the uninitiated!

It may not be sublime to some; but T20 is unequivocally entertainment. So, lets spoil ourselves over the next 37 days. But not forget there’s the more serious business of exercising our franchise - that’s if one is eligible to vote!



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