Regular readers will know I don’t have much love for the IPL, or Twenty20 for that matter. I thought the last tournament went on too long and, even though I’m glad cricket viewership increased, I thought the franchises were made-up and the amounts of money thrown about ill-considered.
The latest move to off-shore the tournament to South Africa, though, is an interesting experiment. The IPL began with a big first challenge: will cricket fans root for teams that did not exist before and have only the barest connections to their host cities? Why would, say, a Jaipur resident support the Rajasthan Royals, given that the captain is Shane Warne, who is clearly not Rajasthani? At the time, I didn’t think it would work out, but apparently it did.
Now, the IPL inadvertently poses a second big question: does it even matter where a cricket match is held? As I wrote before, touring and hosting are two of the most essential functions of the cricket world. Cricket tours go on and on and on, and home conditions very often differ from foreign ones. But now, the IPL experiment asks something is betting something else completely: the world of cricket doesn’t actually exist in the world, but only on the television screen.
Does that sound too silly? Not to Preity Zinta, who said that for most fans, the television coverage is all that matters. And if you look at recent trends in the game — the increased reliance on television replays and referrals and broadcaster revenues and contracts — that’s where the game exists.
So, if this season is successful, here’s what we can conclude: 1. A game can be played in the Arctic netherlands; as long as a television crew is around (and a time zone is willing to play along), things will work out. 2. Franchises that spring up from thin air can inspire fan loyalty, even though a) there’s no regional history; b) the owners are not local heroes; c) the franchises don’t even have a home ground. Simply amazing.