The IPL has all the bling of Bollywood

2009-04-22 00:00

The IPL with all its bling and Bollywood bluster has taken South Africa by storm. In the midst of an election, the fact that South Africans are talking about the Chennai Superkings, Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knightriders interchangeably with Jacob Zuma, Cope and the Democratic Alliance, speaks volumes about its popularity.

Bodyguarded Bollywood stars jetting into the country, followed by television crews and dedicated television channels, show just what an extravaganza this is.

The opportunity afforded Cricket South Africa to show the world just how it can host a tournament of this magnitude at the drop of a hat cannot be discounted, but then money does talk. The financial spinoff for Cricket South Africa from the IPL is not public knowledge, but you can bet the numbers are substantial. As important, however, is the fact that it is a fantastic advert for cricket and for our country.

Of course, the IPL has not been without controversy. Much has been made of the increasing workload of international cricketers by the relevant international cricket associations.

Australia in particular, has expressed their concern that their players need to rest to prevent burnout amidst crammed international schedules. The inception of the IPL has tested this theory with the associated million-dollar contracts on offer. Not many players, myself included, would turn down the dollars for a chance to have a rest even if it was sorely needed.

With the limited duration of a cricketer’s career, it makes sense to maximise your earnings while you can and you can’t blame players for wanting to set themselves up financially before they hang up their boots. However, not all cricketers feel this way and Michael Hussey is a case in point. Hussey feels that he has had a poor season by his own high standards and being the intense ultra-disciplined player that he is, has decided not to take part in the IPL but to instead focus on his preparation for the Ashes.

I respect his decision, but can’t say I would ever have made the same choice irrespective of what kind of season I’d had. For a cricketer the IPL provides a unique opportunity to team up with some of your international rivals and in some cases your heroes. Of course, there is pressure and a healthy dose of hype, but for all purposes it is a break from the normal rigours and routines of international cricket.

There have been mixed fortunes for some of South Africa’s cricketers. Ashwell Prince, originally part of the Mumbai Indian squad for the inaugural IPL in India, where he spent the duration on the bench, received a sms prior to the second IPL to say his services were no longer required. Tyrone Henderson, on the other hand, appears to have benefitted from being in the midst of a bidding war between rival IPL team-owners and has received a whopping contract from his team, the Rajasthan Royals, as a result. It’s not clear how the Royals have been able to justify his contract relative to those of other more accomplished players, but for Henderson its great timing.

There is no doubt that the IPL is not a tournament for the purists, but even they’ll have to admit it’s providing excitement, the likes of which South Africa has not seen before.

Like a good curry, it’s hot, it’s spicy and it’s tantalising, and I’ll be just one of the many enjoying this unique brand of Indian entertainment over the next few weeks.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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