Rohit Sharma
​​​​​​​Rohit Sharma in action during the Indian Premier League in Dubai in 2020. Sharma led the Mumbai Indians to a record fifth IPL title. His IPL form helped cement a place in the Indian Test squad.  Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

The Indian Premier League changed the face of cricket. It actually revolutionised the game in India. The IPL also thrust Indian cricket into the centre stage of the world. As a result, cricketers and crowds benefited enormously, with the Indian cricket board raking in big bucks from broadcast rights and gate receipts. It’s been 13 years since IPL was launched in 2007, and it hasn’t lost none of its allure.

Even the new coronavirus couldn’t stop the IPL in 2020. In a year, when much of international sport suffered from the fallout of COVID-19, IPL 2020 turned out to be a roaring success, despite the delay.

True, the IPL had to leave the shores of India. And matches were played in empty stadiums in line with the safety protocols. Biobubbles kept the players safe, although the Chennai Super Kings reported some COVID-19 cases in the squad in the early days. But the tournament went ahead without a hitch.

Mumbai Indians squad celebrates with the trophy of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020
Mumbai Indians squad celebrates with the trophy of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, on Tuesday 10th November 2020. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

When the Mumbai Indians were crowned champions in Dubai on November 10, 2020, the IPL-12 broke all viewership records. Star India, the official broadcaster, reported a 23 per cent increase in viewership with an average of 31.57 million impressions. That spike may be partly due to the absence of matches in India. Moreover, spectators were not allowed into the UAE stadiums. Whatever it is, there’s no mistaking the lure of the IPL.

Cricket, no doubt, is a popular sport in India, but IPL raised the popularity by several notches. The T20 format is a perfect incubator for edge-of-the-seat dramas and thrilling finishes, providing an adrenalin rush for most people after a hard day’s work. The shorter duration and night matches helped set up fan bases that prefer IPL to soap operas on television. It brought a whole new audience to cricket. An audience that included Bollywood stars and celebrities.

That infused more glamour into the game. Not that cricket was short on glamour and celebrities. IPL is where cricket meets Bollywood. Several Indian film stars own franchises, and Bollywood actors regularly turn up at the stadiums to support the teams. And the crowds love it. Here IPL may have borrowed a page from the playbook of the Cricket Beneficiary Fund Series games in Sharjah.

The origins of T20 cricket
■ T20 cricket was born in New Zealand in the 1990s as Cricket Max.
■ It became a tournament in England in 2003 to arrest the waning spectator interest in cricket.
■ IPL turned that into a money-spinner in 2007.
■ The brand value of the IPL in 2019 was Rs475 billion ($6.7 billion), according to Duff & Phelps.

An IPL game is more than a cricket match. The atmosphere is electric. Blaring music, brightly clad cheerleaders, Mexican waves, full-throated cheers and shrill whistling greet each ball racing to the boundary, as flame-throwers light up around the packed stadium. The frenzy and the razzmatazz mark out IPL from the rest of the T20 leagues of the world. It’s a complete entertainment package.

An entertainment package it is, but cricket is very much at the heart of IPL. Cricket is what tens of thousands of people come to watch. Millions more follow on television; 462 million viewers watched IPL 2019; 23 per cent more viewed it in 2020. And that prompts players to give off their best. After all, they are paid handsomely; some of them earn in a season more than what they would earn in their careers.

Chris Morris of Royal Challengers Bangalore bowles.
Chris Morris in action for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2020. The South African signed up for Rajasthan Royals for Rs16.25 million, which makes his the most expensive overseas signing . Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

Australia’s Pat Cummins was the highest paid overseas player last season with a Rs155 million (Dh7.7 million) contract from the Kolkata Knight Riders. In 2021, South African Chris Morris topped it, becoming the most expensive overseas signing with a Rs162.5 million (Dh8.13 million) cheque from the Rajasthan Royals. Virat Kohli is the highest-paid player with the Indian captain, commanding a fee of Rs170 million (Dh8.5 million) from the Bangalore Royal Challengers.

For the superstars, IPL is an opportunity to rake in the big bucks in the prime of their careers. For the fading stars, it offers a chance to boost their retirement funds. Retired stars too are in demand. They find jobs as coaches, analysts, mentors and team directors. So, everyone wins.

Other T20 leagues offer similar opportunities, but they are not in the same league as the IPL. The Big Bash League is high in intensity, but Australia’s T20 competition lacks the lure and lucre of the IPL. 

The biggest beneficiaries are domestic cricketers. IPL turned them into professionals. Now they make a living from the game. Some of them are millionaires, who would otherwise be slogging away in banks and offices to make ends meet and barely finding time for practice sessions.

How IPL helped Rohit Sharma’s international career

IPL was instrumental in resurrecting the careers of several Indian internationals, like the enigmatic Rohit Sharma. A cricketer with abundant talent, his Test career never really took off. When he dawdled in cricketing wilderness, IPL gave him a lifeline. Sterling performances for Sunrisers Hyderabad paved the way for the captaincy of Mumbai Indians. That confidence made him a feared opening batsman in international limited-overs cricket, paving the way for a return to the India Test cricket team.

The impressive spells of Lakshmipathy Balaji and Ashish Nehra in IPL showed that age hadn’t withered their skills. And it allowed them to stage a comeback to international cricket. Ambati Rayudu’s wasn’t a comeback, but his India debut came on the back of some strong performances in the IPL.

Several young players took the IPL route to India colours. Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, and several others rode on the strength of their IPL performances to play international cricket. The sterling shows in IPL 2020 catapulted Washington Sundar, Mohammed Siraj and Axar Patel into the India Test squad, and they have had dream debuts.

Devdutt Padikkal
Devdutt Padikkal of Royal Challengers Bangalore won the Emerging Player award in IPL 2021, racking up 473 runs from 15 matches. He will be one of the players to watch this year. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

For many domestic cricketers, particularly the youngsters, IPL provides the platform to learn from the stalwarts of the game. Not just the skills, but how they approach the game. While a young Devdutt Padikkal can discuss his batting with Royal Challengers Bangalore’s chief coach Simon Katich, Delhi Capitals’ Rishabh Pant can seek advice from head coach Ricky Ponting. Chennai Super Kings’ Ruturaj Gaikwad will benefit from playing alongside Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo.

Cricketers in India also get a chance to pit their skills against the best in the business. When a young Yashasvi Jaiswal lifts Australian pace ace Pat Cummins over the long-on boundary, it does wonders to his confidence. All this helps raise the quality of first-class cricket in the country.

There’s a downside to it as well. With IPL having such a massive influence on youngsters, the future of the longer formats may be in jeopardy. Many of them prefer the limited-over variety as it offers a shorter route to riches and stardom. When youngsters shun Ranji Trophy, the talent pool for Test cricket shrinks drastically.

31.57million


people watched the IPL on television last year, according to Star India, the official broadcaster.

When the base price in an IPL auction is Rs200,000, why would youngsters spend their time perfecting the outswinger? They would instead learn to bowl a variety of slower balls and an indipping yorker. They would opt to work on the reverse sweep and the slog to the cow corner. A backfoot defence and a square-cut with wrist rolling over will become endangered strokes.

This is not an IPL problem. It’s a fallout of the burgeoning popularity of limited-overs cricket. Shorter games and more pay, you can’t argue with that.

Purists may thumb noses at limited-overs cricket, but it has given a new lease of life to Test cricket. Tests no longer produce dull, drab draws over five days. The high rate of scoring in ODIs and T20 Internationals has seeped into Test cricket along with risky strokes and athletic fielding. The revival of leg-spin owes a lot to one-day matches. All that means most Tests will have results, and more people will come to watch the five-day game.

Earlier, international cricket was restricted to players from the major cricket playing countries. T20 leagues of the world changed all that, and IPL has welcomed players from all around the world.

Fairy tales and new beginnings

There are some fairy tales too.

For K.M. Asif, IPL is a lifesaver. After two failed attempts at making a living in Dubai, the Kerala speedster landed a contract with the Chennai Super Kings. His third trip to Dubai was in the form of a bona fide cricketer, and he has no worries about providing for his family. When IPL 2021 gets underway on April 9, 2021, only cricket will be on Asif’s mind.

If it were not for IPL, the world wouldn’t have heard of a Nepali cricketer. Sandeep Lamichchane is a sought-after leg-spinner in the T20 leagues of the world. He was with Delhi Capitals till last year, but went unsold at this year’s auction. Last year, IPL boasted of an American cricketer too: the Pakistan-born Ohio resident Ali Khan.

Overseas cricketers too derived benefit from IPL. The exposure helped them turn into better limited-overs cricketers. England’s Jos Buttler and David Bairstow are good examples. IPL action enabled New Zealand captain Kane Williamson to step up the tempo of his innings.

Without IPL, Rashid Khan of Afghanistan would never have been the force he is now. As a refugee in Peshawar, he learnt his cricket in Pakistan, and IPL provided him with the big stage to parade his precocious skills. Today, he’s arguably the best leg-spinner in the world.

Shakib ul Hasan is one of the greatest cricketers from Bangladesh. His all-round skills bloomed in the cauldron on IPL. And he paid it back by helping Kolkata Knight Riders win the title in 2014. Sunil Narine of the West Indies transformed into a feared spin bowler.

The riches of IPL gave rise to a new breed of cricketers. The so-called mercenaries. They don’t play for the country; they prefer the IPL. The big pay cheques are a bigger attraction than a place in the national team. Some even turn down central contracts to make themselves available for IPL.

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Dwayne Bravo (centre) celebrates after the Chennai Super Kings bear the Mumbai Indians in 2018. The West Indian veteran continues to ply his trade for CSK this year too. Image Credit: AP

When cricketers reach the twilight of their careers, their focus turns to IPL. The shorter format is easy on their bodies. And it helps bolster their nest eggs. Adam Gilchrist did it. So did the Hussey brothers, Michael and David. Shane Watson too. Dwayne Bravo and Lasith Malinga are among who others used the same template. Bravo still plays a significant role in the success of CSK.

Age doesn’t matter, performances do. That’s the IPL mantra. MS Dhoni, Harbajan Singh and Suresh Raina will agree.

IPL 2021 starts on April 9. If past editions are any indication, this year too will witness performances that stretch the boundaries of belief. Hold on to your seats. It’s going to be another hair-raising ride.

Note: This is the updated version of an article published in September 2020, under the headline: IPL 2020 in UAE: How IPL changed the face of cricket