The Indian Premier League (IPL) is one of the great business innovations of our times. The travelling circus has now become an important part of the international cricket calendar, as well as a fault line when foreign cricketers are forced to choose between league and country, between money and national pride.
Yet, IPL seems to be losing some of its sheen. Television ratings have slipped, the stadiums tend to have acres of empty seats and even the commentators are failing to manufacture mass enthusiasm. The most immediate cause for the lack of popular enthusiasm this year is that the T20 league is being played just after a superb World Cup tournament that India won. Fatigue has set in.
The transfer of players and the recombined teams have also muddied the waters of public support.
These are problems that will go away next year. So all that the IPL management and investors have to do is remain patient. But there is another possibility that should worry them more. Are the quick thrills of the T20 games incapable of holding audience attention over an entire month, now that the novelty has worn out? How many baseball swipes and golf drives over embarrassingly short boundaries can a cricket fan get enthused about? There have been flashes of brilliance this year, but the overall quality of cricket has been mediocre and there have been very few adrenalin-pumping close matches.
T20 is an important addition to the game of cricket. It has its moments of brilliance. But the audience will be tired of one-dimensional play. To use an analogy from tennis, it is like watching power tennis for a month rather than the artistry of Roger Federer. How many aces can you enjoy? How may sixes can you cheer?
IPL is too strong a franchise to crumble. But the recent drop in customer interest should be an opportunity to ask some hard questions about the quality of cricket on offer.
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