Home >Mint-lounge >Business-of-life >Is there an overdose of Twenty20 cricket?

Several people—and not just the usual Indian Premier League (IPL) baiters—say that this edition of the league seems to lack zing, that extra something that made it a huge success in previous years.

In the absence of hard evidence, I am not sure whether this is fact or just perception. Once the data is made available—of attendance, TV viewership and sponsorships—the picture should be clearer.

But such cribbing is hardly new. There are enough detractors willing to sing a dirge for the IPL every year. That it has survived sustained scepticism and recurring controversies suggests a robustness of format and model.

The fact, however, is that spectatorship at some of the matches at the start of the tournament this year was sluggish. At the time of writing this piece, there were contraindications too, but it is worthwhile to examine why the perception of a tepid tournament may have arisen.

There could be several reasons, not the least being the introduction of two new teams—from Pune and Rajkot—to replace the teams from Chennai and Jaipur, which have been suspended for two years. Players from the two suspended teams were divided—through the draft and open auctions. This would, of course, affect the fan loyalty assiduously built up over eight seasons. Star players from these two teams are still in the IPL, but this was a setback nonetheless. For instance, Chennai fans would have been chagrined to see M.S. Dhoni, R. Ashwin, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, et al now “belonging" to different cities.

Also, the controversy over matches being played in drought-affected Maharashtra was unexpected, and the last-minute shifting of matches out of Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur has taken its toll.

In my opinion, however, the fundamental factor in the seemingly lukewarm start to the IPL this year is that the tournament has come on the heels of a high-octane, hugely exciting World Twenty20.

This tournament had the country transfixed. There were some truly fabulous individual performances, and above all else, India’s tense progress to the semi-finals made the World T20 riveting. Apart from the melodrama of the blue riband match against Pakistan, which predictably brought the subcontinent to a standstill, the wafer-thin victories against Bangladesh and Australia had audiences in thrall.

The disappointment of home favourites India losing a taut semi-final to the West Indies at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium did not affect the tenor, texture and appeal of the tournament. If anything, the final between England and the West Indies raised it to an unmatched crescendo. And with the West Indies winning the title through Carlos Brathwaite’s four sixes in a pulsating last over, it became clear that this, perhaps, had been the most successful World T20 ever.

Effectively, the World T20 was a roller-coaster ride that left Indian cricket fans tired. There is a fatigue factor to even the most exhilarating experiences. To indulge in some basic economic theory, the law of diminishing marginal utility (read interest) sets in even for the most desired pursuits.

The Indian fan was perhaps spent where T20 cricket is concerned: spent for passion, as well as for cash, for a long season with so many T20 games can be a drain on the finances and become unaffordable.

Cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Mohali and Bengaluru were allotted multiple matches during the World T20. This was followed by IPL games for the franchises. Even for diehards, this adds up to substantial expenses within just a couple of months.

This does not mean that India should not host the World T20 in an effort to protect the IPL; rather, that two such mega events need to be staggered. The ideal situation would have been to play the World T20 at the start of the season, which could then have climaxed with the IPL.

The key learning here is that the cricket calendar needs to be planned better. There is a danger of overdose and overkill that must be guarded against, even where T20 cricket is concerned. There is a threshold even for the diehard Indian fan.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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