The Indian Premier League (IPL), the shortest version of the game of cricket that exists has been hogging the Indian media space and also people’s minds for the last two months, if not more. The passion for cricket has grown manifold and has entered households during primetime by competing with Bollywood, reality shows and game shows. Ironically, the game show hosted by India’s biggest star Shahrukh Khan faded in comparison to his averagely performing yet profitable IPL team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. Bollywood in the last two months has been kicked into oblivion with all the attention turned towards the cheerleaders in IPL, the glam quotient in cricket stadiums, blockbuster entertainment, and most importantly the extremely high scoring format that is refreshing and fascinating at the same time. This is if one doesn’t count the controversies in the game itself, all of which received more attention than any single event in the recent past. These involve the controversies surrounding Shoaib Akhtar’s life ban by the Pakistan Cricket Board, the Harbhajan-Sreesanth slapping episode, racism against black cheerleaders, the outlandish comments of Vijay Mallya, the firing of Charu Sharma, the horrible performance of a well-balanced side like the Deccan Chargers, the dramatic exit of Mumbai in true Bollywood-style, and/or any other incident remotely related to IPL. The closest real news that mattered around this time that I can think of would probably be the Arushi murder case, the blasts in Rajasthan (of course with an IPL angle to it), Gujjar riots and the life term sentences against the Yadavs in the Katara murder case. Else, the media has completely submitted itself to the cricket frenzy fans of India although ironically, they were not happy with IPL’s media rules and had planned to boycott initially. However, the enigmatic CEO of IPL, Lalit Modi, got his way around the problem by successfully hijacking the media itself.
During the course of the last two months, I have been thoroughly fascinated with the new found professionalism of a sport in India, the team names, the brands and icons associated with them, advertising and aggressive marketing, the bidding and more importantly the reaction of fans to their favorite teams. I did, many a times, think about looking at this entire spectacle from a different perspective. Given my limited knowledge of the sport, statistics, the players, I turned my attention into the team selection process and how it relates to the people of a certain city and its vibe, owners and captaincy.
The team representing the entertainment and business capital of India is owned by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani and captained by India’s biggest cricket star, Sachin Tendulkar. The team had no lack of star power on the sidelines with most of Bollywood rooting for the Indians, but for the brand called Shah Rukh Khan who sucked a sizeable chunk to support his team in Kolkata. The team also is the most expensive standing to its owner’s reputation of doing everything big. The fans of the Indians are either the million fans of Tendulkar or the city of Mumbai, and that would squarely put their fan base much higher than any other team. Not many cities in India could boast of such love from far and wide. This team is the equivalent of the New York Knicks in the NBA, and quite coincidentally has just one star player and also missed out on making it to the knockout stage. The team would definitely break even next year with its superior location and fan base, however success would largely depend on more focus on the team and less dependence on Tendulkar. He has been largely successful in his own right at the national level, although most of his success rarely translated to success for the national team. The latest Bollywood equation seems to be many stars and maybe the Indians could test that strategy.
Kolkata Knight Riders
This team represents a lot of passion and aggression as is evident in the people of Kolkata for everything Kolkata and Bengali. And a cricket team representing Kolkata could possibly not have a captain other than Saurav Ganguly aka “Dada”. That would otherwise result in a strike by the Unions and a street play by one of the famous Bengali playwrights to highlight the injustice. And hence, that was one player that the owner could possibly not bid and came with the franchise. The presence of Dada automatically brought the entire state behind the team and along with the star power of Shah Rukh Khan, proved to be a deadly combination. Not to mention the controversy ridden Shoaib Akhtar who always brings humongous media coverage along with his controversies. This team, on paper, looked like the one to stop although it dint perform as well as expected, except for a few passionate appeals. However, as of now, it looks like the only team that would end up being profitable in its first season of existence. As they say in Bollywood, “Anything Shahrukh lays his hands on is a success”. I would think so too. His brand equity rose 30% or so during this period and he has stayed the most admired and passionate owner among his lot.
The Daredevils seem like a well balanced team on paper but for their weakness in making a case to the media due to lack of any media savvy players in their team. Their captain, Virendra Sehwag, is one of the least interesting persons on Planet Earth. The owners, I think, forget IPL is business at the end of the day and it was absolutely foolish not to have the ammunition to create buzz in the media capital of India. They did pretty well, and with their last minute surge made it to the semi-finals only to lose to Rajasthan, the strongest team in the fray. However, Delhites would be happy to have made it to the last four, only because Kolkata and Mumbai can not claim the same. In fact, I would even think at the end of the day, that’s all that mattered for their fans. As I see it, they had a short-sighted vision in terms of the game as a sport and as a business. It definitely needs a star for its future earnings potential. Until then, the Daredevils would only be liked and rooted for by their fans and local RJs. Even the majority Punjabis in Delhi would prefer the Mohali franchise.
Punjab Kings XI
A great team on paper and co-owned by Preity Zinta more so because of her rich and business savvy partner Ness Wadia. A passionate team with a very passionate fan base led by the very candid Yuvraj Singh, second-in-command in the national cricket team. It had three competitive Aussies who all played well and the recently mellowed down Sreesanth, a very good player to create buzz on- and off-field. This team was successful, had star performers, won some big games and even finished the last game by beating the Rajasthan Royals, the number one team. However, they just couldn’t keep the momentum going into the semi-finals, largely attributed to bad leadership and poor team effort. With the Kings’ elimination, a media darling exits although am secretly happy that I don’t have to see Preity Zinta in every frame and listen to her players’ overly praise of her as the most generous and darlingest owner.
Chennai Super Kings
This team owned by the India Cements group, a reputed business with deep roots to the game of cricket, understood the nuances of the format with respect to its part of the country. The owner, Srinivasan, is one of the most passionate cricket fans in the state and has been generous with his endowments in the past. The team, from the beginning, has been local-centric starting with its name. Super is one of the most widely used words in Chennai, say it be Superstar Rajinikanth or a simple question like “How was the movie?” that would elicit a response “Super!”. As ridiculous a name as it might be to people from outside the state, this word I am sure appeals to its regional fan base. The state of Tamil Nadu has been one with a history of leadership (usually people who migrated from another state) following and loyal supporters, be it movie stars who became Chief Ministers or again, the example of Superstar Rajnikanth. The Super Kings team sort of represents the same, with the captain of the national team Dhoni (from Jharkhand) playing the all too familar captain role for this young team. The other casts in this team is a good mix of local players and outsiders, thus paving the way for long-term team building with a regional touch. This team might probably be the only one with media icons (Vijay and Nayanthara) who are not known outside Tamil Nadu, again playing to the strong local sentiments. The team has been very successful, though it was shaky in between, and has reached the finals of the inaugural IPL event. Considering people down south (with the exception of Vijay Mallya who is from a different planet) are not flashy or flamboyant, the team players are probably the least recognized, although they pulled decent media attention thanks largely to Dhoni and their good performance on-field.
The Royals, an absolute underdog when the event started have been superbly consistent with their performance on-field. This team, owned by god knows who, has stuck to the stereotypical Marwadi trait of maximum returns on minimum investment. The shoe-string budget team Royals is captained and managed by Shane Warne, the only foreign-born captain among all the 8 teams. Even with a decent yet inexperienced cast on paper, they have proved that playing as a team and staying the course is all that matters. Also, with Warne’s incredible Aussie smartness, aggressiveness and adaptation of the game, the team has the odds stocked in its favor to win the DLF IPL cup. The team has performed really well and hence been successful in attracting decent media coverage although it lacks any recognizable star power to make heads turn. This is another team that could just about break-even in its first season. The Royals have been quite consistent and unaffected even with the blasts in Jaipur and the Gujjar riots in parts of the state, again highlighting Warne’s leadership qualities. A very non-exciting team but, nevertheless, number one when it comes down to business on-field.
Bangalore Royal Challengers
The only list where the Royal Challengers are in the top is the Fair Play table, tucked nicely between its southern neighbors Super Kings and Deccan Chargers. This team, owned by the I-am-too-flashy-for-my-own-good Vijay Mallya, has been a total wreck right from the beginning. Mallya, more recognizable than most of his team’s players, is the master of entertainment and IPL set the perfect platform for him to showcase his ability so people in rural Jharkhand would recognize him. However, he crossed the thin line between cricket and business, by firing his CEO and showing anguish at the captaincy of the best stroke player in Indian cricket, Rahul Dravid. He did all of this in the middle of the IPL spectacle thus receiving severe criticism from media and cricketing experts. His team however, has the stupidest name among all of the 8 teams and this could again be attributed to his lack of reading into the business of cricket.
Hyderabad Deccan Chargers
This team has been the worst in terms of success on-field and off-field. The Deccan Chargers lost, lost more and they just made a habit of losing until they couldn’t lose anymore. It is appalling considering it is one of the more balanced teams in terms of bowling and batting, experienced players and captaincy. They were a team that lost hope very early in the season. I can’t stop but think there was a huge communication gap inside the team where nobody figured out their roles on-field. Considering I rarely saw them in media, I could safely say they do not have adequate star power either. In all, the Chargers could be sold to a more deserving city where the stands could be filled by people and not just chairs.
This is the name of my fantasy team. It is a work in progress and I do not like to divulge any details at this point of time. However, I have chosen Mamooty to be the youth icon of the team.