Why The IPL Is More Soapy Than A Soap Opera (Satire)

A photo of a match between Chennai SuperKings ...

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Think of soap operas and you recollect Santa Barbara and The Bold And The Beautiful.These two television sagas defined the term soaps for an Indian audience used to the humdrum dished out by the national television channel, Doordarshan.SB and The B & The B enthralled Westernised Indian audiences.

For the Hindi speaking public and those who still stuck to Doordarshan, Hum Log and Buniyaad were always available as TV dinner fare.

But for those who were suddenly exposed to choice, there was no turning back from the influence of MTV and Star TV. Jaded television audiences were suddenly invigorated.

Santa Barbara and The Bold And The Beautiful worked with a tried and tested formula :Money, sex and power in a potent mix.

The recent goings-on in and around the IPL have all the classic makings of a soap.Drama and pathos , joy and pain, glory and ignominy — it has it all.

Money, glamour ,sex appeal , a decamping honcho, exotic locations, politics, the mafia and more twists and turns than a pot-boiler — these have the audience on tenterhooks.Once you hook them, they just keep coming back for more. They just can’t get enough.

A much desired look at the elements that make the IPL a favourite with the Indian news channels:

 Apr. 26, 2010 - Mumbai, MAHARASHTRA, India - epa02132143 Former Indian cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar arrives at the Indian Premier League (IPL) Governing Council meeting at the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) head office in Mumbai, India 26 April 2010. IPL Governing Council that met in Mumbai is likely to appoint an interim committee to run the affairs of the Twenty20 league after its chairman and commissioner Lalit Modi was suspended on 22 charges of impropriety. A 34-page chargesheet was handed over to Modi, who is also the vice president of the BCCI, in the early hours of Monday after the IPL final. The charges range from financial irregularities to rigging bids proxy holdings and kickbacks in broadcast deal.

1> Money

Does the IPL have money? Yes, and how!

The IPL is a huge pot of money, and the lure of lucre draws participants from all the Test playing entities. It has also acquired its own share of imitators; the least, the very own Maharashtra Premier League and now the Australian Big Bash. It has become a huge success; a showcasing of Indian organizational capabilities , management, marketing and branding.

The IPL is reputed to be the second highest paid league (on a pro-rata basis) , second only to the NBA.

(The NBA may no longer retain that sobriquet if the NBA team owners have their way. Negotiations are sought to control player wages.But that’s another story altogether.)

The first three editions of the IPL consisted of eight teams — each playing each other twice in home and away games. The top four teams qualified for the knockout phase.

Listed below are the acquisition prices paid by the owners for each team:

Franchise Price (USD)

Mumbai Indians

$ 112.9 m

Royal Challengers Bangalore

$ 111.6 m

Deccan Chargers

$ 107.0  m

Chennai Super Kings

$ 91.90 m

Delhi Daredevils

$ 84.0 m

Kings XI Punjab

$ 76.0 m

Kolkata Knight Riders

$ 75.1 m

Rajasthan Royals

$ 67.0 m

In March 2010, an auction for two additional teams was conducted by the BCCI.The auction was a huge success with a record amount garnered by the BCCI.

The Sahara Group won the Pune Warriors franchise for the astronomical sum of $ 370 million and the Kochi franchise cost the Rendezvous Group and its partners the princely sum of $ 333 million.

Yes, it’s about the money, honey! Make no mistake about it! The IPL’s unofficial theme song is : “Money, money, money! It’s a rich man’s world!”

Shilpa Shetty at the IIFA Awards

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2> Glamour

The IPL has its own share of glamour. Owners of three franchisees, Rajasthan Royals, Kolkatta KnightRiders and Kings XI Punjab happen to be film stars — Shilpa Shetty, Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta. Shah Rukh is acknowledged as the unofficial czar of Bollywood.

The IPL would have always have its share of the limelight but the presence of movie stars and the attendant publicity boosted the glamour quotient to Himalayan heights.

The liquor baron , Vijay Mallya who incidentally co-owns the Force India F1 team brings his own heady brand of glamour to the IPL.  The Kingfisher logo is visible everywhere the IPL goes.

Nita Ambani stepped out of the shadow of her more glamorous sister-in-law, Tina, to head the Mumbai Indians show. She displayed a level of business and cricketing acumen rarely associated with boardroom wives.

The mix of foreign players and domestic aspirants was another novelty experienced for the first time in Indian cricket stadia.

(The Indian football clubs may have had a few foreign recruits—second string Nigerian and Brazilian peddlers but nothing on this scale had ever been attempted in the annals of Indian sport.)

Cheerleaders for each team to keep the crowd entertained and energised was another concept borrowed from the NBA and the NFL.The first season of the IPL had Vijay Mallya rope in the Washington Redskins of the NFL to root for his side. The Bangalore outfit’s female squad are now known as the White Mischief girls.

The 3rd season of the IPL was even more hedonistic than the preceding ones. Private parties followed each game — cricketers,cheerleaders, owners and their entourage all conjoined together to have a ball off the field. The players were soon complaining of fatigue during IPL 3. It wasn’t the games that wore them down; it was the non-stop partying and the traveling!

South Africa 09/02/09 Lisbon falls Photo Anne Parker Fotosports International

3> Exotic Locations

The IPL is about home and away matches.Some teams have just one home stadium to boast of; others like the Mumbai Indians can choose from up to four venues.

Playing the games involves traveling the length and breadth of the country.From Mumbai to Jaipur to Kolkata to Mohali to Bengaluru to Hyderabad to Chennai to Delhi.

It’s just one distant destination to another, sampling the culinary delights across the length and breadth of the vast country.

The clash with the general elections in April-May 2009 forced the IPL to be played on foreign shores.Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth , Johannesburg were ports of call for our young aspiring Indian stars fortunate to be part of the IPL.

LONDON - SEPTEMBER 02: Pakistan cricketer Mohammad Amir leaves the High Commission by a side door on September 2, 2010 in London, England. After a meeting Pakistan High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan told reporters that the players allegedly involved in a betting scandal have voluntarily offered not to be included in the remaining cricket tour of Great Britain, he also said that they wanted to clear their names first. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

4> The Mafia

It would be foolish to think the IPL untouched and unsullied by the illegal betting syndicate.

If Test matches are subject to spot-fixing , then T20 games are even more susceptible to rigging given that every ball is significant.T20 is eminently suited to ‘matka’ dealings precisely because of its format.

No evidence of match or spot-fixing has ever surfaced though. Perhaps, the ICC Anti-Corruption Board has had a salutary effect.

The Indian underground , however, hit the headlines with regards to the threats made to Lalit Modi’s life.The ex-IPL honcho is currently in London surrounded by bodyguards fearing for his safety. A letter from the Mumbai Police detailing the danger has been provided to the Enforcement Directorate as proof of genuineness.

And here , you and I believed that it was the Sopranos that was about the Mafia!

Shashank Manohar, President of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), speaks as BCCI Secretary N Srinivasan (L) looks on during a news conference after a governing council meeting of Indian Premier League (IPL) in Mumbai April 26, 2010. The IPL governing council suspended Lalit Modi as the chairman and commissioner of IPL and appointed Chirayu Amin as the interim chairman of IPL. REUTERS/Arko Datta (INDIA - Tags: SPORT CRICKET)

5> Politics

The BCCI is a political (oops, I mean politicised) organization. Curry favour with the state cricket associations and you can get your cronies elected to the BCCI chair.The IPL could not avoid it’s politicisation even though it tried.

For a while, it seemed that the IPL would be run like a truly professional business organisation but that was not to be.Nepotism raised its evil head.Lalit Modi was discovered to have a hand in the pie; not in one , but two IPL teams.The term ‘conflict of interest’ was obviously not in his dictionary.

To his credit or discredit, N Srinivasan of Chennai Super Kings too did not appear to suffer any qualms when confronted with the term.

The politics of it all had External Affairs minister Shashi Tharoor defend himself and his then fiancée Sunanda Pushkar on the floor of Indian parliament. Tharoor’s twittering critics were not to be silenced though. The suave minister lost his portfolio but not before the aspersions cast on the IPL honcho brought the heavy hand of the Income Tax department and the Enforcement Directorate down on the IPL constituents. The well-knit web began to unravel; the BCCI found itself at the receiving end of adverse publicity. Lalit Modi presided over the third season of IPL3 only to be summarily stripped of his powers the very next day.

Since then the IPL ,the BCCI and Lalit Modi have provided additional grist to the rumour mill.The other minor participants have not failed to add their little salacious  bits and pieces as well.

The television channels have no complaints; whenever a story regarding the IPL breaks out, they can parade a few experts who will ramble on about the shady goings-on in the IPL. It wouldn’t surprise you to find the very same experts on ano
ther channel within the next half-hour!

A full hour dedicated to the ‘new’ story and cricket fans (and non-fans) can never get enough of the sordid drama played out.

Policemen stand guard outside a cricket stadium during a match in IPL tournament in Kolkata April 19, 2010. Indian authorities have begun an investigation into the financing of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the finance minister said on Monday, following allegations of corruption in the world's richest cricket tournament. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal (INDIA - Tags: SPORT POLITICS CRICKET)

6> Twists and Turns

But for a soap opera to hold its viewers’ interests, it should be unpredictable, it should have many side-shows, the gelling of protagonists in alternate dramas to finally culminate for a pulsating finish.

The IPL i.e. the tournament is all about drama.

It starts off slowly and seductively like a slow dance; the initial league phase, the first round of matches is just a warming up for the second part of the season when the return games provide most of the drama.

Many is the time when it has come down to just one match that would decide which team goes into the final four playoffs.

And then there’s the nail-biting tension of the Super Over, heaven forbid it , if the scores are tied.

Before the season begins , the player auctions are a source of suspense as well.

Which team will acquire which player? What will the price tag be?

The player auctions resemble the slave markets of yore — which teams will get the gladiators they need or deserve?

Will the purse strings come undone? Or will there still be some to go around?

The curtain-raiser to IPL4 witnessed the tendering process for two new franchises.

Who would win? Did anyone foresee the success of the Kochi bid?

The Shashi Tharoor-Lalit Modi spat, the consequent resignation of the External Affairs minister and the final denouement — the sacking of the man who could do not put a foot wrong, Lalit Modi — who could have predicted or envisaged the turn of events?

Throw in the expulsion of the two teams Kings Punjab XI and Rajasthan Royals, the termination notice to the still-born Kochi franchise, and there’s humour and catastrophe in the same act — a comedy for some, a tragedy for others. In retrospect it might all seem farcical but what an expensive, costly burlesque! Are the actors but marionettes and puppets?

Season 4 of the IPL is in danger; the director and the guiding crew are embroiled in a controversy of gargantuan proportions.

To add to the masala, a competing soap opera on another channel — The Big Bash— Down Under threatens to steal some of the limelight , the glory and the action stars.

The twists and turns in this narrative are hairy indeed!

7> The Season Finale

What will the season finale bring? Who will come out victors? Who will have cake on their face?

Is the IPL sustainable? What are the lessons that can be learnt? Can the Big Bash and the IPL exist complementarily?

Is it only about Big Bucks? Is there a moral lesson for fans somewhere? For anyone, anywhere?

Will the pioneering spirit trump? Or will conservatism strangle the grandest show to hit the stage of Indian sport?

We all await the epilogue to this extravaganza with bated breath. Will we be disappointed or sated?

That’s what soap is about. Don’t  you agree?

I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.

Herbert Bayard Swope

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I am an IT professional with over 12 years work experience. I am also a part-time blogger.

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