See the review: Once upon a time in IPL

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It was a diamond smuggler in Kimberley, South Africa in 2009 who saw what was not always obvious for the future of the IPL. “This cricket is here to stay, brother, I can see families hanging on to it. Look around you. We are a small town and it is an Indian tournament with more than half of the players that no one can even recognize but so many people. It’s even on TV in the pubs. This is not about cricket. It’s showbiz. Ideal for family and children and have fun. Lots of money in there, for the people who run it.

Ideal for exchanging diamonds ?! “Ha ha I quit. I used to sell it to Nigerians. Go deliver them to Jo’burg Airport. They would put diamonds – once in gel form – in babies’ diapers and smuggle them out. Too much risk, though, after the cops started being smart on me. He claimed he fell in love with a cop and put his business to rest. We shared a few beers and he left, leaving a trail of thoughts behind. He was right, of course; South Africans had taken over pitches across the country and by the end it was clear that this format was sparkling, mellow, and a lot of fun for everyone in the family to immerse themselves in. New fans would be created, those who found Tests and ODIs too boring, and this was the best gateway to introduce the game to children.

This stay in South Africa would forever be remembered whenever the IPL appeared. It was Lalit Modi at the height of his power and showing it too. He decided that websites should not be allowed to cover; something about being the competition at their official site. I was working for one of them at the time, and a few matches in the tournament had to kick out the press gallery. Not that it was a breach of agreement. Tickets were bought and refuge found in the bars of the stadium to power the body and the laptop and it led to one of the funniest tours in memory. It’s exciting when you need to make a quick decision to save the laptop or your drink when a Mathew Hayden six flew into Centurion Ground’s open square bar. Fortunately, a better sense prevailed and the drink was saved.

It was also the tournament where stars from Shahrukh Khan to Preity Zinta slipped in and out of stadiums and corporate boxes to formally conclude the marriage of Bollywood and IPL. Zinta is also reportedly seen in pubs, once memorable swinging in a charming little dance. Don’t be a fanatic of page three, the names will not be revealed. No, it’s not him, not the other one either. Shut your mouth. Pass. Lips are sealed.

The spot-fixing crisis would soon sideline the IPL from other controversies, but the wit conjures up a 2008 vignette of this rebel league ICL, the precursor of the IPL in many ways, including such controversies. . After a few mind-blowing games where it looked like players from both teams were interested in losing, one called in the late Tony Grieg, who was sort of a tournament figurehead. He walked over, wearing a hat and, in his typically flamboyant and friendly manner, asked me if I had any proof. Just a bad hunch Tony, don’t tell me you’re not worried about all the speculation going around? “Do me a favor buddy, I’m on it, no proof, we have to keep digging.” But you don’t write anything, do you? No proof to write anything. And that was it. This episode would appear later when the repair issue hit IPL. As always, ICL has always been one step ahead of its big brother, from design to mess. A few years later, we bump into Greig in Australia on the India tour and he seems in a happier space. By this time he had gotten to grips with the world of Twitter and didn’t care how he just posted a naughty tweet about some poor performance from India or whatever and “waiting for the fish to bite”.

The fish came to bite at every turn in IPL, courtesy of Lalit Modi. It seemed like a controversy, fabricated and real, at every IPL turn until Modi was at the helm. From the Harbhajan-Sreesanth row to team ownership stakes, the Shashi Tharoor vs Modi saga or even the news that Andrew Symonds would be in the same locker room as the man he accused of racism. All the drama that was suspected was much needed to stimulate interest around the tournament in its early years and its end came in 2010 and the cookie collapsed in the semi-final in Mumbai.

Naomi Datta, a journalist at the time who was working with Modi this IPL season, would later write a revealing blog post about that day. She wrote of how a dispirited Modi held a 15-minute reunion with Bangalore franchise owner Vijay Mallya and one of the few who supported him in these days. Coming out of that meeting, he made a polite request: he wanted Datta to send a visual of him looking relaxed in this fit. It was his ultimate image. Datta wrote that his sound engineer, who just weeks ago had been the target of Modi’s infamous temperament, alerted the main film crew and was surprised when Modi thanked him for the gesture. As Modi was leaving, the recorder told Datta: “Iski hawaa to bilkul nikal gayi”. (His hottie was punctured!).

Soon, the IPL hawaa would also be riddled with the spotting crisis, after which it settled into a sort of calm banality on autopilot. By this time, most of the media also started to cover IPL with less frenzy and with few boots on the ground; it has essentially become a TV show with franchise websites and social media delivering relentless propaganda content and fans slowly investing emotionally in the event. No wonder a former smuggler was aware of his potential and saw his future rich in riches.


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