McCullum's assault hands IPL dream start
Saturday 19 April 2008
As the revolution exploded into life last night, England seemed intent on hitching a ride at the back. The Indian Premier League had precisely the thunderous innings it craved for its opening, with a remarkable, record-breaking performance issuing forth from the blazing bat of the New Zealander, Brendon McCullum for Kolkata Knight Riders.
If it had the effect of rendering the inaugural contest hopelessly one-sided McCullum's scintillating 158 not out from 73 balls, the highest score in Twenty20 matches, also lent a forlorn appearance to the desperate attempts by the country which invented the format to avoid being left behind.
That, incidentally, is England, though you would have been hard pushed to confirm it in the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. The worrying thought that the horse might already be off – and bolting horses were about all that were missing during a launch of lavish proportions – was not about to deter them despite the hammer blows delivered by each of McCullum's 13 sixes and ten fours.
It was also quite enough to despatch the home side Bangalore Royal Challengers who might have required a nip of the hard stuff from which they take their name after the onslaught. Following a nervous start McCullum, in a golden helmet which gave him the look of a conquering Viking marauder, vigorously earned every cent of the $700,000 (£351,100) he is being paid for the next six weeks. It utterly undermined the Challengers who were anything but, being dismissed for 82 in 15.1 overs.
England, it emerged, will not only play a one-off winner-takes-all Twenty20 match against the West Indies this autumn (the all being £10m) but are also forging ahead with plans to establish their own Premier League. The term might be relative and while in India many more millions of dollars are being pumped out, the English version may be considerably less lucrative.
India have been bold and if some of the figures would seem to suggest that the boldness strays into fiscal foolhardiness those involved can afford it. Not for England the idea of city-based teams. No sir. It seems that their Premier League will have to contain all 18 counties but might also embrace two or three foreign teams.
David Collier, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who is here in Bangalore, said: "The ECB is looking at options and in particular is interested in finding out which offers the most incremental value both from a cricket and commercial standpoint. The ECB constitution says that all 18 counties have to play in all competitions."
Whether Collier looked enviously at the Board of Control for Cricket in India, who, if such considerations existed, were not bothered a jot, is uncertain. The IPL was all that it promised to be in its initial incarnation.
Fears that the crowds might not turn up and thus ruin the event as a television spectacle proved unfounded. They witnessed among other things the Washington Redskins cheerleading troupe, a band of stilt walkers, all eight IPL captains of whom Shane Warne was the only foreigner signing the MCC Spirit of Cricket, in case anyone thought the tournament lacked authenticity and a wall of noise.
There was well-founded speculation that some tickets had to be given away to ensure the 55,000 full house but when you have already spent $111.9m (£56m) on buying the franchise plus at least another $4m (£2m) in salaries for the six-week competition, as Vijay Mallya had done, it was no more than coughing up for the tip at dinner.
It is a scenario that may have to be repeated up and down the country if necessary. Ticket prices were at reasonable levels here – between 210 and 600 rupees (£2.80 and £8), not cheap by Indian standards but not prohibitive either – but the concept is alien. What spectators might be prepared to pay for a one-day international featuring all their heroes does not apply yet to teams featuring a bunch of four foreigners and four unknown locals under 22.
There are a couple of other elements in the formation of the IPL which it is easy to overlook in the rush to celebrate its audacity. It was formed, lest it be forgotten in the wake of the breakaway, unauthorised Indian Cricket League, a Twenty20 competition created by Zee TV because it had no rights to official cricket.
Comparisons have been made these past few days with the rebel World Series Cricket of 30 years ago, launched by the television mogul Kerry Packer. But that was in opposition to official cricket (like the ICL) whereas the IPL is the establishment trying to protect itself with a hint of bravura.
Then there is the place of cricket in Indian society. While it is still by far the biggest sport, the back pages of almost all the large circulation English language papers the other day prominently featured Emile Heskey's late equaliser for Wigan against Chelsea in another Premier League. There is a huge gap to bridge but India needed the DLF Premier League to see off the Barclays version.
Money was no object last night and will not be for the next six weeks. Only one England player, Dimitri Mascarenhas, is here to share in it. Hence the ECB's eagerness to take the offer of the Texan billionaire Allen Stanford of £10m to the team winning a single Twenty20 match. That match will take place in Antigua, probably in late October. It might be a sop to players missing out here but it is a sop with knobs on.
There are no pictures from the match because of a dispute over image rights
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