After last season's sojourn in South Africa, the Indian Premier League opens its third campaign back on home soil this afternoon. Deccan Chargers will begin their defence of the trophy against Kolkata Knight Riders in Mumbai amid conflicting reports over the health of Lalit Modi's audacious, yet still fledgling, creation.
Close to 60,000 are expected to fill the Dr D Y Patil Stadium; ticket sales for the tournament are strong – the fan base for the eight franchises is vast – and there remains influential support for Modi across the cricketing spectrum. In Abu Dhabi this week a succession of former greats voiced their admiration for what he has done for the sport, but – and there always seems to be a but with Modi, a man who could divide the Red Sea – their backing came with a cautionary attachment.
"If you want to change you need a strong person and that's what Modi is. He has gone out there and taken the game by the scruff of the neck," said Sir Ian Botham. His addendum was directed at cricket's wider authorities, but applies to Twenty20 under whichever guise it's played: "You have to be careful you don't kill the goose that laid the golden egg."
Like Botham, Kapil Dev would have made an ideal Twenty20 player. The former Indian captain is impressed with the initial impact of the IPL, but says it is too early to pass judgement."It's the honeymoon period and when the honeymoon's finished only then will we come to know the true relationship between the husband and wife," he said. "You have to give it five years. We can learn things from Modi, but the ICC [International Cricket Council] must watch very carefully to see that it does not go too far and spoil the game."
"Nobody," added Steve Waugh, steely-eyed as ever, "is bigger than the game."
Next year, in what will be the fourth IPL season, Modi's aim is to increase the number of teams to 10. But on Sunday, the attempt to auction off two new franchises was mysteriously put on hold. Reports emerged of tension among the top echelons of the BCCI, cricket's governing body in India and the owners of the IPL. An email was leaked disclosing that Shashank Manohar, the board's president, had issued a "reprimand" to Modi. Sunil Gavaskar, among others, was said to be furious over the slight.
Modi had been seeking close to £150m for each of the new franchises, around three times the figure for the eight original teams, and wanted any bidder to have a net worth of $1bn. It was over that latter sum that Manohar decided to halt the process, although it is expected to begin again next week.
It should perhaps be viewed as only a temporary setback for the tournament, and Modi himself. This is, after all, a man who two years ago persuaded the cream of India's rich list and Bollywood stars to invest some $700m in eight franchised teams. Last year all but one of the franchises – the Kings XI Punjab – reportedly broke even. The IPL, it has been estimated, has established a worldwide audience of 450 million, but the recent sale of British TV rights to ITV 4 presents an immediate contradiction to claims of true global appeal.
Modi remains at the heart of it all and while he is in situ the IPL will never lack ambition on or off the field. Whether it succeeds in realising his ambitions remains open to debate.
Earlier this week, Shahrukh Khan, the Bollywood star who will watch his Kolkata side launch the season today, twittered on Modi. "You are nuts, my friend," he wrote, "completely, absolutely mad... and wonderful."
Brit pack: Englishmen in the IPL
Royal Challengers Bangalore: K P Pietersen (Hants), E J G Morgan (Middx); Delhi Daredevils: P D Collingwood (Durham); Kings XI Punjab: R S Bopara (Essex); Rajasthan Royals M J Lumb (Hants), A D Mascarenhas (Hants); Mumbai Indians: G R Napier (Essex); Kolkata Knight Riders O A Shah (Middx).
Opening fixtures: Today Deccan Chargers v Kolkata Knight Riders (2.30pm GMT); Tomorrow Mumbai Indians v Rajasthan Royals (9.30am), Kings XI Punjab v Delhi Daredevils (2.30pm)
Sunday Kolkata Knight Riders v Bangalore Royal Challengers (10.30am), Chennai Super Kings v Deccan Chargers (2.30pm).
Final: 25 April (2.30pm).
TV: All games live on ITV 4.Reuse content