View from India: Who cares where it is played, as long as it's on TV

By Anil Dharker
Wednesday 25 March 2009 01:00

"IPL, the Indian Political League!" ran the headline of one Mumbai newspaper. The reference was to Maharashtra state's refusal to stage matches during the national elections. That effectively scuttled the Indian Premier League because the first game and the final plus 18 other matches were to be held in Mumbai. The speculation was that this was due to the settling of political scores; Sharad Pawar is the head of India's cricket board but he is also a cabinet minister and his party is an ally of the ruling Congress coalition. Perfect, but for one thing: two weeks ago, Mr Pawar expressed renewed interest in becoming the next prime minister. Sabotaging the IPL is the Congress party's revenge against Pawar.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition, latched on to the IPL going out of the country. "It's a national disgrace!" thundered a party big gun, "we have admitted to the world that we are like Pakistan, unable to guarantee security in our country!"

Bollywood stars were less apoplectic. "We have to respect the elections. That is a bigger issue," said superstar Shah Rukh Khan, owner of Kolkata Knight Riders. Preity Zinta, another Bollywood star, was diplomatic too: "We will try and be just as enthusiastic as we were last year... I completely respect this decision."

The sponsors said they were definitely not withdrawing. Coke and Pepsi, for their part, are in it for the long haul, IPL or NRIPL (NRI is "Non-Resident Indian").

Did someone mention cricket? How do the players feel? Sachin Tendulkar is disappointed that he will miss home support; Andrew Flintoff is upset he won't be able to perform in front of large Indian crowds.

How do the fans feel? "Of course, we will watch IPL on television," appears to be a common view, "but we wanted to see it live!"

The balanced view is that it really doesn't matter where the IPL is staged. IPL is entertainment, and it is terrific television entertainment. Last year, we packed pubs to root for our team and we will do that this year too. So what if the game is at Centurion and not at Eden Gardens?

That's not how everyone feels, of course. One distraught fan said: "Why don't they play the IPL here and hold the elections in South Africa instead?"

Anil Dharker is a Mumbai-based columnist and author whose books include Icons, a study of leading figures in contemporary India

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