New Delhi – The scandal-prone Indian Premier League (IPL) remains cricket's most divisive tournament, but some thrilling action in front of packed houses has put immediate doubts over its future to rest.
When the gawdy Twenty20 event's fifth edition started last month, flagging crowds and signs of “cricket fatigue” among India's public, together with a welter of poor publicity, had raised questions about the tournament.
But by the time Kolkata Knight Riders beat the Chennai Super Kings to claim the title on Sunday, and despite damaging spot-fixing claims and a string of lurid headlines, the IPL had been hailed as a success.
“The fifth edition started under a cloud of controversies and crowd backlash, but apprehensions were soon swept aside as some command performances on the field was well-received by packed galleries,” the Deccan Herald said.
The Indian Express estimated more than 160 million people watched the games on TV, two million tickets were sold worth $36 million, and that the IPL brand valuation would rise from last year's estimate of $3.67 billion.
“If the sense of fulfilment could be calculated, it would run into several billions of dollars,” said N. Srinivasan, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which runs the event.
The positive assessments jar with some off-pitch developments, mainly the suspensions of five Indian players after a TV sting claimed to unearth evidence that no-balls could be arranged to order in the IPL.
The report targeted fringe players and provided no proof of corruption within IPL games, but it re-focused fears about betting, with India seen as the hub of illegal gambling on cricket.
Meanwhile Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Kahn dented his huge popularity after becoming involved in an ugly stand-off with officials at Mumbai's Wankhede stadium.
Other incidents included allegations made to police – and later dropped – that Australian Luke Pomersbach of the Royal Challengers Bangalore had molested a woman and beaten up her fiance in a hotel room in New Delhi.
Separately, South African seamer Wayne Parnell and India spinner Rahul Sharma were questioned by police for their presence at a Mumbai hotel which was raided for being an alleged illegal rave party.
“Whatever is happening is neither cricket not is it our culture,” said former federal finance minister Yashwant Sinha, a member of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the scandals dominated headlines.
“The sports ministry should intervene and make drastic changes in the IPL.”
Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar, now a popular commentator, said the blame lay in the fact that the tournament was marketed as more than just a cricket tournament.
“The BCCI will realise that packaging the IPL as entertainment may not be such a good idea. It's got to be just sport,” he said.
International wariness about the IPL was apparent when England's Kevin Pietersen, who plays for Delhi Daredevils, said he was “sick and tired” of defending his participation, and suggested other countries were jealous.
However, the attractions of last-ball winning sixes, extravagant switch-hitting and rapid-fire centuries seem to have trumped many concerns, at least in the minds of the Indian public.
The tournament was also not competing with any other major cricket events, unlike last year when it immediately followed the one-day World Cup which was co-hosted – and won – by India.
“The packed stadiums this year should silence all doubting Thomases,” said the BCCI's Srinivasan. – Sapa-AFP