The most important message from the 11th season of the cash-rich IPL is a sporting one. It’s to do with age just being a number in the arena and the ultimate determinant being fitness. Derided as “Dad’s Army” for carrying nine leading 30-plus players, Chennai Super Kings were a shining example of smart management of resources in a league governed by an open auction. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s biggest advantage as skipper was he didn’t have to tell his men what to do as each was aware of his role, down to the fingertips. The stalwarts knew they didn’t have to be acrobats, merely efficient cricketers fulfilling the sport’s priorities. Shane Watson may not throw himself to save a single even if each run is precious in the T20 format. But if he could win the player of the series award in the first year, 2008, as well as the 11th, it’s a tribute to a smart cricketer whose longevity has proved phenomenal.
As irony would have it, the combination that looked an in-earnest competitor from ball one was CSK, a team that was banned along with Rajasthan Royals for two years as team owners or principals were caught betting on games. Season 11 was about shedding the image of scandal-ridden players and the two teams that did it best in the long preliminary league and in the playoffs were CSK and Sunrisers Hyderabad. Watson’s striking prowess made the difference between the winner and runner-up, whose bowling attack defended moderate totals with aplomb. They still needed a heroic individual performance by the Afghan leg spin and googly merchant and committed cricketer Rashid Khan to make it to the summit. The final was between two captains — M.S. Dhoni and Kane Williamson — who exemplify the very spirit of cricket in their calm personalities. A successful IPL season capped the efforts of Indian cricket to clean up its stables.
Tentative figures that show at least a 20 per cent increase to 700 million viewers are a signpost to the success of the world’s top brand in cricket entertainment. Online viewership in real-time transmission of matches on the official video streaming platform added to the mix even as TV itself attracted more viewers. Minor glitches like the Cauvery agitation in Chennai forcing CSK to shift base to Pune were forded without much difficulty. Overall, IPL-11 was a positive kick for the image of the league, and a success story for all its participants from across the world, for whom India and IPL are still the gravy train they can’t afford to miss out on.