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Is hosting the first-leg of IPL in UAE a good idea?

MI-and-CSK-Cheerleaders-performing-with-Champion-Cup-before-the-match-during-MI-vs-CSK-IPL-final-match-1
The decision to move the cash-rich IPL to UAE has raised quite a few eyebrows © IANS

As the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced its decision to host the first leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 7 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it may well be a choice made out of sheer deliberation after a long period of time. As the cash-rich league moves on towards Arab shores, Vineet Varma takes a look at how general elections in the country have played truant with the IPL’s schedule in India and whether the topsy-turvy schedule of the matches during the year throughout will affect the popularity of the tournament.

So it is confirmed. IPL 7 will be hosting the first-leg of matches in the oil-rich state of UAE and Indian fans will no longer afford the luxury of driving in hordes towards the stadium nearest their homes whenever a local city franchise locks horns with another during the great annual tamasha.

There is no doubting the IPL’s success rate, at least in India. Every season draws in record crowds and garners ratings of epic proportions for television sponsors of the tournament. However, the question remains: will it muster enough interest amongst the ‘Indian’ diaspora in the Gulf state so as to make it a runaway success?

The fact is that the decision of the BCCI may well have been taken more prudently since the time it was announced that the general elections in the country were to clash with the dates of the IPL matches, but will it prove to be a blow to the large amount of sponsors that milk the tournament for their own monetary profits every time this phase of the year arrives? The dates of the general elections have already been announced: from April 7 to May 12 everyone including fans may be kicking themselves in the feet as to why the coincidence happened in first place!

Moving on to the crux of the matter and there looms a huge question mark before the start of the tournament as to whether it will attract crowds in large proportions at least for the initial stages. UAE was the likely choice for the BCCI and any reasoning mind will agree to it considering the top-class infrastructure and stadiums they possess to host the marquee tournament. South Africa was out of the reckoning since even they had the problem of general elections clashing with the tournament and also due to the fact that the BCCI did not accede to their demands of either hosting the tournament as a whole or not holding it at all.

And of course the BCCI stuck to the latter! Coming to Bangladesh and the burden of hosting another event of great proportions would have been a bit too much on the cricket mad nation since they had already hosted the Asia Cup 2014 and up next on their roster is the ICC World T20 2014. That ticked Bangladesh out of the equation.

In the end UAE that was the only option left to the BCCI, and considering its proximity to Indian shores and the ‘small’ hole that it would burn in the franchise owners’ pockets when it comes to travelling and accommodation expenses, even this writer agrees that it is no rocket science a to why it was chosen as the co-host. Now that BCCI has chose UAE as the co-host, will IPL retain as much attention the tournament had in its earlier editions in India, or will the decision come out as cold turkey right in their faces?  That remains the question.

If we scan through the history of Indian matches being played in the Gulf then there has certainly been no lack of support from the fans; memories of the packed stadiums during the Indo-Pakistan clashes bear testimony to the fact. But then, international cricket is a world different than the ‘franchise cricket’ that is dished out in the IPL. Supporting the Indian team differs vastly from egging on ‘club’ (or ‘franchise’ as they call it) outfits, and there may be a lack of ‘local connect’ amongst fans in the UAE which may affect crowd attendances during matches.

However, all this is merely hypothetical; the positive point is the fact that the tournament organisers can seek solace in the fact that the 2009 edition hosted in South Africa had turned out to be a massive success and they can probably expect the same enthusiasm from the UAE crowd. Add to that the flat pitches and smaller grounds (as has always been the norm in the IPL), and the fans should, in all probability, witness a flurry of boundaries, which will definitely provide enough fodder for a crowd perpetually hungry for six and four.

To conclude, this writer will certainly tip the balance towards the first leg of the IPL being a major success thanks to the great history of cricket matches in the gulf nation and also will watch with bated breath as to whether it provides the launch pad for an even more successful and dynamic second-leg of matches that are to be held in India in the latter half of 2014.

Till then, let the cricketing festivities begin!

(Vineet Varma is a writer at Cricket Country. He can be followed @Vinfire19)

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