It’s that time of the year when some of the biggest names in cricket make their way to India for the two-month long T20 cricket tournament, bubble-wrapped with glitz and glamour and served steaming hot to a cricket-crazy nation.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is in its sixth year, albeit with a plethora of chinks in its armour. For various reasons, the tournament has received extreme reviews. While some label it as a mere circus in the name of cricket, many others take it in their stride, enjoying the four-hour long entertainment that the T20 format brings along each day. However, from the players’ point of view, the question is: What really drives them to take IPL seriously? The first reason that come to mind is the astonishing pay cheque — the chance to rub shoulders with some of the biggest celebrities of the country across genres is a bonus. So, in the context of the game, is IPL entirely meaningless?
If one goes by the age-old norm of ‘seeing is believing’, the IPL will appear as a sham. Crores of money is pumped in for artists to perform, with the organisers evading as much in taxes. Yet, there is more to IPL than what meets the eye.
A young 19-year-old boy from the remote village of Azamgarh was spotted by Rajasthan Royals’ then director of coaching, Darren Berry, in 2009. Not more than a week later, Kamran Khan found himself in the trials for the then champions of the IPL. The league was shifted to South Africa where the young slinging fast bowler got spurred on to perform well. His delivery to uproot Justin Ontong’s middle-stump during a warm-up game earned him a ticket in the side. In a matter of weeks, a tennis ball-playing youngster was handed an entry into a dressing room of some of the best in international cricket.
If Darren Berry deserves praise for spotting the raw talent and pushing him through, captain Shane Warne needs to be applauded for providing young Kamran the platform to showcase his talent. His was the perfect rags-to-riches script, as the media hounded him after Warne earmarked him as India’s future.
The tournament gave him the kind of money he had never seen before, but that being said, IPL for him was a lot more than money. He saw in it, his dream to play domestic cricket and aspire to soon don the Indian colours. A couple of poor decisions has left him on the sidelines, but one needs to recognise the fact that IPL was a great platform for this youngster, who would have probably remained unknown if not for Berry’s keen eye for talent. Step into Kamran’s house and you will see photo frames of his Rajasthan Royals’ days, with pictures of him and Shane Warne right in the middle. Even as a Pune Warriors player, he continues to remain indebted to the Australian spin wizard for giving him tremendous support.
Another such name is Paul Valthaty, whose claim to fame was his scintillating unbeaten knock of 120 off just 63 deliveries for the Kings XI Punjab against MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in IPL 2011. There was more to come from the 27-year-old as he followed it up with an all-round performance in the next game.
But the story of the life he endured before going beserk against Chennai is heartwarming. As a school boy cricketer, Valthaty had the opportunity to train at the Dilip Vengsarkar Cricket Academy in Mumbai after which Vengsarkar himself recommended him to the president of the Andhra Cricket Association.
He managed to book his place in the Under-19 India squad for the 2002 World Cup in New Zealand. He played alongside the likes of Irfan Pathan and Parthiv Patel before an unfortunate eye injury during the match against Bangladesh brought an unexpected halt to his career. Despite doctors’ advice not to play for a few years before regaining his vision fully, Valthaty could not resist. He knocked relentlessly at the door of the Mumbai Ranji team and got a chance to play for them in a limited-overs match. He was a part of the Rajasthan Royals in the first two seasons before making the shift to Kings XI Punjab after the third season in 2010. That knock may not have given him a chance to impress the national selectors, but to comeback onto the field after a serious eye injury and performing well would have given him immense amount of happiness and a sense of achievement. For Valthaty, life had gone a full circle and IPL deserves the credit.
In the 2012 edition of the league, an unknown 20-year-old boy named Zafir Patel was handed an IPL contract by the Delhi Daredevils. The youngster from Baroda played a lot of age group cricket and was knocking at the door of the Ranji selectors for a while. Besides an IPL contract, Zafir was also working towards a highly respectable qualification degree of masters in pharmacy in United Kingdom. Zafir, son of former India cricketer Rashid Patel, was juggling between a career in medicine and his love for cricket. But an IPL contract tipped the scales in cricket’s favour.
“Cricket is in my blood. Wherever I go, I am told my father was really good. I have childhood memories of him running up from his mark but I haven’t seen him bowl at his peak,” he said to the Indian Express last year.
He may not have had the opportunity to play a single game, but a chance to be amongst stalwarts like Morne Morkel, Ajit Agarkar and a mentor like TA Sekhar would have done Zafir a world of good.
Mumbai Indians’ latest recruit is also a similar candidate. Not long ago, in the Test series against Australia, Sachin Tendulkar was impressed by a net bowled named Javed Khan whose pace seemed to trouble Suresh Raina in the nets. He was immediately called for trials and later handed a contract that gave him a place in the same dressing room that had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting among many more. Whether or not Javed gets a game remains to be seen, but his takeaway at the end of the season would still be a handful for the lad.
It is unfortunate that the good the tournament has done has been overwhelmed by the entertainment factor. The tournament has given unknown talents a platform and enriched the financial security of hundreds of players in India and overseas.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasanis an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)