IPL final made in marketing heaven

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

FANCOURT is much more like Eden might have been than the vast dinosaur skeleton re-imagined in concrete and metal that is misnamed Eden Gardens. Nonetheless Rob Walter would rather have been in be in Kolkata on Sunday.

“Absolutely,” he said into his phone from a Fancourt fairway on Friday. “Ultimately that’s where you want to end up.”

What was on at Eden Gardens on Sunday? The 60th match of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), otherwise known as the final.

Since April 8 – 47 days ago on Sunday – eight teams had battled it out to stay alive. Only three of those days did not feature a match, 15 days were crammed with two games each, and eight were played from May 1 to 4. That’s an awful lot of Danny Morrison.

And there there were just two sides in it: Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, a match made not in Eden but in a marketing heaven where MS Dhoni, Brendon McCullum and Lasith Malinga are unlikely archangels.

Would that Chennai’s Kyle Abbott could have embarrassed the cynical cowards who kept him out of the World Cup semi-final and haven’t had the balls to accept the blame. Alas, Abbott is among the 50 or so players who saw no game time in the tournament.

Cricket’s new world, then, is brutal as well as brave. Walter, the Titans’ head coach, knows this too well having served as the fielding and conditioning coach for Delhi Daredevils, who finished second from bottom despite calling Gary Kirsten their resident guru-in-chief.

That happened at least partly because the IPL, now in its eighth edition but once the rebellious love child of player greed and Indian hunger for any reasonable facsimile of cricket, is growing up.

“The competition is definitely stronger and teams are more closely matched,” Walter said. “There is a hell of a lot of stats analysis and understanding of the opposition. That’s not new to cricket but it is quite new in Indian cricket. And while wickets have become better in India the grounds are still small. So there are no gimme games.”

Does that make the IPL another example of the last drop of the unpredictable – fun, in another word – being wrung out of the game? Fifty-over cricket needed the 2015 World Cup to bring it back from that brink. In franchise cricket opponents are almost contemptibly familiar with each others’ every move.

“No, the IPL a great tournament,” Walter said. “It’s the perfect platform for players to grow their game and learn how to play under pressure.”

Like Fancourt. And not.

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