<
>

REPORTING FROM ... THE INDIAN PREMIER LEAGUE (KIND OF)

4/22/2008
"'Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan!!" Getty Images

[Ed's note: Our friend Amar isn't actually in India for the early stages of the Premier League (although he will be next month!) He's in front of his computer, at 4am, in Los Angeles. Still, he knows a good deal about it and the characters involved. Here's a report.]

Mix Washington Redskins cheerleaders , Bollywood stars, a population of over a billion and you have the ingredients to create mayhem. On April 18th, the Indian Premier League , cricket's masala version of soccer's English Premier League, made its ebullient debut with the razzle dazzle panache of a Punjabi wedding .

Since the league began, I've risen as early as four in the morning each day to log on to my computer to watch live choppy streams of such grandiose (ok, nascent) rivalries as the Bangalore Royal Challengers vs. the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Delhi Daredevils vs. the Rajasthan Royals.

For the next six weeks, top cricketers from all over the world will participate in a league that could shift the entire landscape of the sport. Traditional cricket, the test variety, lasts up to five days. But the IPL's Twenty20 format , where matches are limited to 20 overs (one over equals six pitches), is a run and gun, slap-happy form of the game that perfectly suits the waning attention span, especially my own.

As a recent cricket convert, I've come to realize that cricket is not so much a sport in India, but the lingua franca as Cricinfo.com blogger Lawrence Booth put it. Which makes the audacious experiment of the IPL an exciting proposition for the commercial expansion of the sport. And just perhaps, intriguing enough, for the American sensibility.

The BBC describe the IPL as "a heady cocktail of sports and commerce on a level that has never been attempted in the game before." The broadcasting rights, franchise fees and sponsorship generated over $2 billion. And players were paid in full. In an unprecedented auction, the services of star cricketers were bid on with the zeal of co-eds at a date auction. Players like Indian wicket keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Australian rugby cricketer Andrew Symonds will be paid well over a million dollars . India's cricket clout has grown to the point where majority of the sport's revenue comes from the subcontinent making old cricket stomping grounds like England irrelevant.

Mark Cuban and Jay-Z may be larger than life team owners in the States, but neither can top Shahrukh Khan , co-owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders , whose golden helmets resemble those of the Fighting Irish. Known as King Khan, Shahrukh is the King of Bollywood and perhaps the most popular actor in the world , starring in such movies as Chak De India and Om Shanti Om. To support his squad he recorded a music video and was in attendance at the grand opening extravaganza of the IPL kickoff in Bangalore.

One morning of watching, I received a surprised phone call. It was my brother-in-law in Mumbai wondering if I was watching the spectacle. Of course. He asked me if I had chosen a favorite team from the eight franchises participating in the tournament. Well, Kings XI Punjab was a possibility because they were owned by Preity Zinta , who could easily be Drew Barrymore's twin Bollywood sister? Or, maybe I could lend my support to the Delhi DareDevils because I had studied abroad in India's capital city when I was in college? But my choice was already made. As they say in Hindi, Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan . This is Bombay, my love. My wife grew up in the maximum city of Bombay (now known as Mumbai). My allegiance would be devoted to the Mumbai Indians.

I told my brother-in-law to order me a jersey. Not a problem he said. But better yet, he informed me, when I came to visit next month, he'd take me to watch them play live. I would have to bring him a Clinton Portis jersey.