Asian Invasion?

The IPL (Indian Premier League) has been hosted in two countries away from its homelands in its short history. Now there is the real prospect of it having a permanent international presence. Elisha Chauhan reports.

Last year, cricket’s most famous Twenty20 event, the IPL, held 20 of its 60 matches across the United Arab Emirates in front of full-capacity crowds at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium.

The move came after the Indian government failed to provide the tournament’s organisers sufficient security as it clashed with the country’s general election – a threat that also prompted IPL rights-holder the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) to host the entire second season of the tournament in South Africa in 2009 (see Rainbow Nation Relocation).

The BCCI is understood to have held talks with Bangladesh and South Africa over the prospect of hosting an element of the season before deciding on committing games to the UAE. The UAE has been a growing centre for cricket, having hosted home Pakistan cricket matches since international teams stopped travelling to the country following an attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009. It has also been the headquarters of world governing body the International Cricket Council since 2005.

The BCCI and IPL
franchises are of the
view that the
tournament needs
to travel to
more venues

Following the completion of the 2014 tournament, reports emerged that the IPL could look at a long-term hosting agreement with the UAE, potentially with the creation of a permanent expansion franchise based there.

On paper, it makes sense. Flight times from Dubai are a maximum of four hours to all existing Indian teams, the stadia are of an appropriate size and standard to host top-level cricket and there is a large fanbase of cricket fans in the UAE, particularly given that 2.2 million of its 9.4 million residents are from India.

The BCCI says that it has no immediate plans to take the league overseas, though it is looking at growth opportunities, and the IPL teams themselves are actively taking measures to bring the tournament to more fans outside of the franchise cities. 

“The BCCI will always be grateful to the Emirates Cricket Board and UAE’s cricket-loving community for the support that they extended to us in the 2014 season,” BCCI honorary secretary Anurag Thakur, who was elected last month, told SportBusiness International. “Both the BCCI and the franchises are of the view that the tournament needs to travel to more venues in the country, and thus give more fans the opportunity to watch the games live.

“In 2015, for instance, Kings XI Punjab, whose main home venue is Mohali (Chandigarh) in north India, will play three ‘home’ games at Pune in western India. The northern-based Delhi Daredevils, meanwhile, will play two ‘home’ games at Raipur in central India, and the southern-based SunRisers Hyderabad will play three ‘home’ games in the city of Visakhapatnam, situated on the eastern coast.”

Allaying Fears

Any international aspirations the IPL has must be considered in the context of wider political issues in international cricket.

Cricket Australia chairman Wally Edwards in particular has voiced his concerns over the IPL, claiming that the tournament would take priority over international and other domestic events for both cricketers and spectators were it to expand any more.

Such events include the annual international Champions League Twenty20 tournament, the biennial World Twenty20, and domestic Twenty20 leagues played in Australia (Big Bash), the Caribbean (Premier League), South Africa (T20 Challenge) and the UK (t20 Blast).

Edwards also claims that the BCCI has committed to retaining the status quo despite not signing anything formerly.

“There was a very real chance that India would have gone on an IPL voyage and left world cricket behind. That was said more than once,” he said in March 2014. “We have a commitment from [the BCCI] that the IPL will not change during this eight-year cycle. Why would you risk turning the IPL into a travelling circus that would take all our good cricketers 12 months of the year, and leave us with second-rate international cricket? It’s not a pretty thought.”

Potential domestic options for franchise expansion could be southern India, with now-defunct team the Kochi Tuskers Kerala – which only lasted the 2011 season – leaving a very distinct gap in the south. The current most southerly team, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, play almost 500-kilometres north-east of major tourism destination Kochi (Cochin).

“Several new stadia, embellished with excellent facilities for the players, spectators and media have come up in recent times,” says Thakur. “Our objective in subsequent seasons will be to further increase the number of venues.”

Rainbow Nation Relocation

The 2009 Indian general elections raised concerns that the IPL would be targeted by terrorists if held in India, a likely threat considering only months before the IPL season began on April 18, a series of shooting and bombing attacks took place in Mumbai.

England was originally the favourite to host the 2009 IPL season, however the high possibility of rained-off matches saw the second edition of the IPL held in its entirety in South Africa. South Africa’s domestic cricket season also ended the day before the IPL was due to begin, whereas in England there would have been a clash with both county cricket and England’s home series against the West Indies.

The 2009 IPL tournament was held in eight cities and venues, with Durban hosting 17 matches at the Kingsmead Cricket Ground, Centurion hosting 12 matches at the SuperSport Park, and eight games each played at Johannesburg’s Wanderers Stadium and Cape Town’s Newlands Cricket Ground.

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