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A Night at the Indian Premier League Cricket

April 29th, 2014 · 1 Comment · Abu Dhabi, Cricket, UAE

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The Indian Premier League, the most successful cricket competition in the world, was shifted to the UAE for 15 days involving 20 matches, and I cut it a little close, before going to see a game.

Tonight, one day before the last match in the UAE.

Kolkata Knight Riders versus Rajasthan Royals, the eventual winners.

At a packed venue (well, at least where I was sitting) here in Abu Dhabi, at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, a few miles into the mainland.

And my take on the event?

Interesting. Energy-suffused. Disorganized. Flawed.

Let’s go one by one.

–Interesting. My sense is that attending an IPL match is more than a small slice of “India”. It is a particularly Indian event — all eight franchises are based in India — and the country of 1.2 billion people is very proud of its success, particularly as a television spectacle.

The crowd seemed to be overwhelming Indian, with a small fraction of Westerners. Maybe 1 percent. People from other south Asian countries must have been there, too. And the typical dress was jeans and a T-shirt with nonsensical writing (“Brooklyn Outfitters 80 Sox Track and Field”), aside from a few women wearing abayas.

I saw only one man wearing the Emirati kandura in my section of the stadium. Cricket is not an Emirati thing. At all.

It was family-oriented. Lots of kids. A half dozen were around me, with their parents.

My sense is that the crowd was heavily represented by successful Indian businessmen and office workers of the UAE, long-term expats. Ticket prices, where I sat, were 40 dirhams — or about $11. Which is not expensive, by U.S. standards, but would represent a significant outlay of cash to the young, male Indians who are here as laborers — but not a significant layout to a successful Indian businessman.

From listening to the people around me (who spoke almost entirely in English), I sensed that everyone was familiar with the league, but not everyone was expert on it. The teenage girl next to me asked her brother (I think he was) several times to identify this or that player, and the brother identified them by silhouette, I do believe.

I believe a key driving force for attending an IPL match can be heard in the second line of the chorus to baseball’s ancient ditty: Take Me Out to the Ball Game. That is: “Take me out with the crowd.”

My sense is that many of the fans there first of all liked the idea of being at a big, loud, well-attended (20,000) outdoor event, particularly one that celebrates India’s favorite game and most successful sports endeavor — which people living in the UAE were unlikely to see in person, until the IPL came over here for those two weeks (because of elections in India).

Just Being There mattered, and I saw dozens of photos taken by fans of other fans posing — with the field behind them.

2. Energy-suffused.

The IPL’s founder has suggested watching the NBA was his inspiration for the sound and lights and pyrotechnics involved with an IPL match, but it felt far more like a minor-league baseball game than an NBA game because filling an arena with sound and light is not the same concept as filling a big out-of-doors stadium.

If we stipulate that even the quickest/shortest brand of cricket (the “twenty/20”) still has lots of dead spots (as does baseball), the clever promoter will find ways to fill those dead spots. Usually with music. Perhaps with cheerleaders. Those are both IPL staples, as they are in minor-league baseball.

A particular trumpet riff was played, oh, 200 times while I was there. And on every occasion it was answered by cheering. Why? No good reason. It seems to be a reminder that, “Hey, you’re at a big event, and here is some noise; please respond in kind.”

Hits worth four or six points were greeted by jets of flames out of devices around the stadium. Yellow flames for fours, white flames for sixes.

Fans occasionally did some chanting, though, in this case, with neither side being a “home” team (as it would be in India), there was no real sense of significant allegiance to either team. It seemed as if Kolkata had more fans, but that could have been about where I sat. I could hear several short-lived chants: “K-K-R!” I heard no such chants for Rajasthan, though I did see some of their flags and a few faces painted with RR.

A key component in the event is an infamous announcer who can be intrusive and annoying. His job is to whip up the crowd. On numerous occasions he called on “Abu Dhabi to make some noise!”, and he insisted fans join him in counting down the 10 seconds to 1) the start of the game and 2) the start of the second innings, and it was astonishing how many people counted down with real enthusiasm. As if it were a treat. He also led the crowd in singing the Queen oldie: We Will Rock You.

–Disorganized.

Tickets did not have seats numbers on them. Perhaps because the seats in the non-VIP section I was in did not have numbers. Everyone showed up and went in and found a seat. First-come, first-served.

The seats were gone before the first ball. I got one of the last, 10 minutes before game time. But people continued to file into the North Stand West for at least another 30 minutes, and they had nowhere to sit.

That led to teens sitting on railings. All sorts of people sitting on concrete steps. And it produced literally hundreds of ticket-holding people (we went through four ticket checkpoints before we were allowed inside) without a seat.

Many of them just stood in the aisles, blocking the view of dozens of people behind them. The girl behind me kept shooing the gawkers away. (Excuse me! You can’t stand there!”) Till the second innings, when she gave up and stood herself.

Also, no ushers. I did not see a single person urging those standing to find someplace to sit — perhaps because there was no place to sit. The stadium had a few empty seats, over in the main grandstand, but those of us in the North Stand West could not get there, and every seat where we were was taken. That is, if it were a “sellout” crowd it was only because they sold more tickets than they had seats in our part of the stadium, making up for the empty VIP seats.

Parking, too, was chaotic. From the volume of cars, I’d say a large majority of fans came via private vehicle, and those were parked helter-skelter on (generally) packed sand around the stadium, with no order whatsoever. No tidy rows. If someone felt like stopping and exiting his car, he did, and it led to a crazy quilt of cars parked in all sorts of directions, and getting them sorted out, after, was a mess.

–A work in progress.

This could get better and slicker.

Even with what they have now, there is still too much dead time. (How about a drawing during the break between innings? How about music other than the one trumpet fanfare? How about mascots competing with fans?)  On TV, the IPL jams short bits of advertising at you, between overs or even while the bowler is trudging back out to begin his next run-up. Via TV, the advertising gets tedious; in person, the dead time does.

Limited information was dispensed. A change in bowler was noted, or a change in batter, and a score was given (usually) at the end of each over (six pitches), but I could not see a scoreboard from where I was sitting. Well, I could see one, but it was too far away to be read. I was never quite sure of the score, and often not at all sure who was batting, and I was not the only one with those problems, I’m sure.

Programs, with players’ names and numbers, would have been handy, and potentially a source of advertising and other information about the players. The thing about cricket is that the key action, of bowling and hitting, takes place in the middle of the field. Like baseball hitters being placed at second base. Meaning that no one is within 100 yards of the key action, and numbers at that distance can be hard to read. How about neon numbers?

The concessions area was rudimentary, basically a three-sided tent with some refrigeration capabilities and a limited variety of things on sale. I am told it generally is the same in India.

We were sitting in hot and soggy conditions, and someone walking through the stands selling water, since we could not bring any inside, and perhaps munchies could have done a booming business. Instead, almost everyone waited for the break between innings to buy food or drink. That demand could have been stretched over the three-plus hours of the game.

Also, there was no opportunity for those of us in the North Stand West to buy a shirt or any sort of merchandise pertaining to the competing teams. I would have bought a jersey or at least a flag (well, maybe), but had no opportunity. Nothing for sale, and I don’t think it was better elsewhere in the stadium. And maybe this is not a problem in India.

In the end, then, the IPL may seem slick, by cricket standards — where traditionalists find buying and selling and advertising abhorrent. But it was crude by the standards of the most lucrative world sports leagues.

I suspect it will get slicker, and India will build more stadiums with more amenities for fans, and more franchises will pop up. (Certainly a cricket-mad country of 1.2 billion people can support far more than eight teams.) And the IPL will become even more successful than it is now.

I am glad I went.

But I don’t feel a need to go back.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Akshay // May 28, 2014 at 10:43 am

    hey interesting to read your take actually the game was in dubai and it wasn’t expected that so many people would turn up to watch.And all the arrangements were done buy dubai sports so i guess you didn’t find it up to the par. In india what you’re expecting is exactly the same there are people to helpyou out and everything.And the merchandise thing was a problem they didnt have enough time to set up shops and the teams suffered heavily on merchandise revenue. And the voice was the ipl anthem a yeah you have to cheer everytimecause this ian’t the stupid english audience .And you had a second hand ipl experience go to bangalore and attend there games it’s like festive out there.

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