Every year at the start of the Indian Premier League, I tell myself the same thing: This year, I'll really get into it. It is a fantastic tournament with fantastic talent on display. There are superb knocks and bowling spells ever-so-often. Every year, the result is the same: I watch the first three or so games enthusiastically, and then very quickly, my interest starts to dwindle.
The IPL is always on the TV in the background, but taking stock and absorbing it in its entirety is something I've rarely been able to do. This year has been no different.
The start of the tournament offered something different with it being played in the United Arab Emirates. It was interesting to see what the conditions were like. It was intriguing to see how players adapted to conditions many of them have never played in before. But as ever, it was hard to take it all in.
Labeling the IPL boring is nothing new. In 2009, Indian actor Irrfan Khan called it boring in an interview with The Times of India. He was quoted by the paper as saying, "Once upon a time, I was crazy about cricket, but not anymore. Every time I watch the IPL matches, I feel I am wasting my time. Cricket has become so boring."
A quick Twitter search also throws up a few tweets complaining of feeling somewhat bored with the competition:
The IPL is largely aimed at a younger audience. The constant hoopla through music, cheerleaders and every other gimmick that has been thought up is clearly something marketing types think younger people might like.
Many younger people do like the IPL. A blogger for Before It's News recounted his first experience with much delight, proclaiming "one can never be bored at an IPL match." That is indeed true. When I visited India, I attended a few IPL games. They were an assault on the senses. They were a unique experience that cannot be compared to anything else. It felt like a different world, a complete escape form reality.
In essence, that is what we want sport to be. That feeling is easy to create in stadiums, but it's much harder to do when following it on TV. The formula gets dated and irksome very quickly for those who want to escape into their TV sets.
That might be a view held by a few, though. People are still tuning in massively this year. According to Sunil Gavaskar, the acting chairman for all things IPL, numbers are very much on the up. Gavaskar claims the online viewership has doubled, via ThatsCricket.com:
The viewership for the opening match was bigger than in 2013 - 4.4 versus 4.1 ratings. When compared to the first seven days of last season, the online viewership has doubled - 12 million compared to 6 million.
People certainly are watching, but that doesn't mean everyone is finding it enjoyable. Since a league requires all teams to play each other home and away, there is little that can be done about the amount of games. If a league is going to run, then the home-and-away system is important.
But because the games follow so quickly and daily, they are hard to digest. Unlike something like the English Premier League, there is no time to sit and take stock of what happened. The points accumulation happens over a long time in the EPL, while it comes very quickly in the IPL. Games at the start of the competition have little meaning. It is impossible to play the IPL over a long format like the EPL, though.
An alternative option to add context might be to follow the format of the recently concluded World Twenty20. Teams can be drawn into two groups with the top two of each group progressing to semi-final. This means that right from the start, every game matters. The product—or the cricket itself is not the problem—it's simply the way it is presented.
The IPL certainly has its place in world cricket, and it's a tournament enjoyed by millions. As a league, though, it has a lot of growing to do.