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New Indian Cricket League Prospers


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. If you build it, they will come. That line from an American baseball movie turns out to be true of cricket. This weekend, India concluded its first tournament of a new cricket league, and it made bucket loads of money. Games in the new league are much shorter and more energetic than a traditional cricket match, which could go on for days. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, this new cricket has become a national obsession and a sign of the changes happening in India.

(Soundbite of cheering)

PHILIP REEVES: It's a sultry evening in India's commercial capital, Mumbai. In a sports bar on the sea front, Abisek Jane(ph) arrives for his daily fix of beer and a game.

Mr. ABISEK JANE: Honestly speaking, three-and-a-half weeks, every match I have watched. Every match - 8 PM, I'm here to watch the match.

REEVES: Jane is single, in his early 30s, and in the diamond business.

Mr. JANE: When I come from work, I'm tired. Fine. Have a beer, three hours of match, excitement done, body is rested, that's it. Go home and sleep.

REEVES: James scrutinizes one of the bar's giant screens. The game's warming up nicely. Players in brightly colored uniforms are diving about. This is yet to produce the fix Jane came for, but he's hopeful tonight's game will deliver. This new form of cricket generally does.

Mr. AYAZ MEMON (Newspaper Editor, Mumbai): It's trendy. It's hip. It's fast. It's furious, and it produces a result. It's what they call the (unintelligible) version of cricket.

REEVES: That's Ayaz Memon, a Mumbai Newspaper editor.

Mr. MEMON: (unintelligible) - instant, and here and now. Instant gratification.

REEVES: Officially, the game's called Twenty20 cricket. It's very different from those five-day games played at glacial speed by white-clad men who take breaks for tea and sandwiches. Twenty20 games last a maximum of three-and-a-half hours. There's always a winner. The Indian Premier League, or IPL, was put together remarkably quickly. Earlier this year, the governing body of Indian cricket auctioned eight franchises. The who's who of India pounced: the Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan and vastly wealthy industrialists Bukah Shampani(ph) and Vijay Mallya were among those who bought teams. Cricketing superstars were recruited from India and around the world, including Pakistan. In a matter of weeks, a massively lucrative business had been created, serving as testimony, says Memon, to the way India's changing.

Mr. MEMON: In many ways, the IPL is a statement to - as I see it - to the rest of the world that India has arrived.

(Soundbite of car horn honking)

REEVES: Sajatta Mehta(ph) is battling through the crowds on her way to watch a game with her 18-year-old daughter. The Indian Premier League's tapped into a new demographic: young people and women. Mehta says she wasn't interested in cricket before. She is now.

Ms. SAJATTA MEHTA: It is the excitement (unintelligible).

REEVES: You've got a husband?

Ms. MEHTA: Oh, yes.

REEVES: And he's here, right?

Ms. MEHTA: No, no, no. He's not here. I don't like to watch match with husband.

REEVES: Why not?

Ms. MEHTA: No, no. He likes to be at home with his beer.

Unidentified Child: No, no, (unintelligible).

REEVES: Groups of beggars and itinerants gather by the stadium, as if drawn to the light like moths. They can't afford tickets to the game, but they found a way of making money out of it. Tiny, grubby, bare-footed children sell bottles of water. This is a scam. You're not allowed to take bottled water into the ground. The cops confiscate the bottles and give them to the kids, who sell them back to the arriving crowds. Then the police confiscate the bottles again.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

REEVES: Inside, the stadium's crammed full. The high and mighty from Bollywood, industry and politics - some of whom flew in by private jet - are in the hospitality boxes. But on the terraces, the crowd's feverishly excited.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

REEVES: A Bollywood number strikes up.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, music)

REEVES: The crowd starts dancing. A gyrating clump of eager-eyed men pushes up against the perimeter fence. A few feet away, on the other side, four women cheerleaders are prancing about, waving pom-poms and tossing their hair. To spice things up, cheerleaders were brought in from Europe and the US, including a troop from the Washington Redskins. At first, they were scantily clad. There was an outcry from India's conservatives, and after that, the girls put on a few more clothes. These women aren't particularly raunchily dressed. They look like track athletes warming up. All the same, their fans seem enthralled.

Mr. SHUSHIR JOSHI(ph) (Editorial Director of a Multimedia Company): Hi. I am Shushir Joshi. I'm from Mumbai. I love cricket. I love Bollywood.

REEVES: Shushir Joshi, editorial director of a multimedia company, wasn't expecting the India Premier League's first tournament to be so wildly successful. But his media outlets ended up giving it the same sort of treatment they're planning for the Olympic Games.

Mr. JOSHI: All our mathematics have had to be reworked. Nobody anticipated how big it would be.

REEVES: The cricket overshadowed major world events, such as the Chinese earthquake and Myanmar cyclone. TV ratings for the nightly games went through the roof, outperforming soap operas and reality shows.

(Soundbite of cheering)

REEVES: Back in the sports bar on the sea front, the game's reaching its climax. This is final - Rajasthan Royals are playing the Chennai Super Kings.

(Soundbite of cheering)

REEVES: That's the diamond dealer Abisek Jane's unusual way of indicating he's enjoying himself. The scores are agonizingly close. A batsman slugs the ball into the crowd.

(Soundbite of cheering)

REEVES: The game's finally given Jane his fix.

Mr. JANE: (Unintelligible) it's working.

(Soundbite of laughter)

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.