ICL: Indian Cricket League

Stage set for IPL opening


Even the official communication from the organisers speaks of April 18 as D-Day, and you can rest assured that it has nothing to do with the Normandy beaches and the heroes of June 6, 1944. After months of hype, auctions, billion-dollar TV-rights deals and the threat of a media boycott, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is poised to emerge from the chrysalis.

One of the first things you see going into the Chinnaswamy Stadium just after 4pm on Thursday is a svelte figure gliding across the outfield in balletic fashion, waving a white scarf as she moves from long-off to deep extra-cover. One of her compatriots tiptoes across the grass in the opposite direction, a white parasol in her hand. A third is wearing long black gloves more appropriate for The Age of Innocence than a Bangalore summer. All of them will be part of an elaborate opening ceremony on Friday evening, along with the most unusual sight.

More than a decade after Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins sang to us of a Bullet with Butterfly Wings, the IPL’s first venue will witness stilt-walkers striding round the ground flapping flowing capes that feature the home team colours, red and yellow. Under lights, they’re likely to look like gigantic butterflies straight out of a scene from Pan’s Labyrinth.

There are huge cables connecting the stadium roof to the playing square, with a giant bubble and acrobats also part of an opening ceremony that’s leaving nothing to entertainment chance. For the first time in their lives, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, former India captains and now rival skippers in the IPL, will walk out for the toss in a stadium plunged into darkness.

Minutes after a “short, sharp and sweet” opening ceremony to launch the inaugural edition of the Twenty20 tournament, the organisers are planning to switch off the floodlights before the first match between Dravid’s Bangalore Royal Challengers, the hosts, and Ganguly’s Kolkata Knight Riders, the visitors, which begins at 2000 local time. “Then, the spotlights will come on, and focus on the two skippers as they walk out for the toss,” Charu Sharma, the Royal Challengers’ chief executive, told Cricinfo.

“We are pushing to have the toss under spotlights and are waiting for permission from local authorities, considering the number of people who will be there at the stadium when the lights will be switched off. This is something that has not really been tried before,” he said.

After the toss, a couple of players from the fielding side will be “miked up” to chat directly with the TV commentators during the match. “Another attraction for the TV audience, but this has been done before, I guess,” Sharma said.

However, the “most poignant moment” of the 45-minute opening ceremony starting at 1830, Sharma said, would be when all the captains gather mid-pitch to jointly read out a pledge reaffirming the IPL’s faith in the spirit of cricket. “There will also be speeches by Ray Mali, the ICC president, Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, and Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman.”

The rest of the ceremony will be a “slick” blend of fireworks, the stilt walkers, aerial gymnasts, performers in the bubble suspended over the ground and some Bollywood glitter with the presence of Shah Rukh Khan, also the co-owner of the Kolkata team, and Preity Zinta, co-owner of the Mohali franchise. “Shankar-Ehsan-Loy (the Bollywood music directors) will be the central performers who will keep the crowd enthralled throughout the ceremony even as the other performers go through their acts,” Sharma said.

Bangalore is also banking on 12 cheerleaders from the Washington Redksins, the ‘First Ladies of American Football’, to draw more fans to the stadium. “The entire exercise is to have the right balance of glamour and cricket,” said Sharma. “Usually, cricket is not associated with such ceremonies, and this will be a novelty. At the same time, we would not want the genuine cricket fan to get frustrated waiting for the game to start. Our aim is to present a spectacle that’s short, sharp and sweet, which reflects the spirit of the IPL.”

The Bangalore franchise, owned by business tycoon Vijay Mallya, is playing a key role in organising the opening ceremony on their home ground in association with the Karnataka State Cricket Association and the IPL. On the eve of the game though, the players - “There are no players, only warriors” says one of the official posters - were almost peripheral, with the home team practising at the B Ground next to the National Cricket Academy.

The team logo and posters featuring the stars - Dravid, Anil Kumble, Jacques Kallis, Zaheer Khan and Mark Boucher - are ubiquitous though. Even the steps leading up to the pavilion have been painted in the team colours, with the crest staring down at you from all corners of the ground. There is even a red-painted tunnel leading from the dressing rooms to the ground, a la Anfield or Old Trafford.

Even Kolkata have made their presence felt, a couple of thousand kilometres away from their Eden Gardens stomping ground. “Be scared, be sh*t scared,” says a poster on nearby MG Road. Ganguly and Ishant Sharma stare at you, sporting Reservoir Dogs faces.

The last time one saw a similar spectacle unfold before a sporting event was in the build-up to one of sport’s greatest events, the UEFA Champions League final. For most of the fans that congregated at the Ataturk Stadium that night though, the music, lights and dance were a mere distraction from the waves of nausea and anticipation that assail you before the main event. Having won Test matches against Australia and played in a World Cup final, it seems unlikely that Dravid and Ganguly will walk out thinking of it as the game of their lives…blackout or not.

It probably doesn’t matter though. Come Cinderella Hour [8pm in this case], the game of cricket will change forever.

Source:Cricket News

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