The Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket bandwagon rolls into action on Friday with organisers hoping India’s World Cup victory last weekend will help the competition regain some of its lost sparkle.
This year’s edition - spread over 51 days and comprising 74 matches across 13 venues - will be the first after the ousting of its outspoken founder Lalit Modi, who was forced out last year under a cloud of corruption allegations.
The tournament’s future had looked in doubt amid claims of corruption, money-laundering and tax evasion, as well as secret deals to hide teams’ real owners and even links to India’s criminal underworld.
But a massive PR exercise by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has ensured the IPL has kept its date with fans, as well as sponsors and advertisers hungry for their share of the huge commercial pie.
IPL chief executive Sundar Raman dismissed fears that cricket fans in India, still recovering from celebrations after Saturday’s victory over Sri Lanka in the World Cup final, could suffer sporting overload.
“The success of the Indian team in the World Cup has made it (IPL) more interesting,” Raman said, saying the tournament would “carry on from where the World Cup ended”.
“Fans are already into cricket and celebrating India’s victory. We are confident of building on the success of the last edition.”
This year’s IPL, the fourth time it has been held, will have two new teams in Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Pune Warriors, taking the total number of franchises to 10.
The opening game will feature Chennai Super Kings, led by victorious Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and the Kolkata Knight Riders, owned by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
The IPL revolutionised the sport when it burst onto the scene in 2008 with a high-octane blend of international star players, scantily-clad cheerleaders and Bollywood glamour.
Using the short Twenty20 form of the game, IPL matches are usually three-hour events packed with music, delirious crowds and countless television advertisements.
Everything from the time-out to the drinks break is sponsored by companies, earning Indian cricket authorities millions in revenue.
This year’s tournament has been robbed of some of its sheen after top Australian players Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson pulled out despite the riches on offer.
Most of England’s stars, notably big hitter Kevin Pietersen, will also be absent either due to international commitments or injuries, as will Pakistan’s cricketers, who were again ignored.
The top foreign talent on offer will be mostly from South Africa - Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn - or retired greats such as Australian duo Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist.
“IPL is made of an eclectic mix of talent from all around the world,” said Raman. “The absence of a few players does not take away anything from the tournament.
“There are a significant number of Indian players and so it does not matter if an X, Y or Z player is not around.”
The fourth edition is likely to see IPL bosses reduce the decadent post-match parties, which were blamed by some for India’s failure in the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean last year.
The much-discussed cheerleader jobs - all taken by Western women in previous editions - might be given to locals who will don traditional Indian outfits in place of barely-there miniskirts, local media reports say.
Amid cricket fever in India after the World Cup victory, many fans say they are looking forward to the IPL as a chance to see their heroes from the national side back in action.
“The gap between the IPL and the World Cup is very little, but I feel in a country like ours one can never get bored of watching cricket,” said Amital Prasad, a 28-year-old sales manager.