Making history with the future of cricket
If there was any fatigue from being exposed to Twenty20 cricket for 45 days – every day and sometimes two matches a day – the city wore it lightly.
The taxi driver, always a good barometer of the mood in the metropolis, assured me that the DY Patil Stadium, which was to host the final, was a fitting venue and worth the two-hour drive from the city to New Bombay. He barely spoke English, but didn't have a problem pronouncing Makhaya Ntini's name.
The newspapers were littered with columnists, professing conversion to the new format of cricket.
The concierge at my hotel assured me that passes for the games were selling for as much as ten times their face value, should I have any extra, he added.
Suffice it to say I was in no illusion that when I walked into the Wankhede Stadium for the semifinals I was going to be part of cricket history.
Business wise, history was already made. I crunched these numbers put out by the Economic Times in India and the mind boggled.
The auction of the eight teams generated $724 million (Dh2.65 billion). Each team will spend $4-6m per year on players and team personnel. Each team is also expected to spend approximately $3-4m per year on marketing, promotion, and event management costs.
A consortium including Sony Entertainment Television (SET) and World Sports Group bought the broadcasting rights for a total of $1.026 billion (Dh3.76bn) for ten years. SET will spend $108m (Dh396m) on marketing.
Each franchisee could earn almost INR30m (Dh2.6m) annually for the next five years.
As the paper fittingly put it, the IPL is a $2bn initial public offering in the truest sense.
Wankhede is a pretty stadium, sitting on the shore of the Arabian Sea in south Mumbai. For Rajasthan Royals versus Delhi Daredevils and then Chennai Super Kings versus Punjab Kings XI, it was pretty exhilarating to be one of 60,000 odd spectators, some of who travelled from as far as Down Under just to get a piece of the much-talked action.
As Rajasthan choked Delhi and Chennai clinically killed off Punjab, the moods for both the matches in the stadium remained as carnival-like as ever. Word on the outside was that both the semis were boring, not enough sixes for sure. However, Twenty20 cricket is made for the 'live' experience. It's perhaps one of the few sports where watching it 'live' is better than watching it on television. The length and pace of the game are just perfect for you not to have time to look at your watch, or even steal out for a quick cold drink.
If the semis were the aperitif, the finals promised a main course of the power and might of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Chennai versus the guile and cunning of Rajasthan's Warne. The DY Patil Stadium could hold 120,000 people. Three hours before the first ball was bowled, there were 100,000 already in. Cars were triple parked on either side of the road for kilometres around the stadium. It would take them three hours after the game to get out of that mess. Not that anybody cared. In the stadium, Rajasthan were chosen as crowd favourites and Shane Watson's name was being chanted like he lived and played cricket in Mumbai.
Nobody really expected a last-ball finish, but the match twisted and turned towards that dream ending.
In India, people make cricket a religion. As winning captain Warne would later say, cricket made the IPL. As Balaji took that final run-up and Sohail Tanvir hit the winning runs, it struck me that the IPL made history in every sense. Never before have players from different cricketing countries been bandied together in teams like this. The Pakistani hugged the Indian, the Australian consoled the South African, the Sri Lankan cheered the West Indian. And the fans loved them all.
Flashback to before the T20 World Cup. The Indian cricket board gave the ICC hell over signing the member partnership agreement, mandatory before any tournament is held. India had yet to play a T20 international game at the time and a World Cup was being organised! To make matter worse, a breakaway Indian Cricket T20 League was announced. What was the Indian cricket board going to do? They made Dhoni captain, sent the team to the World Cup and kickstarted the Indian Premier League in pure reaction to the ICL. India won the first T20 World Cup. The IPL was born. And the rest, as they say, is now history.