India's IPL fans miss exiled heroes
A new shopping mall on the outskirts of New Delhi is the closest that fans of the city’s IPL cricket team get to attending a home game this year.
In an open-air square between fashion shops and chain restaurants, a huge screen shows every Delhi Daredevils match live from South Africa to a few hundred cheering supporters.
The loss of the Indian Premier League abroad this year has dented public support for the tournament, which in its inaugural season last year attracted massive fan loyalty to its eight city-based teams.
“Last year was great, and everyone was watching every evening,” Shashank Sharma, an 18-year-old student, said. “But this time there is less excitement.
“It is better when there are Indian crowds in the stadium, they are very noisy.”
Sharma watched the match at the mall with six of his friends, as huge speakers blared out the commentary and loud music.
Every time the Daredevils—led by captain Gautam Gambhir—took a wicket or scored a boundary, four scantily-clad, female dancers jumped on to a stage in front of the screen to lead the celebrations.
Organisers were forced to move the five-week event out of India due to its clash with general elections, which meant security arrangements could not be made for the cricketers.
With the action exported to South Africa, interest among India’s massive cricket following has not matched last year’s event—even though games have been scheduled in television prime time.
Viewing figures were down in 18 of the first 27 matches compared with 2008, according to Audience Measurement and Analytics, an independent ratings company.
Last year the IPL’s blend of dramatic, short-format cricket and Bollywood glamour proved irresistible to millions of Indians for whom the games became an evening fixture and the biggest talking point in the country.
Sponsors hope the teams, including the Mumbai Indians and Bangalore Royal Challengers, will develop passionate fan bases similar to those enjoyed by British football side such as Manchester United.
SC Vohra, a retired diplomat, watched the Delhi Daredevils beat the struggling Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday evening at the mall with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandson.
“The big screen makes this a good place for a family evening out, but there is not the same atmosphere with the team playing so far away,” he said.
“In theory it is the same on television wherever you watch it, but the IPL is about entertainment and they will have to be careful that interest doesn’t decline year after year. The novelty factor has gone already.”
Also among the crowd was Nani Kapur, a 25-year-old who works in marketing.
“I went to the stadium to see the Daredevils last year and it was fantastic.
The atmosphere around the tournament is less this year,” she said.
“Of course people still watch it on TV but definitely the general mood is down. It can’t be same without the team playing here.”
One person counting the cost was Vicky Suri, a manager for Genesis, the official merchandise partner for the Delhi Daredevils.
“We’ve lost a lot of sales, we can’t deny it,’ he said. “We sell replica shirts for 600 rupees ($13) and the games going outside India has been a real blow.
“We sell a lot of goods at the stadiums and that opportunity has just disappeared. We’ve been shipping shirts to South Africa, but that very expensive.”
“I just hope there will now be a hunger when the teams finally come back home and play here next year.” - AFP