The last year has seen several attempts at hijacking of beloved sports events by hostile interests. First was the European Super League with its aborted bid to seize control of continental club football, and lately we have seen Saudi Arabia attempt to grab a chunk of the golf business.
ut neither could imagine securing a sport in such thrall as cricket is to the Indian Premier League.
The 20-over tournament, set up by the Indian board and with franchise ownership fronted by Bollywood stars, arrived with a bang in 2008 and now fills up April and May with a vast number of games tailored for live television — 74 in all this year between the ten highly-commercialised teams who are valued at an average of over $1bn each.
The money comes from television: Star India paid the IPL $2.4bn over five years up to 2022 while the next round is expected to be in the region of $6-7bn, second only to the NFL. For that it gets 400 million viewers a game, with another 260 million watching streams.
A little flavour of the IPL can be sampled this afternoon in Malahide, where India take on Ireland in the first of two T20 internationals in the LevelUp11 Series.
Cricket Ireland will be delighted that every one of its 8,000 seats has been sold already, and live TV secured in 70 countries, especially India where 220 million watched the same fixtures in 2018. It comes as the sport here emerges from a period of turmoil which included the pandemic, the resignation of the head coach, several player retirements and two external reviews that made uncomfortable reading for the organisation.
There will be an enormous audience for these games in India, which the Department of Foreign Affairs is using as a spur to boost Irish trade. According to Ireland’s Ambassador to India, Brendan Ward, “A large part of our role is simply raising awareness of Ireland among Indians. We are still not a well known country. We estimate that these games will be seen on television in India by 60-70 million people. Kevin O’Brien remains the most famous Irishman in India.”
Ward continued: “Irish-Indian trade in both directions amounted to €5.5 billion in 2021. Around 100 Indian companies have a presence in Ireland, including some of the biggest names in ICT like Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consulting Services. Around 30 Irish companies are also present in India.”
The series is important for lots of other reasons too, not least because it is the first outing for new coach Heinrich Malan as he shapes the Ireland squad for the T20 World Cup in October. It also provides an opportunity for uncapped players to make a mark, notably Stephen Doheny, another from the great Rush nursery, and Bready speedster Conor Olphert.
The new coach has dropped a big hint that he does not believe spin will play a big role Down Under. Simi Singh, after 82 caps, has been axed in favour of Andy McBrine — both took six wickets each in the qualifiers but McBrine was less costly. There was no recall for Kevin O’Brien — and with William Porterfield retired it is a low-key end to those who brought such great days in the Caribbean in 2007. It means none of that World Cup squad are likely to play in green again, while just George Dockrell and Paul Stirling survive from 2011 .
Captain Andrew Balbirnie suggested on Friday they would be sticking with the current squad for the tournament which starts in less than four months: “Going into that World Cup, we want the guys to know their roles and know them pretty well so we’re not tinkering with things going into the tournament.
“We want to pick our 15 best players and we want to give the guys the opportunities to stake claims and not put them in and out of teams as that’s hard for continuity as a player and as a team.”
With India about to play England in a Test carried over from last summer, Malahide will not see Virat Kohli, Rahul Sharma or Mohammed Shami, but India’s team is packed with T20 specialists. The side is captained by Hardik Pandya, who captained Gujarat Titans to IPL glory last month and features the competition’s leading bowler Yazvendra Chahal, who was man of the series in Malahide four years ago.
The famous Prussian blue shirts are likely to swamp the luminous green of Ireland in the grandstands, with tickets snapped up by many of the 45,000 Indians who live in Ireland.
Of course, while it is great for Irish fans and CI’s bank balance that the game is staged here, the chances of India returning the invitation are slim as Ireland comes to know its place at the ICC’s full members table. Next month marks the third anniversary of Ireland’s last Test match, against England in Lord’s. England are currently playing New Zealand in their 43rd Test since then while India have played 30 and Australia 26.
Balbirnie relishes the occasion: “The experience of playing these sort of teams is amazing for the players and Irish cricket fans. They will see how big cricket is in countries like India and it will be a great advertisement for Irish cricket.
TEAM AND SCHEDULE
Ireland: (from) Andrew Balbirnie, Mark Adair, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Stephen Doheny, Josh Little, Andrew McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Conor Olphert, Paul Stirling, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Craig Young.
India: (from) Hardik Pandya (Captain), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Sanju Samson, Suryakumar Yadav, Venkatesh Iyer, Deepak Hooda, Rahul Tripathi, Dinesh Karthik, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik.
Today: Ireland v India, 1st T20I (Malahide, start 4.30pm).
Tuesday: Ireland v India, 2nd T20I (Malahide, start 4.30pm).
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