You don’t realise how big the IPL is until you’re in India when the circus works its way across the country.
Television station watermarks count down the days until showtime.
The Times of India profiles one franchise per day.
Virat Kohli spruiks hair gel on the cricket channel every five minutes.
When the sixth season of the Indian Premier League finally kicked off last Wednesday, every television in Anjuna – a small rural community at the seaside paradise of Goa – was tuned to the IPL.
And I mean every set, from the residents to the hotel guests to the scooter rental places to the kitchen at the live music venue, in a place that doesn’t even have a team of its own.
This would all add up to a ratings share of State of Origin proportions – and it happens every night until the finals start mid-May.
What to do then but join the party that stops a nation? I booked a flight north to see Ricky Ponting’s Mumbai Indians take on David Warner’s Delhi Daredevils six days later.
Compared to the New Delhi test match featuring the Aussies last month, securing IPL tickets is a breeze.
Collecting them involves heading to the Wankhede Stadium a day before the game, which sees armoured vehicles and several dozen platoons of security already flanking the ground.
You can see why IPL 2 was moved to South Africa in 2009 due to India’s security forces being unable to police both the cricket tournament and the concurrent general elections.
If you’re surprised it was cricket that made the compromise, politics is serious business here – their television panel shows have debates so explosive they make Q and A look like Romper Room.
The IPL’s grip on the public’s imagination is helped by the fact that the teams have a title to play for, and their best players are on show every match.
Fittingly, ‘million dollar baby’ Glen Maxwell isn’t in Mumbai’s 11 tonight.
For the cricket watching purist, the key to enjoying the IPL is to accept that T20 has about as much to do with test match cricket as One Direction do with The Beatles, or Tom Waterhouse with rugby league.
To get into the spirit of things I head to the merch stand, flick past the light-up devil horns and multi-coloured wigs, and strap myself into a Mumbai Indians bandana.
If Peter FitzSimons can get away with it in his Sydney Morning Herald mugshot, I don’t see why I can’t give it a good shake either.
On entering the stadium at 8.00pm, first impressions are that Wankhede is like the Return Of The Jedi Death Star to the Gabba’s Star Wars version – there may be a few sections missing, but this battle station is packed and fully operational.
Supporters flags are stuck to every seat. Ice cream sellers compete with McDonald’s and Domino’s.
That annoying mariarchi trumpet sounds regularly over the PA, and the crowd roars in response. Cheerleaders cheer from podiums spaced around the boundaries.
There’s also some sport being played. Mumbai win the toss, Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar walk out to open the batting, and any dreams of a transcendental moment are crushed when they’re both back in the pavilion seven balls later with one run between them.
Luckily Dinesh Karthik and Rohit Sharma light up the Wankhede, and as the Delhi fast bowling team of Morkel, Ishant and Nehra look for a hole to crawl into, their batters see an imposing target of 210 to chase down.
From the moment Ponting takes a screamer off Harbhajan’s opening ball of the Delhi innings, you sense this will only end one way.
Punter scurries around the field marshalling his troops like it’s his first game as captain, his energy more Red Dog than Mumbai slumdog.
Meanwhile, the millionaire, Glenn Maxwell, is carrying refreshments to his teammates and waving to fans, who look back incredulous at a guy earning more tonight than all of his fellow Mumbai drinks waiters combined for the year.
An announcement goes up at 10.00pm that the PA is being shut down, presumably due to a noise complaint from the neighbours.
Wrapped early for the night, the cheerleaders sit next to their podiums, no doubt waxing lyrical about Punter’s rapid-fire bowling changes and the upcoming prime ministerial smackdown between Modi and Gandhi.
David Warner plays some circumspect shots between between lusty swooshes in a one-man counter-attack; Mitchell Johnson bowls pies but somehow takes wickets, Glenn Maxwell doesn’t do much of anything. It’s like a night out at the SCG, sans beer snakes.
The game drifts into tedium as Delhi’s lack of batting resources sees them fall 44 runs short, with many fans making for the exits early.
Having spent three weeks on Indian roads, trying to ‘beat the traffic’ seems to me a tad optimistic.
So the circus leaves town for now, with me soon to follow. But it looks like we’ll cross paths again at Eden Gardens, Kolkata next Sunday.
A man can never have too many bandanas, after all.
Fan article originally published on The Roar’s sports opinion website and kindly reproduced here thanks to The Roar. Submit your own cricket fan article for potential publication on cricket.com.au.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
First Posted 11 April, 2013 3:41PM AEDT