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Fifth Season of the Indian Professional League

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There’s a surfeit of cricket at the international level these days, replete with live television coverage. Yesterday (Wednesday) the big money-spinning Indian Professional League (IPL) embarked on its fifth year of operation, attracting most of the world’s top players,{{more}} including the Caribbean’s major crowd-pleasers. Then, beginning on Saturday, the West Indies test team will face its sternest test in the shape of the Australian tourists, the dominant force in world cricket for most of the last decade and a half.

The IPL is, in revenue terms, the giant in international T20 cricket. Huge sums are invested by the billionaire owners of the teams, profiting from a huge Indian domestic audience and global television coverage, which in turn attracts big advertising revenues. Players are auctioned off for the teams and, while the sums expended may seem miniscule in comparison with other sports such as football and basketball, they represent a significant boost in earnings for cricketers, on a scale similar to what the Australian tycoon Kerry Packer achieved with his World series Cricket in the late seventies.

The IPL is not without its controversies, with in-fighting and leadership tussles. One such major row nearly cost the Indian national team its valued sponsorship by the Sahara group after the IPL had refused to accede to some demands made by Sahara for its IPL franchise, Pune Warriors. The dispute was finally settled and Sahara has maintained its sponsorship of the national team.

144 foreign players will join their Indian counterparts in contesting the nine-team tournament over the next two months. As has happened in the past, this will affect some international teams. The West Indies will be the biggest losers for stars of the likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieran Pollard and the new sensations in the form of Sunil Narine, Andre Russell and Darren Bravo are all contracted to play. How this will affect the West Indies, faced with the formidable threat of the Australians is left to be seen.

Since the inception of the IPL in 2008, the trophy has been won twice by the Superkings from the southern city of Chennai (formerly Madras). Led by Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Chennai not only won the past two years but was also a beaten finalist in the inaugural IPL in 2008. It has a range of international talent contracted, including Dwayne Bravo, the Australians Mike Hussey and Hilfenaus, and Indian stars Raina, the off-spinner Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, bought in the 2012 auction for US$ 2 million.

Chennai’s biggest challenge may come from Chris Gayle’s Royal Challengers Bangalore, runners-up last year and in 2009. Gayle has a supporting cast of the likes of India’s rising superstar Virat Kohli, his veteran compatriot Zaheer Khan, the South African de Villiers and two Sri Lankans, Dilshan and cricket’s leading wicket-taker, Muralitharan.

The other Caribbean cricketers contracted to the IPL are scattered among six of the seven remaining teams. New spinning sensation Narine, for whom Kolkata Knight Riders paid US$700,000, will fancy his chances in the company of Jacques Kallis, Brett Lee, the hard-hitting New Zealander Brendan McCallum and Gautam Gambhir.

Kieran Pollard will be hoping to go one better than last year’s runner-up medal with Sachin Tendulkar’s Mumbai Indians with the deadly paceman Malinga, the second-highest wicket-taker in the IPL in his team. Andre Russell will play alongside a powerful quintet of Sehwag, Jayawardene, Kevin Pietersen, Davud Warner and Morne Morkel for the Delhi daredevils. His fellow Jamaican Marlon Samuels turns out for Pune warriors, with two international captains, Michael Clarke of Australia and the South African Graeme Smith.

Two other Trinidadians will ply their trade. Darren Bravo is contracted to the Deccan Chargers, with shining stars Kumar Sangakkara and Dale Steyn for company, while the promising Kevon Cooper has Rahul Dravid and Shane Watson with him in the line-up for the Rajasthan Royals. The King’s XI Punjab is the ninth team, led by retired Aussie keeper Adam Gilchrist and England pacer Stuart Broad, its top overseas player.

The final of the IPL will be played on Sunday, May 27, when the West Indies will be engaged in their second Test on tour of England.

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