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Casting aside all apprehensions surrounding its robustness as a brand, the fifth season of the IPL has been a success by every yardstick. The simplest marker of this hypothesis is the fan presence at the grounds. Almost every game was played to packed crowds and that, more than anything else, is testimony to the brands' inner strength going forward.
The IPL has easily been one of the best things to have happened to Indian sports in a long time. First, it has given the opportunity to Indian domestic cricket to scale the big league, play with the very best in the world and learn skill sets unthinkable some years ago. And as a result of their performances on the IPL stage, some of these men have also made the cut for the national team. Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja captured the selectors' imagination in Season 1, Rahul Sharma of my own team did so in Season 4 and Ajinkya Rahane of the Rajasthan Royals shines bright in the current season.
The other thing of real significance that makes this season stand apart is the BCCI's decision to use some of the IPL riches to honour Indian greats from the past. These men, having played in an era when the sport wasn't monetised, were duly rewarded for their contribution to the game, a fact only made possible because of the IPL. Thus, there is little doubt that the IPL, India's only global sports brand, is here to stay.
Unfortunately for Pune, this season didn't go as expected. However, that doesn't mean we did not learn a lot. We are relatively new to the IPL fold and it is only natural it will take us a couple of years to compete with the big boys, especially when our talisman, Yuvraj Singh, is recuperating from illness.
Most of the other franchises have had similar tumultuous years in the past and we can take heart from KKR's rise to the very top of the IPL echelon after some difficult early years. I am reasonably confident that we will successfully play catch up in Season 6 and make a sure comeback in the years to come.
As a daily grind, the IPL is full of excitement. Attending team meetings, playing matches, getting back to the hotel, packing bags to catch an early morning flight are a few of the regular things that every team does. But even in the usual, the element of fun involved is immense. This year was particularly special because our team, for the first time, played in front of the home crowd in Pune. All the matches were sold out and the way the fans in Pune backed their team was just amazing. The newly constructed Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium is a world class facility and we were lucky to have our home at undoubtedly India's best stadium. On the days of our home games, the stadium buzzed with electrifying excitement and fervour. In other venues too, we had a terrific experience. Our captain-cum-mentor Sourav Ganguly has a remarkable support base among Indian fans. The match against Kolkata at the Eden Gardens was perhaps the high point of the tournament in terms of intensity! What was most striking about this year's IPL is the demand for tickets. Everyone wanted to be in the thick of things. Our gate receipts were great and I can assure you that most of the other teams would agree that fan response was superb.
Now that this season is over, we look forward to next year's IPL and are also keen to see all the players appearing for the 2014 auction. Our chairman, Subrata Roy Sahara, has already put across his views that the auction of all IPL players is important to ensure a level playing field in the league. I am confident that the IPL governing council will take the right call when the time comes, making the league grow from strength to strength, minor distractions notwithstanding.
(Abhijit Sarkar is director, Pune Warriors India)
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