It’s THAT time again when a seven week extravaganza in India holds the attention of the cricketing world. T-20 leagues have mushroomed all over but none can match the enticement of the Indian Premier League, the first and the best of them all. Yes, the IPL at it is universally known has not been without its scandals and controversies but come April – May and all is forgotten as the leading cricketers from all over the world get ready to showcase their skills in cricket’s shortest and most popular format while representing any one of the eight franchisees who as usual will play each other home and away before the play off stage.

The IPL not unexpectedly has its detractors who dismiss it as tamasha and anything but cricket as the purists know it. But it also has its supporters who are firmly of the view that the IPL is very important to the development of Indian cricket. Dinesh Karthik for one is convinced that if Indian cricket is where it is today a lot of credit must go to the IPL.

“We have rubbed shoulders with the best. It has propelled our cricket in such a way that we are probably one of the beat teams that play well in all three formats,’’ says Karthik who will be leading Kolkata Knight Riders in this year’s edition. Another enthusiast is Karun Nair who is of the view that playing in the IPL gives one the confidence to succeed in international cricket.

One fact that everyone agrees upon is that the IPL has caught the imagination of the cricket going public like nothing else. Every year the seamier aspects of the competition are set aside and spectators throng the various stadia to cheer their favourite players and more specifically the teams.

Each franchisee has its own band of enthusiastic supporters who sport the team colours and logos carrying flags and festoons and there is a festive atmosphere complete with drums and other noisy instruments. Sivamani the percussionist of the Chennai Super Kings is a familiar figure every year and is almost as popular as any one of the CSK players.

When the first competition was held in 2008 everyone agreed that the IPL had given rise to a new form of entertainment – cricketainment. The combination of cricket and Bollywood with many leading names from the film industry owning some of the teams assured the tremendous success of the IPL both from the entertainment and the commercial point of view.

The money that is poured into the conduct of the IPL, the huge sums the players are bought for at the auctions and and the mind boggling and eye rubbing figures associated with the TV rights is something that never ceases to amaze the cricket follower anywhere in the world. The razzmatazz associated with the tournament is unmistakable but competition wise there is little doubt that it is serious business.

Every team wants to win the tournament badly enough to adopt a win at all costs approach. This has led to the seamier aspects associated with the IPL but with the anti corruption unit in place hopefully these are things of the past and one can look forward to seeing T-20 at its competitive best over the next seven weeks.

Make no mistake. The shortest format has also evolved since the first T-20 international was played between Australia and New Zealand in 2005 and the first IPL was held ten years ago. From a format that favoured batsmen totally it is now a format in which the bowlers can dominate a match – enough for a side to be shot out inside 20 overs for less than 100.

Over the years bowlers too have come up with ways and means to get the better of the batsmen. After all if there is pressure on the bowler there is also pressure on the batsman. Just two or three dot balls and the batsman - aware that he has to get a move on – essays an indiscreet stroke that costs him his wicket. We have seen that happen so often and this has considerably lessened the gap between bat and ball. Sure the fours and sixes will flow and the ball will continue to be hit high while lighting up the night sky but there is also the chance that the stumps can be sent flying.

What makes IPL 11 straightaway special is the return of Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings. The two teams missed out on the last two seasons for reasons that have been well chronicled and they are being welcomed back with open arms.

If any proof was required it was provided by the delirious crowd present at the MA Chidambaram stadium first to see the training session of CSK and then to watch a practice game between players of the team. Over 8000 were present on the first occasion and the crowd swelled to 15,000 the second time. The bond between the supporters and the team colours was underlined and one supposes this is true of every one of the eight franchisees taking part in the IPL.