It’s THAT time again. When three letters are all that cricket followers can talk about.

For the next six weeks wherever you go the conversation will centre round the happenings in the Indian Premier League known universally as the IPL. Yes, in the nine years of its existence it has been marred by controversies, even scandals leading to the suspension of two very popular teams and former winners Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals. It has been derided as masala matches, the detractors say it is not cricket but just a hyped up ''tamasha’’ almost nauseatingly promoted.

The cynics have repeatedly said its popularity will not last despite it being a blend of cricket and Bollywood conveniently labeled cricketainment. The fact that many leading film personalities are franchisee owners gives credence to this though a lot of people have been put off by the various seamier aspects of the IPL which also includes player and owner misbehavior.

But come April every year and the IPL is welcomed with open arms by anyone even remotely associated with cricket from the players to the media, from the advertisers to the cricket fans. There is no let-up in the attendances at the games which almost always draw full houses wherever it is held and whoever the participating teams may be. Apparently there is also no decline in the money being pumped into it either through the franchisees at the auction or advertising as seen through revenues obtained through TV rights and in-stadia ads. Whenever a title sponsor has backed out for some reason or the other there are any number of large corporate houses willing to back the IPL with astronomical amounts. Oh yes, the IPL is a Teflon event. Nothing sticks to it and it has overridden controversy and scandals involving match fixing and monetary irregularities to emerge as the richest and best known among all similar T-20 competitions which have mushroomed around the globe in the wake of its unprecedented success.

All this however does not alter the fact that IPL is very much an event of the times. Twenty20 is the name of the game these days whatever the traditionalists might say or think and these days everything is about hype and marketing. Granted that some aspects of the IPL put us off but overall none can deny that it is here to stay and its popularity will remain undiminished. The fact that this year’s tournament starting on April 5 is the tenth straight edition is ultimate proof of this.

Also whatever the detractors might say there is no denying that T-20 has evolved as an intense contest between bat and ball. It is no longer just slam bang cricket with which it was associated in the first few years of its existence. The bat may still dominate but the bowlers are no longer sheep being sent to the slaughter-house. They have come up with counter theories of their own with the result that cricket fans can enjoy the game not just for the big hits soaring into the night sky but also seeing the bowler win a battle of wits. So this too will be a welcome part of the IPL brought to viewers’ homes through a blend of innovative technical wizardry and almost shameless hype by the commentary team.

As to predicting the winners of IPL 10 it is nothing but a lottery. With the format being what it is, with things happening every over the outcome of a T-20 fixture remains in doubt till the last over – frequently till the last ball. Another factor that makes predictions difficult is that several leading players of most teams are battling injuries and a few of them have already been ruled out of the competition. At least till midway through the IPL no one can really stick his neck out. Only at this stage can a fairly clear picture be obtained but the IPL has frequently thrown up surprises till the last and this year is unlikely to be an exception. That is also one of the factors why the IPL has retained its popularity over the years.

For the record the participating teams are Royal Challengers, Bangalore, Rising Pune Supergiants, Gujarat Lions, Kolkata Knight Riders, King’s XI Punjab, Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad. Adding spice to the flavour this time will be the presence of the Indian and Australian players who not too long ago were at loggerheads with one another on the field but now will be playing for the same side. That is one of the quaint sub plots that is part and parcel of the IPL.