On the eve of the 16th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) it never fails to amaze that the popularity of the high profile glamour laced competition remains undiminished. One would have thought that with the amount of cricket being played around the world, especially the T-20 variety, interest might have dimmed at least a wee bit.

But just before the start of the tournament on March 31 feverish discussions have already commenced as to the chances of the ten competing sides and how the inclusion of this star or that can make a difference to a team. And the loyalty of the fans towards their franchisees is something to be seen to be believed.

Yes, it is that time again when everything else is forgotten and the focus for almost everyone – not just cricket fans – will be the IPL. There is little doubt that the competition has changed the world of cricket as we knew it before 2008 the year it started amidst hype that has been associated with it ever since. It kicked off the mushrooming of T-20 leagues all around the cricketing world but none of these can match the IPL in the manner in which it is conducted, its popularity, its marketing reach and player participation. It continues to mesmerise cricket followers internationally. Like last year, the tournament will again feature ten teams and 74 matches will be played over a eight week period.

Over the years the three letters the IPL has become a byword for ‘cricketainment’. The phrase was first used during its inaugural edition. It was easy to give it that colourful sobriquet with Bollywood stars and leading industrialists being associated with the teams in various ways.

Sure it has not been without its share of unseemly acts, controversies and even scandals. Lalit Modi, the brain behind the IPL has been abroad for more than a decade facing charges of financial irregularity.

The tournament itself has been marred by match fixing and spot fixing allegations, and cricketers have been arrested. But it has also brought in a lot of money into the game, players, advertisers and sponsors are as keen as ever to be associated with the IPL and it has done more than its bit to make T-20 a format of skill, of tactics and strategy.

Yes, the IPL is no more slam-bang cricket where batsmen make merry and bowlers are willing slaves. It is no more just about big hits and the ball sailing into the stratosphere. It is also about bowlers choking the batsmen and keeping them on a leash.

If the batsmen have been innovative, so have the bowlers. Over the years the format has evolved into a keen duel for supremacy between bat and ball whatever its detractors might say about “T20 not being cricket”.’

That criticism can now be dismissed and it is time to accept the shortest format as an integral part of the game just as one-day cricket was welcomed half a century ago after initial reservations. Indeed the ECB’s decision to start ‘The Hundred’ in 2021 can be taken as a tribute to the IPL.

It does not matter whether the IPL is held in India, South Africa or the UAE, it does not matter if it is held in near empty stadiums as a result of Covid – 19, it does not matter if one half is played in one country and the other half months later in another country.

A break like that would have an adverse effect on any event but not when it comes to the IPL.The 2021 edition was a case in point. It started in India in April amidst some misgivings because of the Covid situation.

Twenty-nine matches into the competition and with cases on the rise it became necessary to postpone it. That was roughly halfway through the IPL but there was never any thought of not going through the remainder of the tournament.

The IPL governing council always kept their eyes on an open window and found one in September – October in the UAE. Around 4-1/2 months after game no. 29 played, game No. 30 was underway, the competition resumed and was conducted successfully with fans, franchisees and sponsors all pleased as punch.

When the IPL was inaugurated in 2008 the enthusiasm knew no bounds. Everyone associated with cricket knew it would be a trendsetter given its blend of cricket and entertainment with super stars and prominent industrialists closely associated with it.

No less a personality like Sachin Tendulkar, never one for hyperbole, gushed “it will be a super hit”. Aussie pace bowler Brett Lee predicted “it will create history’’ and went on to add “if we look back in ten years time this is going to be a massive landmark in cricket”.

Adam Gilchrist on his part was firmly of the view that after 15 years when people looked back they would say it is the most important thing to have happened in cricket. “I don’t think cricket will ever be the same again’’ said the legendary Aussie wicket keeper batsman, “in time to come people will say that the IPL changed the direction of cricket.’’

It is interesting to go through such statements 15 years later, particularly as they have come true. It must be said that the IPL was fortunate to get off to an electrifying start with Brendon McCullum coming up with his famous 158 off 73 balls on the opening day of the competition.

This was just the kick-off the IPL needed and since then it has continued to fascinate anyone associated with the game.The cynics might say it is all about money but then money is good for the game.

After all if the BCCI makes a pile it has also pooled back a lot into the game. For a start ask the long retired and first class cricketers who have benefited immensely by its largesse.