New edition of IPL kicks off Tuesday in the city of soccer

Kolkata, April 1 (IANS) The Indian Premier League T20 tourney – synonymising cricket, cash, controversies and dollops of glamour – opens its sixth edition Tuesday with a cultural gala marrying the rhythm of American rap music with Bollywood dhamaka, but ironically at a iconic soccer venue where the likes of Lionel Messi have mesmerised tens of thousands of spectators in the past.

Come Tuesday evening and Salt Lake Stadium – one of the world’s largest with a capacity to accommodate 100,000-plus spectators – would dance with Mumbai film megastar Shah Rukh Khan shaking a leg to some peppy numbers. Mumbai’s leading ladies Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone would also perform, with famed American rapper of Cuban origin Pitbul, Chinese drummers and dancers from Europe providing the international touch.

A firecracker display and sundry other entertainment masala are the other attractions for the show, which kickstarts the fresh chapter of the league, that epitomises the journey of cricket from a gentleman’s game of amateurs to one embracing free market economy. Nine teams would clash for supremacy in 76 matches spread over 54 days across 12 venues. The only new side is Sunrisers Hyderabad, who replace Deccan Chargers, ejected by the IPL Governing Council for breach of contract.

The opening ceremony of the IPL, considered the world’s second richest sports tourney after NBA, is being held in Kolkata for the first time. As per rules, the defending champion hosts the show, and the Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla co-owned Kolkata Knight Riders earned the rights after lifting the trophy last year.

The city itself is hosting its first such sports opening ceremony in 17 years, and fingers will remain crossed, as the World Cup cricket inauguration programme had badly flopped at the Eden Gardens in 1996.

Through it 29 years of existence, the Salt Lake Stadium has played the Pied Piper to soccer buffs regularly during local derby matches involving arch-rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, besides a large number of international engagements where many big names from across the globe took part. And if the crowds who queued up for hours before booking counters are any indication, the organisers can look forward to a sell-out.

The holding of the programme at the stadium had led to guffaws in this soccer crazy city, and critics would be keeping a keen eye on whether the multi-crore artificial turf installed some years back suffered any damage.

But on the flip side, the venue is also notorious for the lights conking on big match days, and soccer stars form Zico – who coached Japan against India in a 2004 pre-world cup match – to Messi – who led Argentina in the international friendly against Venezuela in 2011 – have been witness to the stadium plunge into darkness.

However, the organisers claimed all precautions have been taken to ensure there was no power black-out.

For Shah Rukh, bad news came from Mumbai Sunday that the five-year ban imposed on him last season following an ugly spat with the MCA officials after his team’s win over Mumbai Indians was still in force.

With the doors of the Wankhede in the western metropolis that also houses his residence closed to him, SRK would now be left to flex his muscles in Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, the home venue of his side. The success of the opening ceremony would be a litmus test for the Badshah of Bollywood, especially after his bid to rope in American singer Jennifer Lopez fell flat after she demanded exhorbitant fees and other facilties.

A year back, the city had poured into the streets on a harsh and oppressive summer day to watch the Knights’ victory parade, and the sweet memories must still be very fresh in the Bolywood actor’s mind. Eden Gardens incidentally will also host the IPL final May 26.

The tag of defending champions might put some pressure on the Knights, who begin their campaign against the Delhi Daredevils Wednesday.

Controversies have been a a part and parcel of IPL. This year has also had one when the IPL authorities banned Sri Lankan cricketers from from playing in Chennai after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa insisted that the matches can be played in the southern metropolis only if there were no players or team officials from the Emerald Island.

Jayalalithaa’s diktat, coming in the wake of the growing unrest in Tamil Nadu over the atrocities against ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka during the civil war against Tamil Tigers that ended in 2009. Enraged team owners, and now franchises with a strong Sri Lankan presence, are slowly building up pressure on the IPL Governing Council to shift their play-off and knockout matches out of Chennai.

Besides, in a drunken brawl, Delhi Daredevils’ Kiwi import Jesse Ryder sunk into a coma after being assaulted outside a bar in Christchurch. Ryder, though, has recovered and is undergoing treatment for a smashed skull and punctured lung. But there is little chance of him turning up in this edition of the IPL.

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