FEW doubt South Africa’s capacity to host big international sporting events since successfully hosting the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and the Cricket World Cup in 2003.
Save for one heartbreak a few years back when an Oceania football chief named Charlie Dempsey famously declined to cast his decisive vote to deny South Africa the right to host the 2006 Football World Cup finals, the Rainbow Nation has been a firm choice for major sporting tournaments.
The Confederations Cup is due here in June as a dress rehearsal to the big one – the Fifa World Cup in 2010.
But up to this point none of these events has quite captivated the imagination of the whole nation like the Indian Premier (IPL). The IPL is India’s premier domestic Twenty20 cricket tournament in its second year of existence.
In terms of glitz and glamour, nothing thus far has compared to the IPL, which was unveiled here with a grand opening ceremony in Cape Town on Saturday, a day after a street parade brought the whole city to a standstill.
I am one of many journalists from around the world covering this prestigious event which has brought together the who’s who of South African sports, the rich, famous and powerful of India, and the ordinary cricket fans.
About 10 000 fans are expected to arrive in South Africa from the Indian subcontinent during the course of the tournament.
The IPL is the world’s richest cricket tournament. Some of the top players will earn almost US$2 million for taking part. It is modelled along the lines of other modern domestic leagues such as the European football leagues.
Top international cricketers from different countries sign up for the 10 IPL teams to make for some enthralling cricket action over a month and a half.
It is the most watched domestic Twenty20 competition in the world, and in cricket-mad India it is one of the most popular events among both the rich and poor.
Why is it being played in South Africa? Well, the tournament was moved to South Africa just three weeks before it was scheduled to start.
Coinciding with India’s general elections as it does, India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance party refused to commit security by Indian paramilitary forces, prompting league chairman Latit Modi, the billionaire vice-chairman of the Indian cricket board, to move it to South Africa. It has been well received across the country, especially in the Western Cape where the bulk of the matches are being played, and in Durban, which has the largest concentration of people of Asian origin in South Africa.
It is probably the first time in modern sports a domestic competition has been staged outside its country of origin.
The 10 IPL teams, which are based on a franchise system, are owned by big Indian corporates and wealthy individuals such as Bollywood film stars.
The teams originate from the country’s biggest regions where they draw their support.
With only a week into the tournament, we’ve already witnessed top-class cricket action in this festival, especially from international stars such as Sachin Tendulkar, Chris Gayle, Jacques Kallis and Andrew Flintoff.
Even luminaries such as Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly and Matthew Hayden – who retired from international cricket not so long ago – have come and put validation to the theory that class is permanent.
And there is still more to come!
Sadly, no Zimbabweans are involved on the playing side. Tatenda Taibu, who played for the Kolkata Knight Riders last season in India, is not in their squad this time around. There was no taker for Vusi Sibanda when an auction to sign players was held a few weeks ago.
The most notable Zimbabwean representation is SuperSport pundit Mpumelelo “Pommie” Mbangwa, the former Zimbabwe Test bowler. Former Zimbabwe captain Alistair Campbell is also here working for Supersport, and Zimbabwean-born ex-English county stalwart Trevor Penney is on the Kolkata coaching staff.
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO