Sports
The TNPL has turned into a brand in itself, and as the CSK ban ends today, the state tournament is riding on the euphoric return of the IPL team.
Image: CSK Facebook page

#DoubleTheGethu screams the tagline of the second edition of the India Cements-sponsored Tamil Nadu Premier League across social media platforms, and not without reason.

Launched last year to fill the void created in the multi-million strong Chennai Super Kings fan base following the two-year ban on the much-decorated IPL franchise, the TNPL has turned into a brand in itself, and as the CSK ban ends today, the state tournament is riding on the euphoric return of the IPL team.

TNPL 2.0, comprising eight teams and 32 matches and to be played predominantly in the districts, kicks off on July 22, with promises of ‘double the attraction’. The excitement in the air is palpable, with CSK’s return to the IPL fold next season forming the backdrop.

“Machi, are you ready,” Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in CSK colours, asks fans in a promo on Twitter by TV broadcasters Star Sports which asserts that the second edition of the TNPL would be bigger and better.

It certainly appears so, going by the global interest in what is essentially a state-level T20 league, and you got to hand it to the marketing abilities of the title sponsors India Cements, also the backers of CSK, for the buzz being created.

Looking back, not many gave TNPL much of a chance for success in the build up to the launch last season. For one, the neighbouring Karnataka Premier League, which is a few seasons old, had not exactly clicked commercially. Also, a pall of gloom had descended on Tamil Nadu cricket fans following CSK’s ban after the team had been a constant source of joy and celebrations over eight long IPL seasons.

However, TNPL turned out to be a big success right from the start, with franchises being bought in the range of Rs 3-5 crore. With the cricket of good quality, live broadcast by Star Sports’ regional channel Vijay TV and ex-cricket stars as commentators, the tournament was also garnering huge attention from IPL talent scouts and cricket fans across the country.

Image: TNPL FB Page

Left-arm seamer Thangarasu Natarajan became the highest paid uncapped Indian player in the IPL player auction last year when he was picked by Kings XI Punjab for Rs 3 crore after his six yorkers in the Super Over for Dindigul Dragons against champions TUTI Patriots turned into a rage on social media.

Reports said Ravichandran Ashwin suggested his Tamil Nadu state mate, young Washington Sundar, as his replacement for Rising Pune Supergiant in the recently-concluded IPL-10 which the ace India off-spinner missed owing to injury.

Sundar went on to make a mark in IPL-10, but the 17-year-old off-spinner and batsman would readily agree that he learnt to handle the pressures of being in the spotlight in the inaugural TNPL for TUTI Patriots in which he claimed 11 wickets in nine games at an average of 12 and an impressive economy rate of 5.54.

The likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Lance Klusener, Brett Lee and Michael Bevan playing the role of mentor/coach, has given the TNPL a global touch, with news reports last month saying former India opener and two-time IPL winning captain with Kolkata Knight Riders, Gautam Gambhir, expressing interest in a mentor’s role at the TNPL.

Although the Indian cricket board reiterated that outstation players will not be given permission to play in TNPL, it is the return of CSK to the IPL and MSD in CSK colours that is the discussion in the franchise’s multi-million social media fan base.

In fact, Tamil actor Jai created a joyous ripple in social media when he tweeted a picture of himself watching the IPL-10 final on May 21 between RPS, featuring MSD Dhoni, and Mumbai Indians on TV sporting a CSK No 7 Dhoni jersey.

CSK’s official Twitter handle posted immediately after the IPL-10 final, which remains a pinned post, that reads: “Next summer, we will be there! #ManyHappyReturnsOfCSK.

With IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla confirming that the agreement with RPS and Gujarat Lions were only for two seasons, there appears a strong possibility of CSK regaining its marquee players.

All players were to go to the auction pool after the first 10-year cycle but Shukla has indicated that retention policy will be considered. “We will have a mega auction but retention policy also needs to be decided,” he said after IPL-10.

CSK, meanwhile, has also made it clear that they would go all out to get MSD back.

CSK will be “back with a bang” in 2018, N Srinivasan, vice-chairman and MD of India Cements, told the media recently. “Hopefully, with MSD leading it... Absence from the field has not in any way affected Brand CSK,” he said.

“Chennai too adopted Dhoni and he too took to Chennai,” Srinivasan added.

It certainly appears that their strong association will continue going into the second decade of the IPL.

Sanjay Rajan has written on sport for over two decades. He tweets at @SeamUp.