Cricket: Bowled over by a Bolly good show

By Andrew Alderson

The IPL is not just about cricket, it's more like a Bollywood production. Andrew Alderson talks to Shane Bond about his role in the show.

Surreal, social and stimulating might best sum up Shane Bond's off-field experience in the Indian Premier League.

The IPL has to be put into context - one part of the frenzied cocktail is cricket but equal parts of fashion, fraternising, bravado and Bollywood need to be added to the mix to gauge how the tournament impacts on India's social fabric.

Bond spent six weeks on this diet. He took nine wickets in his inaugural tournament for the Kolkata Knight Riders at an average of 24.88 and economy rate of 7.22.

That represents a sound performance across the competition but wasn't enough to prevent his side missing the semifinals on net run-rate.

But players are expected to keep earning their much-documented salaries once the bat and pads are locked away. It becomes wall-to-wall theatre for the public and comes on top of saturated media coverage and lively conversation between mouthfuls of tikka masala.

In many ways, the players were actors in a much bigger production.

"Crowds of people would be in the lobby before games and there was always a party and fashion show on afterwards at the hotel with models and Bollywood people," Bond says.

"Hundreds also paid to come and they were filmed for a show called IPL nights which was shown the next day on MTV.

"So you'd have a quiet beer and walk out only to face enormous crowds in the lobby. Then you'd turn on the telly in your room and the news channels would be talking about the game.

"In the end, you get used to people taking your photo and asking for signatures at breakfast and lunch. Everyone wants a piece of you all the time, but you realise how passionate Indians are about their cricket. It's a real eye-opener."

Bond was one of four New Zealand players involved in the tournament - Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori were the others - and he soon realised he was getting off lightly after observing his team owner, the actor Shah Rukh Khan, and former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly.

"Shah is one of the biggest Bollywood stars. He lives with bodyguards and an entourage around but did come into the changing room after games to have a chat. I enjoyed his company. He was a sociable guy, passionate about his cricket.

"I also spoke to Sourav about what it was like to live there [in Kolkata]. He said normally people leave him alone but once it gets to IPL time, the level of interest goes up massively.

"I can't think about any time when I could compare it to New Zealand. It's the most intense competition I've ever played in."

Bond would gladly accept the chance to return but says, ideally, some younger New Zealand players (perhaps aged 23-24) would be signed up too as the ideal baptism to a professional international career.

"It's stinking hot, then you play in front of at least 50,000 people and the noise is hard to fathom," Bond says. "The media intensity also teaches you how to deal with pressure.

Bond's account is backed up by the likes of Auckland Cricket chief Andrew Eade who was in India recently on business.

"The IPL mixes cricket, politics and Bollywood which it seems are the three favourite things in Indian life," Eade says.

"Every day the first three pages of the newspapers were filled with intrigue mixing those topics. There were also after-parties and fashion shows. It was quite bizarre. In fact, I walked into one and, lo and behold, there's [umpire] Billy Bowden sitting in the front row.

"Then there was the Bollywood actor Preity Zinta who part owns the Kings XI Punjab team. She goes to all the games. Every time she got up half a dozen security did as well. The crowd would go nuts and the cricket became irrelevant for a couple of minutes."

In contrast former Black Caps coach Steve Rixon, who helped Stephen Fleming coach the Chennai Super Kings, says they tried to limit their socialising - and consequently made the final.

"It's certainly a gala atmosphere, that's one of the beauties of it, and with those high-profile people comes a theatrical side which is refreshing for the game. We went to the after-parties as a team early on but have tried to stay away as much as possible since to concentrate on winning the title."

Winning the Twenty20 World Cup is what Bond now has on his mind. He returned home for a couple of days after his side were knocked out of the IPL but flew out to the Caribbean with the rest of the Black Caps yesterday to prepare for the Twenty20 World Cup.

The bulk of the squad spent a week training and acclimatising in Queensland before their opening match against Sri Lanka on Saturday (NZT).

After practising and playing on relatively slow wickets in India, Bond feels perfectly placed to adjust to similar surfaces in Guyana and probably St Lucia. He consulted a man he describes as "one cool rooster" to get advice.

"[Kolkata team-mate and West Indies captain] Chris Gayle says it's a bit of a 'dung heap'. I'm expecting a slow turner with three or four spinners playing against us. But we're perfectly prepared for the tournament and should have every chance of winning if we can put our best squad out."

- Herald on Sunday

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