THE Indian Premier League (IPL) is back - with a bang. Cricket's high-octane Twenty20 tournament opened in India with great fanfare on April 5.
It marked a special season: This is the 10th edition. And so there was an extra vibrancy to the opening festivities, with the organiser, the Indian cricket board, laying out more fireworks, dancers, speeches and decorated golf buggies to showcase top players around the grounds.
On the field, it has been sheer excitement - what the IPL provides and what the fans worldwide love to watch.
Young English fast bowler Tymal Mills, bought for US$1.8 million by Royal Challengers Bangalore in the players' auction in February, touched speeds of 150kmh - and even regularly produced his party-piece fast-arm slowies.
India's darling Yuvraj Singh blazed away with a quick-fire half-century, while dashing Australian Chris Lynn unleashed "Lynnsanity", slamming 93 off 41 balls for the Kolkata Knight Riders against the Gujarat Lions.
Scores of 180 plus were the order of the day in the opening rounds and teams were finding it difficult to defend those totals.
Cue flashes, thunder, squeals as batsmen indulged in 360 degree shots and bowlers tried variations and innovations to uproot them.
And, as the pom-pom cheerleaders whipped up more frenzy at the venues, the thrills were registered even out here in Singapore.
"IPL has all the ingredients: Spice, drama, action and, of course, happy endings," said former Singapore national team player Pramodh Raja, 37, who never misses an IPL match.
"There are a lot of close finishes and the best players in the world showcase their talents. It's sheer adrenaline rush."
Australian Aiden Sherry, 15, a budding cricketer who lives in Singapore with his parents, said: "The IPL is an extremely exciting competition, full of constant run scoring and a possibility of the match turning at any moment. This non-stop feeling that the game could change at any moment really provides much of the excitement and fun of watching the matches."
Despite being dragged through a match-fixing controversy in 2013, the IPL seems to have lost none of its charm and attraction.
The world's best cricketers are playing in this year's tournament - from April 5 to May 21 featuring 60 matches.
Rising English all-rounder Ben Stokes joined Rising Pune Supergiant for an IPL-record US$2.23 million, while Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan was signed by Sunrisers Hyderabad for US$$615,700 - the most ever offered to a player from an associate (non-Test playing) nation.
Khan and team-mate Mohammad Nabi have become the first players from Afghanistan to play in the IPL, highlighting the league's ever-expanding global appeal.
"By attracting the best cricketing talent locally and from overseas, IPL has become a quality and entertaining product," said IT project manager and Kerala native Ajmal Rasheed, 34, who watches the matches with his entire family and backs the Delhi Daredevils. "It has style and substance which are showcased in beautiful stadiums."
For Singapore cricket captain Chetan Suryawanshi there is much to learn from watching IPL matches.
"It allows rookies and little known players to rub shoulders with the world's best and make a name for themselves," said the 31-year-old, who supports Rising Pune Supergiant.
"IPL gives me an insight on how new concepts and theories are coming into play and how the game is moving forward, which helps me as I'm both a player and a coach."
Author and artist Subina Khaneja, 54, was "lucky enough to be invited to the first IPL tournament".
She said: "The energy was just mind-blowing. The shorter format makes it easier to watch the matches, especially since in Singapore it is not like India, where everything is late and forgiven if cricket is on. Here we still have to work and continue life, so finding time becomes a challenge. My husband (Asheesh) watches the more important matches. I am the die-hard who will watch all the matches and their repeats if I have the time."
This season, it has become cheaper for IPL fans in Singapore to watch the matches as Eleven Sports has rolled out an attractive deal that does not need a long-term contract.
For a one-off fee of $41.90 they can watch the entire tournament on its digital platform elevensport,sg which works out to about 60 cents for each of the 60 matches. A daily pass is also available for $2.99.
"I watch as many games as possible, sometimes at home and other times at clubs" said M. Neethianathan, 64, a former vice-president of the Singapore Cricket Association and national team player.
"The accusations of match-fixing have not taken away the sheen from the tournament. There is no credible evidence, so I will still watch the matches. I love cricket and so my interest will never wane in the IPL."
Indeed fans in Singapore love the IPL so much that there are calls for some of the matches to be staged here.
"Given how it was successfully staged in South Africa and UAE and the expat Indian population in Singapore, it would be a big hit," said Suryawanshi.
Added Ms Khaneja: "Just like F1 found its niche in Singapore, so could cricket. There are so many nationalities interested and an IPL which draws from players from all over would be a big hit."
Players to watch
BEN STOKES (Rising Pune Supergiant)
Much is expected of the English all-rounder as he is the most expensive (US$2.3 million) player in the tournament's history. The 25-year-old is a proven performer at the international level and is an aggressive competitor.
CHRIS LYNN (Kolkata Knight Riders)
The right-handed opener was in sterling form in the 2016-17 Big Bash League in Australia averaging 154.5. The 26-year-old Australian has already carried that form into the IPL, smashing bowlers all around the park. His policy, he says, is to belt the ball as soon as he sights it.
RASHID KHAN (Sunrisers Hyderabad)
The Afghan leg-spinner, making his debut in the IPL, is already the leading wicket-taker after the first week with five. The 18-year-old's fastish googlies are hard to decipher and he has flummoxed batsmen with his accuracy and subtle variations.
PAT CUMMINS (Delhi Daredevils)
He made an impressive return to Test cricket last month after five years in the wilderness. The 23-year-old Australian is quick and can extract steep bounce from slow Indian pitches. His ability to move the new ball will also be an asset to his side.
GLENN MAXWELL (Kings XI Punjab)
One of the most exciting T20 batsmen, he has the ability to pull off amazing shots in pressure situations. The Australian, 28, is also confident and assured and has been given the task of leading the Kings XI this season. He can also prove useful with his off-spin
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