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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

ImageSydney, April 22 (IANS) When sports fans talk of cricket during winters in a football loving nation, something has definitely made an impression - the Indian Premier League's Twenty20 extravaganza has Australians entranced.

"IPL will move cricket into the stratosphere that has already consumed football to global celebrity status," says Gilbert Arnold, who would like to describe himself as "a fan of national cricket with a passion for the excitement that India, the West Indies and Sri Lanka bring to the game and elation when England is beaten by any team!

"One certain outcome is a move from competition between national teams to brand teams with international fans," Arnold told IANS. 

In Australia, Channel 10 has signed an exclusive five-year deal to broadcast IPL matches. This has been great news for cricket fans Down Under.

"My absolute favourite is Michael Hussey and it was good to watch his smashing century. I also like West Indian Chris Gayle and everyone's favourite Sachin Tendulkar. Retired greats Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne have added another level of competition to the game," says Dominic Bowes, a keen cricketer from the Sydney Boys High School.

Bowes, 17, who stayed up with his friends Friday night to watch the billion-dollar tournament kick off, says: "It was worth keeping awake till the early hours as the IPL opening ceremony and the game were both captivating. Young cricket fans, especially young women fans, prefer the Twenty20 format."

Channel Ten is telecasting all 59 matches over 44 days from April 18 to June 1 with starting times varying from 9.30 p.m. to 1.30 a.m. (Australian Eastern Standard Time).

"Over the first weekend, the coverage of the IPL in Australia has been very popular. Sunday night's match between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Hyderabad Deccan Chargers has been the most popular match so far. An average audience of 360,000 tuned into the game. The audience peaked at 800,000," says Channel Ten's Sport Marketing and Publicity Manager Gus Seebeck.

"These are very encouraging figures given the relatively late start times for the matches in Australia. The matches featuring prominent Australian players such as Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds have rated well," Seebeck told IANS.

As "a convert to cricket via the One-Day version of the game", Karen Grega said, "Its Hollywood meets Bollywood. I see it as a new, cricket product for the time-poor that hopefully attracts a wider audience, as did the One-Day, limited over version of the game. If it converts the uninitiated and grows the market rather than decimating it, then it's got to be good for the game in today's 'instant' society.

"Only time will tell if expectations will be met. It won't replace the strategic, thinking man's version of the game that Test match cricket offers us purists," Grega added.

As the changing face of the game gains momentum, Cricket Australia has increased the number of Twenty20 internationals in the Australian summer from two to three -two against New Zealand and one against South Africa.

CA's general manager of cricket operations, Michael Brown, told the Sydney Morning Herald that a franchise system would be considered in Australia if it could help attract new fans to the game.

Brown told the newspaper: "We will look at it and consider it. The idea is to bring new customers to the game rather than those who already attend Test and One-Day matches. We have been watching the new concept with interest - the IPL has been exciting and looks like a fantastic television spectacle.

"I think someone described it as like the Olympic Games. It's fantastic for cricket - we're here in Melbourne in an incredible AFL (Australian Football League) environment, yet people are talking up cricket," Brown added.

Even as a survey of Australian players revealed that almost half would consider early retirement to maximise their earnings in India, Brown said: "The bread and butter of cricket is based around the Future Tours Program, and we need to make sure that is protected."

With players and fans from cricket loving nations giving themselves with abandon to the glitz and glory, it can only spell success for the 'Gentlemen's game'.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.

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