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Many cricket fans of the 2000s would agree Simon Taufel was the best umpire of the era. The spry and wise Australian, who was only 29 when he umpired his first Test match, developed reliability and consistency based in his constant pursuit of high standards. Umpires are so often the authority that forces a batter or bowler to grin and accept a decision, but Taufel -- who is now the ICC's umpire performance and training manager -- reckons umpires can offer players more than they might think.
The Indian Premier League is as much about what happens off the field as what transpires on it. And while an IPL opening ceremony is usually a reliable indicator of glitz, glamour, and excess, IPL 2014 began in comparatively tame fashion with a gala dinner in Abu Dhabi. Being the IPL, though, it wasn't without a slice of weirdness.
In 2012, American pop star Katy Perry closed a ceremony that also featured a poetry reading by Indian film legend Amitabh Bachchan and a series of dance performances by Bollywood heartthrob Salman Khan. 2013 saw US rapper Pitbull appear, as well as Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, and Deepika Padukone. These were large outdoor arena tamashas, with scores of dancers and major multimedia components, and the public were invited (as long as they could afford the ₹1500 ticket price).
Compared to all that, the 2014 edition was pretty low-key -- apparently a conscious decision by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) after a glut of recent controversies. Shah Rukh was there, again, but most of the rest of the entertainment at the small(ish) gala dinner was provided by the same cricketers that will provide the on-field drama throughout the tournament.
Before you start thinking there was nothing bizarre or over the top about the IPL 2014 opening ceremony, though, take a look at this photo of MS Dhoni and Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen is attempting to dance while wearing a lungi, a belt, and a trilby over casual evening wear, while Dhoni sitting on a chair with his wrists tied and grinning amiably.
Your guess is as good as mine. I suppose the suggestion is that we can expect the unexpected this IPL.
You can ciew more photos from the IPL 2014 gala dinner opening here. In the meantime, Kolkata Knight Riders thrashed defending champions Mumbai Indians in the opening match, with Jacques Kallis -- who I picked as a player to watch this year -- standing out.
Indian Premier League 2014, the seventh edition of the world's flashiest cricketing extravaganza, begins in the United Arab Emirates tonight. Whether you like the IPL and Twenty20 cricket or not, it's time to take a deep breath, because you won't be able to escape it until early June.
The IPL saga has gone through a lot of twists and turns since it started in 2008 with this stupendous Brendon McCullum innings, and the madness on the field has been rivalled by the ups and downs off it. Teams like Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Pune Warriors India have come and gone amid financial strife, while past winners Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals have been rocked by corruption scandals in the past year. What could IPL 2014 hold in store?
Gee, it's tough coming up with players to watch in the 2014 Indian Premier League. It isn't hard to pick out quality players, of course -- the IPL is stacked with much of the world's best cricketing talent. The problem is, where do you stop?
In my article IPL 2014: The Squads, and Players to Watch, I limited myself to one standout player per team. Perhaps this was a mistake. It took hours to settle on the eight players I think will be most worth keeping an eye through IPL 2014, and I had to cast aside countless names I wanted to include.