This edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is turning out to be the most engrossing one, with all but one of the nine teams in fray for a top-four finish at the halfway mark and resultantly in with a chance to be in the play-offs. That decisively trashes the report suggesting the tournament's TV ratings have hit a new low.
Right from its inception, Twenty20 cricket has been a hit among the fans, with its unpredictable nature pulling spectators to the stadiums. Then the IPL came, an amalgamation of cricket and entertainment conceptualised to make the sport popular, and took the world by storm.
The franchise-based league went from strength to strength in its first three seasons before the club versus country debate came to hurt its fourth edition, which began less than a week after India's World Cup triumph. And while the debate was still on, the league moved on, fresh players' auction was held and the fifth season began. But honestly, the fans hid their loyalty like cards close to chest until IPL 5 threw up some cliffhangers.
Counting in the Delhi Daredevils' last-ball victory over Rajasthan Royals on Sunday night, 16 of the 40 IPL matches so far have been decided in the last over, with seven of them being last-ball finishes. That firmly brought the loyalty of the team fans, player fans and the neutrals back into the IPL and has certainly breathed new life into the tournament.
The effect of such close encounters has made teams change positions in the points table like race horses. Barring Delhi, who are run-away leaders at the league's halfway mark, and Deccan Chargers, who are turning out be this edition's punching bag, Kolkata Knight Riders with 11 points, Mumbai Indians with 10, Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore with 9 and Rajasthan, Pune Warriors India and Kings XI Punjab with 8 are involved in an elbow fight in the middle of the leaderboard.
The little difference between the teams becomes all the more evident when we take a look at the five top run-getters so far, who belong to different teams and have exchanged the 'Orange Cap' like a baton in a relay race. The Cap currently sits on top of Rajasthan's Rahane (416 runs), closely followed by Delhi skipper Virender Sehwag (372), Bangalore's Chris Gayle (336), Chennai's Faf du Plessis (331) and Kolkata captain Gautam Gambhir (302).
And this is how frequently the Cap has changed heads: Rahane (April 6), du Plessis (April 14), Rahane (April 15), Gayle (April 28), Sehwag (April 29) and Rahane (April 29).
Apart from that mad run-scoring rate, the indifferent form of the big guns of past four seasons - Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai - has given others a chance to compete, which augurs well for the league in particular and cricket in general.
But with still a lot left to play for, the points table is liable to change, making impossible to pin-point the top contenders of this season. And it won't be wrong to admit that the real game begins now.