The Indian Premier League is, ostensibly, about city loyalties, about getting crowds in first eight, then ten and now nine cities rooting for their boys and their team.
But maybe I wasn't paying attention, where are the city boys in the teams?
Nine teams. Nine captains. None of them from the corresponding city. Five of them are not even from the corresponding country. Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara, Adam Gilchrist, Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews are leading five of the teams, and the rest have Gautam Gambhir (Kolkata), Virat Kohli (Bangalore), MS Dhoni (Chennai) and Rahul Dravid (Rajasthan/Jaipur) - no connection with their cities whatsoever.
In fact, like we saw in Dravid's case over the weekend, it's when these boys go 'home' to try and beat the 'home' team that the excitement really picks up.
Unsurprisingly, all teams have a bunch of players - youngsters, promising or otherwise - from the region they are named after, but hardly a few of them actually get a hit, and if they do, it's not for more than a couple of matches in a row. Usually, you'll find one or two locals in the playing XIs, not more. Offhand, I'd say Chennai scores best on this count with Murali Vijay, S Badrinath and R Ashwin featuring regularly, year after year. In their last game (against Chennai), Kolkata had Manoj Tiwary, Debabrata Das and Laxmi Ratan Shukla - three local players. It's quite a rarity.
This was bound to happen, though.
Those of us who grew up in Calcutta remember the surprise, and concern, in the 1970s and 1980s over non-Muslim players playing for Mohammedan Sporting and, much more crucially, boys from East Bengal turning out for Mohun Bagan and vice versa. And then it got curiouser - players from Iran and Nigeria were turning out in our colours.
The legend is that East Bengal v Mohun Bagan derbies bring the city to a standstill. Not so anymore. Not so at all. Yes, there are the diehards that still throng the grounds, but from the 1980s onwards, things haven't been upbeat enough.
I know it's ridiculous to expect club-based team events to stick to such archaic concepts as national or regional loyalties, especially when things start getting serious and the stakes become bigger. And far be from me the claim that nationalism or regionalism is a virtue. You want the best team you can put together - money-wise and logistics-wise - and if that means putting eleven overseas players on the field, so be it.
In February 1999, Aston Villa put out a playing XI made up entirely of Englishmen - not necessarily boys from Birmingham - on the field against Coventry City. That was, strictly speaking, the last all-English Premiership XI, leaving out Middlesbrough's 2006 XI against Fulham, which had one Scotsman. But all that is just info for quizzers. Chelsea is far more representative of the trend. It decided back in December 1999 to field eleven foreigners against Southampton. Arsenal in 2006 even named a 16 without a single Englishman.
But despite that, it's not like the matter doesn't exercise English football authorities or observers. Even today, Premier League teams are required to have at least eight homegrown players in their squad of 25 even if, because of commercial reasons, there is no longer a cap on the number of foreign players on the field. It's just a rule - and means little in real terms - but it symbolises the simmering dissent among many (traditionalists mostly) who feel that the essence and the culture of their clubs have been lost.
To return to the IPL now, the question of city-based loyalties, city-based fan clubs and such issues are important to my mind. Why, you might ask: the grounds are looking full and the broadcasters don't seem to mind.
It matters because there is one key difference between the Premier League - or indeed other big sporting leagues around the world - and the IPL: those leagues were created by bringing together clubs that already existed. The IPL had to create the clubs that would be a part of it.
Whatever the IPL organisers might say or feel, the loyalty they initially achieved by roping in icon players has dissipated. There is a need for new vigour, and adding genuine regional flavour might be one way to do this. The concept of icon players may or may not be revived - that depends on the availability of at least one big player from the team cities to start with, which might not be the case - but I don't think it's possible that teams can continue to enjoy their fan bases if some city element is not introduced. An essence. A semblance of a culture that distinguishes one team/club from another.
Alternately, the IPL ought to rethink its rule of allowing only four overseas players to be on the field and let the teams field their best available XIs. The teams could then go the way of Chelsea or Arsenal: pick the very best they can afford. It would, I imagine, raise the bar of the league as a whole.
Who knows, perhaps six more years down the line, the IPL will continue to be a success just as it is. That would be a vindication of the BCCI's strategy and thinking. But my sense is that a club-based league's success is iffy if the clubs are indistinguishable from each other. How exactly are its teams to create and sustain distinctive fan bases?