Indian Premier League March 5, 2008

Why should the IPL be globally managed?

Counties don't compensate national boards for the services of players they have nurtured and trained

Some six years ago I wrote an article speculating about a world in which domestic cricket in India would be organised around commercial franchises and clubs on the football model, not the territorial principle on which the Ranji Trophy is based. With the IPL, this has (sort of) come to pass. I can't lay claim to prescience because I was dreaming of franchised first-class cricket, not a Twenty20 league.

I've no idea whether the IPL will work in the long term or not and I'm as surprised as anyone at the money that's been bid for the players. But it seems like an interesting experiment that might create a following for the game at a sub-national level. I'd like Twenty20 cricket to mutate into a four-innings format, like Test cricket in miniature. It's an idea that Chris Cairns once mentioned in a discussion in a television studio. It's a feasible format because even with each side batting twice, the 80 overs would take less time to bowl than the 100 overs of one-day cricket. The sports channels would love it (more time to flash commercials in) and the limited-overs game would be invested with some of the magic of Test cricket: the thrill of another chance, the prospect of the stirring fight back, the shot at a second-innings redemption.

I can see the reasons why people are anxious about the IPL: the fact that it’ll clog up an already crowded calendar, the fear that wads of easy money might devalue Test cricket and the possible disruption of domestic cricket seasons elsewhere in the world. Also, as a middle-aged fan, I wouldn’t trust Lalit Modi and Sharad Pawar as far as I could throw an elephant when it comes to protecting the long game which, for me, defines cricket.

What I can't understand is the chorus of voices - represented on Cricinfo by Ian Chappell and David Lloyd in discussion with Sanjay Manjrekar - asking that the BCCI ought to cut other cricket boards into the money (or that the ICC ought to collect an IPL cess and distribute it among other boards) and, even more bizarrely, that the IPL ought to be jointly managed by representatives of the cricket world's national boards.

County cricket in England is staffed by professional players from England and the rest of the world. Individual overseas players are paid for their services. I've never read or heard people arguing that the West Indies cricket board ought to be compensated by the ECB for lending it the services of players that the WICB has nurtured and developed. Individual players have historically arrived at contracts and understandings with their county managements that allow them to balance the responsibility of playing for their countries with the need to make as good a living as possible. Coming to Lloyd's point that the IPL would be seriously disruptive, it's worth pointing out that the county season lasts considerably longer than the proposed duration of the IPL, which is meant to last for all of two months.

Chappell and Lloyd press for the IPL to be 'globally' managed because that way it wouldn't be the BCCI going off on a tangent and selfishly disrupting world cricket. This is more than a bit rich coming from Chappell, who was once part of World Series Cricket, a circus dreamt up by a thwarted television magnate with the quite deliberate intention of holding every Test-playing nation to ransom. Given that he and his team-mates were enthusiastic participants for the duration of the WSC adventure, I'm surprised to hear him being sanctimonious about the BCCI not having the best interests of cricket at heart. I don't recall Packer asking the world's cricket boards if he could subsidise them for the trouble they had taken to raise the players he was buying for his pirate league. The BCCI, like the WSC, is run by a businessman who sees cricket as a cash cow. I can't see why it's bad for a properly constituted national board to organise a credibly franchised cricket league when it's okay for a solitary TV moghul to set up a circus wholly owned by one person. Lloyd and Chappell are having some difficulty coming to terms with the fact that this little circus isn't owned the ECB or Cricket Australia. I sympathise; it isn't easy to like or trust the BCCI. But then lots of crusty administrators and journalists didn't like Packer and much good came of WSC. Something similar might happen here.

The worst that could happen is that no one turns up to watch the games, the television ratings don't draw the eyeballs necessary to sustain the league, and the whole thing collapses. Who cares? The franchise owners don't need our sympathy and at least there'd be a bunch of players with their retirements taken care of. At best it could create a commercially viable tier of competitive cricket and, as Chappell suggests, new hybrid formats for the future of the game. I'll tell you what won't happen, though: having supplied the venues, the audiences, the franchise owners and the structure, the BCCI isn't about to hand the IPL over to the United Nations to run. I don't think Chappell advised Packer to share the goodness then; I'm not sure why he's asking the BCCI to do it now.

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in New Delhi

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