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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.
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.
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Mukul Kesavan teaches social history for a living and writes fiction when he can - he is the author of a novel, Looking Through Glass. He's keen on the game but in a non-playing way. With a top score of 14 in neighbourhood cricket and a lively distaste for fast bowling, his credentials for writing about the game are founded on a spectatorial axiom: distance brings perspective. Kesavan's book of cricket - Men in Whitewas published in 2007.