Politics March 5, 2008

ICL, IPL, what the hell?

However you look at it, these pantomimes are doing little more than milking the cash cow of cricket's popularity in India

Consider me a Luddite but I'm getting rather fed up with this proliferation of cricket leagues. ICL, IPL, what the hell? However you look at it, these pantomimes are doing little more than milking the cash cow of cricket's popularity in India.

At some point, probably not too dissimilar to the point in last year's World Cup when most people stopped caring less, people in India--yes even India--will stop caring less. The advertisers, promoters, sponsors, and deal fixers will have to dream up a new concept. In fact, I've stopped caring less about these tournaments already, except for a mild curiosity about the prospects of the band of Pakistani rejects, better known as the Lahore Badshahs.

We should care, of course, because other than the glaring error of a stupid greed-inspired excess of cricket, there is a sinister element to this drama that we mustn't stop complaining about.

The obscene spectacle of cricket boards dictating to players about which league they can or cannot participate in has rightly been identified as an unfair restriction of trade. Why should cricket boards order you to play in IPL but punish you for choosing ICL? Why should a cricket board ban you from playing domestic cricket in your own country or any other country if you decided to trot out for the ICL?

The Pakistan Cricket Board, for example, has developed a myopic approach that seeks to prevent its cricketers from gaining experience in any domestic tournament other than its own miserable leagues and the fatuous IPL.

The cartel created by the cricket boards is an abuse of power. The arguments used to favour IPL and restrict cricketers if they disobey are simply the demoralising gestures of arrogant bullies. But you can't expect the ICC to help cricket boards see the light since cricket's governing body has such a restrictive attitude towards its own events, right down to dictating which brand of God's own water spectators are allowed to consume.

Indeed, this preference for the "official" IPL is a complete contradiction to the league's commercial aspirations. A true market perspective would allow both leagues to compete and allow the winner to be judged by the public. Instead, we have the dismal sight of the world's cricket boards justifying, enforcing, and licking their lips over the IPL monopoly while they condemn ICL as unnecessary, threatening, and illegal.

I am a big fan of Twenty20 cricket. I greatly enjoy the spectacle of cricket in India. But not like this. World Series Cricket propelled international cricketers towards professional salaries and rightly gave them some clout. This year's two-league circus is an exercise in corporate clout and shameless money-grabbing.

It is far too easy to wax lyrical about the noble spirit of cricket but the ICL/IPL fiasco is bringing out the worst in our modern game.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here