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Karnataka was the first to do it; a year later, Maharashtra followed suit. Soon more states will have their own Premier Leagues based on the IPL model, albeit a lot smaller. These leagues have a lot to offer, both to the IPL franchisees and the players involved.
First the IPL teams
So far the IPL teams have been picking players on the basis of their performances in the domestic season. Since very little T20 cricket is played in a year, the selection was seldom based on their showing in this format. Hence, they had to rely on feedback from their scouts or senior cricketers. But now these leagues are giving the franchisees an opportunity to watch little known players in competitive match situations. These leagues are also bound to unearth a few T20 specialists.
It is a given that not everyone who plays cricket will play for India. And that's where the IPL has raised the hopes of a lot of aspiring cricketers. Unlike the 15 places for India, there are over 100 places up for grabs in the IPL. These leagues are giving a lot of lesser known, yet talented players, an opportunity to showcase their skill and of course make some money. I know a lot of good players, who've unfortunately not had a chance to play first class cricket, but get paid Rs. 500 per match to play in the local circuit. Since they are not employed, these matches are their only source of income along with their share of the prize money i.e. if their team wins the tournament. They resort to coaching in different academies for a paltry amount when local cricket is not happening. These players would definitely stand to gain a lot from these leagues.
But there's always a flip side to such stories. While on the one hand, these leagues are giving youngsters a platform to perform and impress, on the other hand there's always a risk of 14-15 year olds getting too carried away with T20 cricket. I admit that T20 is here to stay and eventually every player will have to play in this format, but I'd rather have youngsters learn the basics before embarking on this journey. In my opinion T20 cricket should be out of bounds for Under-16 kids. Till the age of 16, let them play longer formats which would help them develop proper technique and temperament.
I know it's like saying McDonalds, because junk food is bad for health, should be banned for kids. But there's a fundamental difference between McDonalds and cricket. McDonalds is selling its product, and if they succeed in it, good for them.
But cricket is not a commodity. The aim should be to develop the game and build quality players. My concern isn't only limited to domestic premier leagues. Most age groups and school tournaments are also turning into T20 games in the capital and these are worrying signs. The kid who plays two consecutive dot balls gets sworn at by his peers and coaches alike. This training at the grass-root level is all set to ruin the basic foundation of these cricketers.
One might argue that having an age-limit would not allow the next Sachin Tendulkar to come to the fore. My answer to that would be that not playing in one format wouldn't hurt his growth as a player and also someone as talented as him would not take time to adapt. We might lose a year in the bargain but if that saves thousands of cricketers, it's worth the loss.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.