April 4, 2012

IPL 2012

Is the IPL sending Indian cricket the way of English football?

Nikita Bastian
Ambati Rayudu was bowled by Ishant Sharma for 2, Mumbai Indians v Deccan Chargers, IPL 2011, Mumbai, May 14, 2011
There is very little motivation for players to improve their game when being just good enough to make the cut guarantees them a spot on the gravy train  © Associated Press
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By Rahul Oak, USA

In 1992-93, a very significant event occurred in England that changed the way football is viewed the world over, and set off a chain of events that would trigger a butterfly effect in a different sport far east of the British Isles many years later. That was the year the Premiership (as it was then named) was born, breaking away from the Football League and forming a kind of competition where lucrative television deals led to mind-numbing paydays for everyone involved.

Despite Lalit Modi's claims of having come up with the concept of the unimaginatively named Indian Premier League (IPL) in a midsummer night's epiphany, it doesn't require an excessive amount of deductive skills to point to where it all originated. Apart from the name and the franchise-based concept, there can be a lot of parallels drawn between these leagues in terms of the way they have affected the nature of their respective sports, as well as the makeup and quality of the national teams.

First and foremost is the obvious question of life-changing, and in some cases absolutely ridiculous, sums of money. Due to the limited supply of good home-grown talent, average players tend to make astronomical fortunes, resulting in gross over-valuations for a few players. As talented as Michael Carrick might be, he has his fair amount of critics who claim (in some cases, rightly so) that his performances for Manchester United and England haven't ever justified his price tag, or the hype that surrounds him.

Compare that with the recent million dollar bids for the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Vijay Kumar, who have consistently been found short at international level. It has also led to the general reputation of these sportsmen being spoilt or over-glorified.

From a dispassionate neutral standpoint, there will probably be no English footballer who would make it into a World XI at the moment. Ditto Indian cricketers and a current World Test XI. PR sound bites aside, there is very little motivation for these players to improve their game when being just good enough to make the cut guarantees them a spot on the gravy train.

Second and probably more importantly is the question of what defines quality. The great Alfredo Di Stefano's Madrid team of the 50s, the Pele-inspired Santos and Brazil of the 60s, Johan Cruyff's Ajax, Barcelona and Dutch teams of the 70s and Lionel Messi's current Barcelona outfit are the flag bearers for excellence in football teams. Most of these teams were built on excellent dribbling, skill and, in the case of the Barcelona sides, quick and short passing in tight spaces.

English football has always been associated with the big hoof upfield from within your own half and power, and the ability to shake defenders off the ball has generally won over the vision to pass that final ball. Only Paul Scholes comes to mind as someone who might fit into the tiki taka approach that the Spanish used ever so well in 2010, en route to winning their first ever World Cup. In other words, the Premier League has propagated and, in many cases, encouraged the power over skill stereotype, and the quality of the average Premier League game is routinely lower than the average game of the Premier championship in Spain, the La Liga.

However, the marketing engine in England is constantly whirring to produce a chest thumping self-endorsement as the best football league in the world. The sad part is that this is only true in terms of financial clout. The sadder part is that most people (including the players) believe this. Similarly, the current crop of Indian cricketers have been raised on a diet of flat pitches, heavy bats, tiny boundaries and conditions in which the bowlers have been taken out of the equation completely. The Indian version of the long ball – being able to hit the ball as far as possible – has led to some success in the shorter formats of the game in the subcontinent, most notably the ODI World Cup win of 2011, but by and large the younger generation of cricketers have fared miserably in more testing conditions. India’s last two tours to England and Australia have been a rude reality check that the long ball approach is unlikely to work outside the subcontinent. Bowlers have become more and more defensive, with seamers happy to bowl containing wicket-to-wicket lines at modest pace, and spinners getting flat and unwilling to be creative.

It's a good time to reflect on this quote by Larry Kersten: "Mediocrity – it takes a lot less time and most people won't notice the difference until it's too late." The last time England could genuinely claim footballing greatness on the world stage was after the 1966 World Cup win that immortalised Sir Bobby Charlton and Alf Ramsey in English footballing folklore. However, the quality of the performances by the team have since then dipped to such lows that not even the most die-hard optimist would bet on England winning a World or even a Euro title in the near future.

Some would point to the World Cup medals that the Indian team won in 2011 (after the advent of the IPL), but it needs reminding that the Test team has never won a series in South Africa or Australia, and recent performances in conditions where the ball travels to the keeper at eye-level don't inspire a lot of confidence even in the shorter formats. To be able to overcome these challenges will certainly not be easy. It will require a lot of introspection, navel-gazing and first and foremost an acceptance of the fact that something is broken and needs fixing.

Winning a couple of international friendlies for England, or India winning a bilateral ODI series against Sri Lanka in subcontinent conditions (which can't be too far away) should not cover up everything that is wrong with the sport. The hurt should not be forgotten. The tough road back to the top may take many years, a lot of discipline and an overall change in culture and ethos. And that, unfortunately, is something that no amount of money can buy.

Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Rocky on (April 29, 2012, 7:57 GMT)

I dont think so........IPL is grt......Coz we won WC last year......After that our player failed 2 perform......So no guilty on IPL

Posted by venkatt on (April 16, 2012, 13:34 GMT)

The tough road back to the top. Why? We will win our Test matches at home for the next two years on turning pitches and everything will be fine with our Test cricket.That will be enough for Srinivasan & co. to proclaim "ALL IZ WELL"

Posted by shirish oak on (April 11, 2012, 11:14 GMT)

Very well written atricle,with good analysis.

Posted by Akash Mehra, Delhi/London on (April 8, 2012, 4:47 GMT)

"Mediocrity – it takes a lot less time and most people won't notice the difference until it's too late." - applies perfectly to this article. It is obvious that the writer is a football noob and understands absolutely nothing of the game. The "wisdom" that is being sought to be disseminated in this article is laughably out of place and even presumptuous. The writer starts out by assuming that English football is of poorer quality, and what justification does he give for this "fact"? Well, because he seems to have watched a few Liga BBva games recently, read a few articles on the web and concluded with a lot of pomp that a certain style of playing football (Cryuff, Barcelona, blah blah) is excellent and the rest are not! To make sweeping generalizations about footballing styles, which is as subjective a subject as the choice between the best light beer shows that the writer doesn't think too much before writing. Utter trash! Stick to cricket man!

Posted by Sanket on (April 7, 2012, 14:38 GMT)

Bad article,

Except for the words "premier" and "league", there is no similarity between IPL and EPL.

Unlike IPL, there is no quota for English players in EPL.Similarly, as Asad pointed out, the structure of IPL is much more related to NFL.

India's defeats in overseas tests have been very bad in the last one year. But I don't see any obvious correlation with IPL, which has been running for 4 years. IPL does not benefit Indian cricket but cannot harm it much.

And, if India plays against Australia, England, or South Africa in India, I do not expect the Indian team to win. Sri Lanka, a much better Test team (they won one match against South Africa in South Africa)lost to Australia in Sri Lanka and could only draw with England.

Posted by ashley_80 on (April 6, 2012, 11:37 GMT)

The point about greater financial reward is relevant however. Will the next generation of international players be highly motivated to become successful Test Match players when the money on offer in the IPL is so much more substantial that what they receive for international fixtures?

Most current cricketers, Tendulkar inc, have acknowledged Test cricket as the ultimate form of the game, one that examines your capabilities in a way that the shorter formats cannot, but given the generally poor attendances for Test match cricket in sub-continent grounds one can't but fear that the sometimes pernicious influence of 20-20 on the soul of cricket will continue to grow.

Posted by ashley_80 on (April 6, 2012, 11:29 GMT)

Unfortunately the author displays a very poor grasp of football knowledge, the EPL certainly knows how to hype itself to occasionally overblown proportions but English teams have a generally excellent Champions league record in recent years, and the ‘power over skill’ stereotype is laughable, Manchester Untied and Arsenal being two famous purveyors of free-flowing, short-passing attacking football.

The writer misses the main point when arguing about the influence of the EPL in relation to the success of the English national team which has centred on the lack of opportunities for homegrown players (Arsenal famously fielded a side that contained not a single British player a few seasons ago) rather than the style of play itself which, by common consent, has improved markedly since the First Division pre-EPL days.

Posted by shubham on (April 6, 2012, 9:48 GMT)

almost every thing i wanted to say, true to the very core. anybody who has knowledge of football would agree, and the argument of entertainment is not a argument at all, it is a debate for mature viewers. no problem with ipl, just don't ignore the true and beautiful aspects of game for vulgar, outer looks.

Posted by Let's not go overboard here... on (April 6, 2012, 9:21 GMT)

Well...I very much agree with the discourse on the Indian team, the game bred by IPL and 20/20 has led to a marginalisation of skill, and the propagation of power, however I must disagree with the conclusions vis a vis, the difference between the EPL and La Liga. Real Madrid, and Barcelona may be better than all of the English Premier League sides, but saying that the average match in La Liga has got more quality than the average match of EPL? That's a complete fallacy. La Liga has 2 quality matches each year, that's the clasico, EPL has used to have 16, now probably more like 36. That's a lot more than La Liga, unless you would like to debate the merits of Liverpool v Everton against Rayo Vellacono vs Osasuna.

Posted by Rahul Oak on (April 6, 2012, 8:06 GMT)

Thanks for the comments everyone. I think a few clarifications are in order: 1. I'm a very passionate Indian cricket fan and don't mean to undermine the World Cup victory at all. However that is no excuse for India not having won a Test series in Aus or SA. Neither should we care about England's recent away slump since they are mutually exclusive events. 2. About the La Liga: I agree that It's a two horse race, and that should change, but in terms of technical quality the league is superior. Watch Sociedad or another mid tier team play and you'll notice that its more about buildup and possession than getting hopeful balls in the box. Also of the 8 teams left in Europe, 5 are Spanish. Spain is also all set to surpass England's UEFA coefficient. 3. I don't think the IPL is solely responsible for the team's losses abroad, but it is creating a generation of cricketers for whom winning a series in Aus may not matter and that's worrying.

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