Kapil Dev has called the 51 Indian players who have joined the ICL the cream of Indian cricket. He has also described them as courageous. Some might call them practical and clever instead; opportunistic even. A few of them have been tried and discarded at the national level, and none is close to national selection. By the time this season ends, 22 of them will be over 27, an age after which very few make it to the Indian national side.
About 20 of these players represent their state sides regularly. Others do not feature regularly even in their club sides. A few haven't even played in the BCCI's age-group tournaments. Some are young, have served their states with distinction, and have perhaps made the most important move of their careers, knowing they might not ever be considered for selection for India.
None of the names excites any more than it did when they played out the BCCI's Twenty20 tournament in front of empty stands last season. In all likelihood they have been picked by the ICL to ensure there are enough players to make possible games of cricket - games that will feature them alongside a handful of international stars, all either retired or disgruntled with their respective boards.
Only a handful of these Indian youngsters can claim to be part of the cream of their state teams, let alone Indian cricket. JP Yadav is one such. Shalabh Srivastava, Deep Dasgupta, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Ambati Rayudu, Reetinder Sodhi, Yashpal Singh and Anirudh Singh will also be difficult to replace in their Ranji sides. Yashpal and Srivastava are the youngest among the lot, at 25. In the company of similarly talented players they played fairly competitive, if not crowd-pulling, cricket till now.
Going by what has happened and assuming that the ICL manages to draw in about 18 big names, a standard ICL team will comprise three international has-beens, two domestic has-beens, and six domestic never-weres. Not the most thrilling prospect, especially in India, where last season a Ranji final featuring Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Wasim Jaffer, and Sourav Ganguly could not draw crowds. And will Brian Lara or Inzamam-ul-Haq be able to motivate themselves enough to face the likes of T Kumaran?
The ICL currently doesn't have enough manpower for six ordinary teams, let alone six good ones. They are still about 35 players short if they are looking at 15 per side. They had better be prepared to skim through the buttermilk now that they have taken what cream they could. The grounds, the umpires, the support staff, and many of the other requirements for good cricket have still not been procured - else they would surely have been paraded at the press conference where the player signings were announced.
That said, the BCCI can hardly afford to scoff at the ICL's selections. The board has lost about 10 per cent of the players who played in the Ranji Trophy last year. For the BCCI, how much the ICL will gain from these players is not as significant as how much the BCCI will lose without them.
Bengal, runners-up for the last two years, have lost Dasgupta, Shukla, and Abhishek Junjhunwala - their captain, an established No. 6, and a promising No. 3, with a total of 1099 runs and 30 wicketkeeping dismissals between them last season. Bengal have also lost Subhomoy Das, Shibsagar Singh, and Subhojit Paul, who has regularly been a part of their XV.
Of the eight players Hyderabad have lost, four played in all the Ranji matches last season. Each of the others played at least three games each. Young medium-pacer Alfred Absolem took 24 wickets at 12.75 in the three matches he got, and looked a player to watch out for in the coming seasons. Hyderabad will have to conceive an altogether new team, captain included.
Then there are teams like Tamil Nadu who have been hit only marginally. Of the 20 players who represented them last season, two have left. Of those two, R Sathish was a regular, and DT Kumaran played only one match.
Punjab have lost big names, Sodhi and Mongia, but those two played only three matches each last year, scoring 92 runs between them. Ishan Malhatra, the medium-pacer, played four matches last season, taking 10 wickets. Rajesh Sharma's action is under the scanner, and Muneesh Sharma, Sumit Kalia and Sarabjit Singh have hardly been regulars.
Railways' loss is more significant. JP Yadav may have had his 15 months of international fame, but he was still his team's single most important player. The season they won the Ranji Trophy, he was the second-highest run-scorer and wicket-taker in the tournament, with 379 runs and 27 wickets. Last season, with his team down, Yadav bowled 250.4 overs (about a quarter of the total number bowled by Railways) and scored 325 runs. He may not be a star attraction, or a future India prospect, but even at 33 he is irreplaceable for Railways. Similarly Services' Yashpal Singh was among the best performers last season, with 835 first-class runs in eight matches.
There are already many reasons for not bothering to visit a ground to watch a Ranji match; a few more have just been added. The ICL's recruits may be a motley bag, but their loss to Indian domestic cricket will be a sizeable one. And surely more players will be on the ICL's radar.
When the ICL was first announced, there was a certain optimism attached to it. The vision one had was that of the real cream of Indian cricket playing in a highly competitive league. Now, though, with the ICL running in parallel to, and not complementary with, the BCCI's tournaments, we're in for the unappetising prospect of two sub-standard leagues that have been created out of one.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine