'The IPL needs more professional governance'
On the latest edition of Time Out, Harsha Bhogle is joined by ESPNcricinfo senior editor Sharda Ugra and cricketer and analyst Aakash Chopra to review the fifth season of the IPL, discuss the league's popularity, the quality of cricket and its impact on Tests. They also spoke of the controversies that made headlines during the second half of the tournament, the questions they raise about the tournament's governance, and the ways in which the BCCI and the franchises can go about dealing with them.
Below are extracts from the discussion. The numbers in brackets are the duration of each segment.
Is cricket in the IPL getting dumbed down, and is it attracting more purists? And does Test cricket stand a chance of winning more converts via the IPL? (2.15 to 5.14)
Aakash Chopra: I won't say that, but it is a different format, which has attracted a different kind of audience. Yes, the traditionalists have also followed it. I am a purist at heart and I've followed it fervently, and loved it too. But the new follower will not stick around unless you provide something similar, at least on the excitement level. So if you want to convert the crowd that has got used to watching the IPL into a Test-watching audience, you'll have to provide exciting Test matches with a contest and a context. Otherwise, to ask someone to sit around for five days and watch a game of cricket - to people who are only used to watching a game for three hours, is going to be a little tough.
Harsha Bhogle: My own view on that is that people will continue to stay interested in Test cricket. They want to follow these names. They'll probably watch bits and pieces here and there.
Sharda Ugra: The IPL is struggling to discover what exactly it is. Are we an entertainment programme or are we a big-time serious, cricketing event?
Test matches do have their loyal audiences that stick around. Their numbers are not as massive as what the IPL is going to produce in terms of viewership and so on. But people will still tell you that if it's a last day of a Test match, India v Australia and India's chasing about 200 to win with seven wickets down, suddenly you'll see a spike in the number of people who'll watch or who'll follow. The internet and mobile following of Tests has actually been very high. I am actually wondering about what will happen to those people who watch the IPL than the other way around - how much will you keep the absolutely hardcore fan addicted to the IPL?
I didn't watch every single match of the IPL this year. I was unwell, but I could hear every match - I couldn't see, I had a problem with my eyes. And I have to say that the sound that came from the IPL was quite something.
Is Test cricket under threat due to the IPL? (5.15 to 6.46)
HB: This whole issue of Test matches v IPL - everybody seems to be caught up in this question: "What is the future of Test cricket?" The IPL is seen as this brash young kid who is destroying all that is good and fair and lovely about our game.
It's a feeling I get sometimes that Test cricket is now the Mother Teresa of cricket. You have to say at the awards ceremony that Mother Teresa is the ultimate role model, even if you just about knew that she came from Albania and went to Kolkata. Is Test cricket becoming a Mother Teresa thing where people want to say what they want to but don't actually want to follow?
SU: I've always believed that cricket will save what it wants to save. Cricket will protect what it wants to protect. I think cricket will protect Test cricket. Test cricket as viewed in Australia and in England is completely different from Test cricket as viewed in Sri Lanka, or India for that matter. The energy that comes into a crowd in India or a crowd in England is completely different. The IPL is here to stay, I don't think it's going away. David Hopps wrote on our website that the IPL will eventually devour all those who refuse to accept it. I think we have to accept it. You've got to find a window for it, or whatever it is.
I love Test cricket myself. I can listen to the commentary or follow it on the internet endlessly and I think it is worth protecting. Not a Mother Teresa, but you'd like to say it is a UNESCO world heritage site. It needs to be looked after, sort of taken care of very carefully.
The deterioration of spin (8.15 to 13.41)
HB: Overall, spinners averaged 31.35 in IPL 2012 (27.60 in 2011 and 28.80 in 2010). In 2011, there were five spinners among the top ten wicket-takers; in 2010, the top four wicket-takers were all spinners. This time, only Sunil Narine is in the top eight, and there are two spinners in the top ten. Are spinners going out of the game?
I remember doing a little interview with Erapalli Prasanna. He said spinners are not turning the ball. He said, if you have flight and deception and turn on your side, it's okay, but he didn't see spinners turning the ball. Was that a reason they were hit more easily?
AC: I heard that interview and I completely agree with him. People are not willing to flight the ball, that's the start. The arms have come lower, they are not bowling from a high-arm action anymore, just bringing the trajectory lower, bowling it flatter - so you sacrifice spin and turn off the surface.
I admit it is a little tough, with only a 15-over old ball at the most in a spinner's hands. It is not easy to turn on good, batting surfaces. But having said that, the endeavour and intention should be there to get something off the surface. Muttiah Muralitharan relies on turning the ball a lot more either way, whether it's a conventional offspinner or a doosra. Daniel Vettori tries to turn the ball. Even Narine - we've seen him turning the ball off the surface, whether it's an offspinner or a carrom ball. Unfortunately the Indians are lagging behind. Someone like Harbhajan Singh or a Pragyan Ojha - their traditional response to assault is to start firing in those yorkers.
SU: I had conversations with a couple of Ranji Trophy coaches and they said that in the last ten years or so, everyone kept saying, "India needs fast bowlers". We haven't got express bowlers other than a handful at the moment. But what has happened is that the emphasis of nurturing and having a spinner come through first-class cricket and learn his trade… to be able to hold his own with all the tricks that Prasanna was talking about - more than one coach said those numbers are dwindling. At the same time, the ability of Indian batsmen to play quality spin [could be affected], and you'll also see that in a few years' time. These worries are fairly dire.
AC: While we are always very happy to blame the IPL for everything, this deterioration of spin actually started a lot earlier. I am playing first-class cricket for the last 15 years. When I started off, spin was actually quite good. People like Venkatapathy Raju, Sunil Joshi, Ashish Kapoor, they were willing to flight the ball, they were trying to turn the ball, and they had the art of deception. But then it gradually started deteriorating, and in the last decade or so, I haven't found spinners who are trying to turn the ball. Yes, the IPL has fast-tracked that process a little bit because young spinners trying to flight the ball don't find a franchise, but I won't just blame the IPL. It's been a lot longer.
The issue of amateur governance (15.58 to 18.45)
HB: There is fair unanimity on the fact that, from a cricketing point of view, this has been the best IPL of all. Yet it seemed to make news for many other reasons. It seemed to make news for the quality of governance, it seemed to make news for the after parties, it seemed to make news for the owners getting on the cricket ground.
SU: The big issue for me is governance. They haven't looked alert when it came to governance issues rather than suspending five players after the sting operation, it still looks a bit of an amateur effort when it comes to governance. It's like governance is not taken seriously enough, it's not important enough. And because the IPL always gives numbers back to people who criticise it in any way, if you say your brand value is down by US$700 million - how it reaches there, in terms of figures, is beyond me - and one of the main issues you look weakest on is governance, then you need a response. You need them to respond in a way that is far more professional. The players turn up and play professionally, but the people who are running the IPL, it doesn't look professional at all. It just looks amateur, it just looks [like they act] in response to crises. It's like you have to stick a mike in their face for them to say something. So it's made the IPL governing council look quite amateur.
HB: I ran into Mr Deepak Parekh [Chairman of HDFC, a leading housing finance company] the other day. It struck me that when there was a problem with Satyam in India, the first name they put up to fix the governance issue was Deepak Parekh. I just wonder if you need people from outside of sport, people who have worked in industries with very strong corporate governance norms. I wonder if people like that should be told, "You love cricket, do this much for the game you love. But set up very strong governance issues that the IPL governing council only has to monitor, not set up itself."
A league of haves and have-nots, and lack of transparency about salary caps (18.46 to 25)
HB: The idea - of putting all domestic players in the auction - is absolutely right. Why should overseas domestic players come here and earn much more than Indian domestic players? But do you think, doing it now would help the richer clubs even more? If you look at Chennai Super Kings, they only need to buy back a Shadab Jakati and they can pay what price they want. Mumbai Indians only need to buy back Ambati Rayudu and can pay what price they want. I know there are the Abu Nechims and the others who didn't get a lot of games. But the teams that could lose out are the Rajasthan Royals, who work with an Ashok Menaria or a Siddharth Trivedi, or Kings XI who work with a Mandeep Singh or a Gurkeerat Singh or a Parvinder Awana. Would you then reach a stage when the other teams start searching for talent which is then quickly bought off by the larger teams?
AC: That could be a situation because of a paucity of good Indian talent. There are only a handful of Indian players who've done well in the last four or five seasons and hence are obviously the most sought after. Yes, it could be an issue, but having said that, you still need a squad of 30. You need about 20 Indian cricketers, out of which there are at least ten uncapped players. If you're going to invest everything to get Rayudu or Manvinder Bisla, where are you going to get your other players from? I think there should be a self-correction measure somewhere, where the richer teams don't just run away from the pack.
SU: The original idea of putting everyone into the auction pool - as planned in the IPL blueprint - was to try and make it even, so it wouldn't turn into a Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid kind of situation. But on the other side, people say you need to keep players in this because you need to have fan loyalty etc.
With the IPL, everyone keeps going back to European football. I wouldn't actually compare it to European football as much as to where its idea originates from, which is franchise-based American sport. There they have this draft system where the weakest team gets to pick first.
You obviously know there is something that's not working in the IPL. It's a bit lop-sided and has to be fixed. [It is worth] working through and finding out if a draft system is possible. It's not like you've got 35 teams; it's eight to nine teams. The NFL has a draft which is watched, is a big television event and so on. Maybe this is a way ahead.
Is player-loaning feasible? (25.01 to 27.37)
Who should control the players? The BCCI v franchises debate (27.40 to 29.02)
SU: In a perfect world, you'd say every single player owns his own conscience. In this particular environment, the franchise has to actually keep watch and see what's going on. You keep getting all these random rumours - "Oh, this is fixed and that is fixed" - but you do need an anti-corruption code. There was going to be a mentorship programme to initiate domestic players, particularly, coming into the IPL about how to handle all the money, how to handle all the fame. The IPL governing council said it'd do it and it hasn't. So maybe it's down to the franchises.
Cricketainment (31.13 to 31.57)
AC: When we talk about governance and transparency and the way the IPL has been projected, for a very long time we're projecting and marketing it as entertainment merged into cricket event. But then for the business of entertainment, every controversy is a boon; for the game of cricket, it is detrimental.
HB: You see when a film is about to be released, you create a controversy because all news, good or bad, especially bad, is good. Cricket can do without that. Cricket's got enough entertainment on its own. I cringe sometimes when I see people supposedly from the entertainment sector desperately latching on to the IPL to get eyeballs. The IPL doesn't need them, they need the IPL.
Numbers Game (32.30 to 35.38)
Question: Which batsman scored the most runs against spinners this IPL?