IPL 2014 April 15, 2014

Drowned out by the hype machine

A lot has gone wrong with the IPL but as its seventh season begins, the league will brush everything aside and cheer like nothing is amiss

Drat. It's that time of year again, when us bad-news brigade types step forward to perform our dual roles of being both eyesore and light bulb. Pitted against the IPL's One Direction-inspired, high-volume hype machine, they don't make for much of a performance. Nor have any more impact than a mobile ringing at a Metallica concert.

Regardless, we do what we have to. Every time. Like those flight-safety demonstrations, so that in case of turbulence seatbelts are fastened and the location of airsickness bags is known. The last 11 months - between the tailend of the 2013 season and this one - have been turbulent enough to turn innards to water.

The hype machine, however, remains poised and perky in a stratosphere of detachment, continuing to whirl around the axis of its central argument: the cricket remains great, the crowds turn up, and there's enough ka-ching to keep everyone happy. The machine rumbles: stop being party poopers, dudes, get a life, and learn to have some fun. As Quiet Riot would say, come on, feel the noise.

It is usually enough to shout down every dissenting voice but IPL2014 follows a nightmare year for the governors of cricket's richest league. The shenanigans of season six - spot-fixing, betting, arrests - have made previous dramas like the Lalit Modi ouster of 2010, frequent franchise wrangles and player-centric scandals look like kindergarden skits.

As the new season arrives with its usual giddy grins and clashing cymbals, it contains an dark undertow of what has gone by and what truths may still lie concealed. Opening night will take place hours after India's Supreme Court conducts another hearing on how the league's administrators handled - or mishandled - its biggest scandal. Over the course of the last 11 months, what has gone under is the idea of the League's integrity and its credibility as an event which, along with its popularity, also happens both clean and plays by the rules.

The league now has a court-appointed head in the form of insider-and-outsider Sunil Gavaskar, whose one telling move was to rope in a respected name from corporate India as his advisor and troubleshooter. The introduction of Deepak Parekh's name itself appears to be a first attempt to regain credibility.

It does not help, though, when India and Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni replies to the question "How will you ensure a clean game of IPL this year?" by saying, "We'll try the laundry, that's good, will keep us clean." A funny line, but as his only one on the corruption scandal, it is a bit too glib. It is as if there is a deep disconnect amongst the high rollers of Indian cricket between the reality of what has transpired - arrests, prison, Supreme Court investigations, the use of the word 'nauseating' around Indian cricket - and the distraction of the Big Noise and the big pay cheque that comes with it.

As the new season arrives with its gilt and clashing cymbals, there is also the spectre of what has passed and of what truths may still lie concealed

To hear Chennai coach Stephen Fleming say, "There's a lot going on, I won't lie. There are a lot of distractions", was relief of sorts. To be fair, there are many, there are many people who are uneasy about what has gone on but have neither authority or control and are tangled up in the grip of the League's riches. "Officially, we're in front of the camera, talking up the event," said one such. "At the back of our minds we're thinking, so much has happened, a case is in court, this needs to be sorted out."

The majority of IPL franchises will not admit it in public, but in private they talk about selling inventory at lower rates. Some have struggled to seal shirt sponsorships. All prospective clients, they say, "want more out of less". Some advertisers on television held out as long as they could to try and grab the lowest rates. The compensation to franchises for playing 20 matches out of 60 outside India has not been formally revealed. While there are official announcements about the rush of ticket-buyers and sponsors, the IPL's website shows a title sponsor and three partners. One of those partners happens to be the BCCI's media-rights holder for all other cricket played in India. When the league began, along with the title sponsor, there were spots for between four and six associate sponsors/official partners.

In the light of the corruption scandal, moving the event to Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi is so rich in irony that every expression of outrage is a laugh wasted. It is understood the UAE government convinced the BCCI with the promise that the hosts would ensure a clean environment, free of shady characters. Yes, Sharjah cricket has a somewhat insalubrious past and Dubai is the haven of the illegal cricket betting industry. We must remember however that the one entity which requires 'cleaning' and was under the BCCI's control was the League itself. And they have made a mess of it.

In 2010 there was much celebration when the UK-based consultancy Brand Finance declared the IPL's value had doubled in 12 months to $4 billion. The figure was believed in and revelled in. Three years later, it is only fair to pay attention to Brand Finance's current assessment. It is arrived at by starting with governance standards, marketing excellence and cricketing performance, and taking into account stakeholder relationships and trust flows, to give a "holistic perspective of asymmetric risks prevalent in any business", says Brand Finance's global strategy director M Unni Krishnan. The risk is assessed in the manner in which Standard & Poor's, for instance, allots its credit ratings - from AAA to the dreadful D.

In the space of four years, the IPL, according to Krishnan, is now at "unprecedented risk". There were no words minced: "The nature of unrest, unravelling of stakeholder relations and alignment have proved beyond doubt that the IPL ecosystem has entered uncharted and treacherous waters. It is at the moment at what we can very much term as catastrophic risk." The present situation has arisen due to what Krishnan called a "blind to our own blindness" pattern of behaviour of the sort seen in financial service companies before they crash.

While "catastrophic risk" is a phrase that can shake a stock market, the IPL may not yet be at a point of no return. A turnaround can come from the body blow of a truth delivered by an outsider or a shake-up driven from the inside. Don't hold your breath, though. At its darkest hour, the IPL has chosen siege over rescue. It is blowing trumpets and championing its properties, instead of tackling a festering core.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Arshad on April 16, 2014, 12:36 GMT

    I have been following Sharda ever since the IPL scandal broke out. While every article she posts sends shivers down one's spine, it seems, that nobody is taking her writings seriously deliberately. Salute to you, Sharda, for you can do as much; the rest must be left to the reader to read between the lines

  • DEEPAK on April 16, 2014, 8:43 GMT

    Guys, IPL is just another League match like our Domestic League matches. The only difference is the money involved in it. Every year (apart frm 2011, whr we won d WC) I wait eagerly for the IPL to begin. Its a tournament where only cricket is watched (No more Saas Bahu craps for 1.5 months on TV). BCoz of IPL, I get a chance to meet my friends and watch the game together,.. having good food, drink, chat and fun. No matter who wins, our hearts r not broken..coz its a Domestic league. We just enjoy good cricket. Yes, match fixing has happened, but didn't it happened in the International match as well? Did we say stop International Matches !!

  • Jayaesh on April 16, 2014, 8:42 GMT

    Look i am mostly in agreement with what Sharda says but most of Indian cricket fans are only bothered about the Indian national team and most of you believe in Indian Cricket=Indian national team philosophy,Indian cricket and Indian national team are two different things and former is much bigger and wider in it's meaning and scope, just like you i have been a die hard supporter of Indian national team for 30 years but i realized long back that a sport that claims to be most popular in the nation cannot be only restricted to 15 or 16 players who get selected for Team India, what happens to the rest of domestic cricketers, they toil hard all season long playing in front of empty stands without any recognition and past 82 years of Indian cricket history have shown they were many talented cricketers who lived a life of anonymity and in poverty, so the likes of Rajat Bhatia deserve all the hype which IPL gives them, it is a nice platform for them and lets not begrudge that.

  • VENKATACHALAM on April 16, 2014, 6:19 GMT

    Another superb article from one of the few voices of reason in Indian Sports Journalism.

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2014, 5:54 GMT

    Sharda Ugra always has my admiration. She weaves prose and poetry effortlessly around the blandness of the cricketing world.

  • Android on April 16, 2014, 4:36 GMT

    I really believe Mr.Gavaskar can turn things around. He's made all the right noises and having played for India (in the pre-helmet era for little or no financial compensation) I am convinced he has interest of Indian cricket in his mind. Besides, the international embarrassment caused should prevent any more mishaps hopefully.

  • Syed Ammar on April 16, 2014, 4:13 GMT

    @Satyendra1: The main issue is "honesty" and " sportsmanship". U may have the courage or penchant to digest the fact that the game you are watching is not clean of corruption and STILL enjoy it and leave what happens behind the curtains.

    Moreover, its heartening to read such a column. In this blind trend of doing everything for money, its really refreshing that there are people who point out such glaring and filthy acts. But may I please humbly put my point (if Espncricinfo don't mind to publish) that if similar thing would have happened elsewhere in any other league, would it continue to or allowed to be held. But IPL keeps going and now no problem with so-called anti-corruption unit of ICC or other watch dogs.

  • Supratik on April 16, 2014, 4:11 GMT

    It is sad from an Indian point of view that corruption of the IPL kind is so entrenched in our society that we have just accepted it & are resigned to it. We value the tamashaa more than the integrity of the game. No matter what SC does, if the average fan is not truly disgusted and turned off by what happened last year, then true change will never come. Nothing that is happening suggests the average fan is turned off enough. I am not a fan of IPL or T20 cricket so have never really followed it.

  • David on April 16, 2014, 4:00 GMT

    @ Satyendra1 No, the writer is not suggesting that "this edition must not have been played or is it?" The writer is detailing the very real troubles of the IP{L, and how the league is marketing what is now a very shaky product. The writer takes no stance on whether play should happen: the writer informs us of the corruption behind the gleaming facade of media hype.

  • SATYENDRA on April 15, 2014, 23:21 GMT

    Though a nice read..what else should happen ? What the writer is suggesting is that this edition must not have been played or is it ? As a fan I'll always want the cricket to go on in the IPL. Cricket itself is the soul thing that crowds come to watch in the stadiums and on the TV. Whatever is happening behind the curtains its not for a fan to judge while the game is played. When game is not played in the 10 11 months between editions only then other things take precedence for an average fan. So lets watch and enjoy our beloved game while administration does its job which can be and shall be judged after the edition completes.

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