March 2, 2008

The privileged and the damned

The IPL is making the BCCI pots of money. But what are the rest of the cricket-playing countries getting out of it?


Will Indian audiences root for Brett Lee to dismiss Tendulkar in an IPL game? © AFP
 

Now that the money has been spent and the hype has diminished to a dull roar, it's time for a few observations and questions about the IPL concept.

The most obvious question: why didn't the ICC strike a deal in return for sanctioning the IPL contests? Is this further proof that the ICC is an offshoot of the BCCI? The IPL concept is an enormous boost to Indian cricket, but what about Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies? They all need major assistance to boost a game whose progress is being hampered by political unrest in the case of the first two, and financial problems for the latter pair. There should have been a levy imposed on IPL to compensate other countries for the players they developed who then signed for a franchise. This should have been a priority in the negotiations between the ICC and the BCCI.

In the case of New Zealand, a country where the depth of cricket talent is about as much as that of an above-ground pool, their playing strength is being further evaporated by defections to the rebel Indian Cricket League competition. New Zealand cricket is religiously banning players who sign with the ICL, in accordance with directions from the ICC, and yet it is apparently getting no financial compensation for backing the IPL.

Did the IPL franchise owners seek advice on players' personality and work habits before signing them to lucrative contracts? The skill of the players is there for all to see, but the intangibles are something only a shrewd cricket person can judge. If that advice hasn't been sought then some of the owners are going to get burned: lazy or mentally weak players will become a huge financial burden.

Will the Indian public barrack for Brett Lee to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar? The new-generation Indian cricket fan will, according to former captain and now commentator Ravi Shastri. If that is the case they are more magnanimous than their Australian counterparts, who will have difficulty cheering Ishant Sharma on to knock over Adam Gilchrist.

That leads me to the decision Australia's Channel 10 made to splurge about $15 million for the rights to five years coverage of IPL. Will this turn out to be a coup or a cock-up? Australia is a delineated society when it comes to sport. There are very distinct cricket and football seasons and the IPL will be encroaching on the winter game. Australians will stay up late to watch an Ashes series in the middle of winter but the IPL tournament will be a serious test of whether the country has fully embraced the idea of being part of a global sporting village.

 
 
Twenty20 is currently flavour of the month but what about the future? For cricket to thrive on a global basis the longer versions of the game need to survive in order for young players to hone a wide range of skills
 

Players taunting and abusing each other has been big news during the current Australia-India series. With the IPL featuring players from both countries - along with those those from other major nations - will an unwanted disease spread even faster? The IPL's organisers would do the game a huge favour if they stamped out a cancer that the ICC has either been unable or unwilling to eradicate. The IPL could start by getting the captains to publicly state they'll put an end to all unnecessary on-field chatter.

The award for the smartest move so far goes to the Jaipur franchise for appointing Shane Warne captain/coach. This has the potential to be an ongoing involvement and Jaipur is smart to tap into Warne's vast knowledge and highly active cricket brain. If his talents are used wisely, it will be a huge boost for young cricketers in the region.

Twenty20 is currently flavour of the month but what about the future? For cricket to thrive on a global basis the longer versions of the game need to survive in order for young players to hone a wide range of skills. However, Test cricket is struggling in many countries and even the 50-over game is considered a tired format in some regions. In addition, the star players are now in such demand that there's a danger they'll eventually be drained of all their enthusiasm and flair.

The ideal programme for the future could well consist of Test matches played purely between the major cricket countries, and those sides plus the appropriate developing nations then competing in hybrid 30-over tournaments. With strong administration, thoughtful scheduling and reasonable financial arrangements in place, cricket could flourish worldwide with that format.

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