May 8, 2008

Market rules, ok

Success is everything and all else be damned. The IPL has brought football-style despotism into cricket

No more Mr Nice Guy: Vijay Mallya's sacking of his CEO aims to send a strong message across © AFP

So they wanted the IPL to be like English football? Welcome to the real world, a world of billion-dollar TV deals and million-dollar paychecks, chanting crowds and replica jerseys - but also a world where the bottomline rules everything else. The sacking of Charu Sharma as CEO of the Bangalore franchise less than halfway into the first season, after a string of poor results due more to cricketing issues than those under an administrator's care, is nothing but a move to protect that bottomline.

Cricket has, through most of its history, been largely insulated from the madness of despotic action. Yes, there has been the odd dictatorial fiat, the summary dismissal of captain, or more recently, coach - especially on the Indian subcontinent (and perhaps in Yorkshire CCC), where everyone involved with cricket is subject to the slings and arrows. But the sport as a whole, because of its emphasis on national teams and the prevalence of strong - and largely democratic - governing boards in each country, has been spared much of the mayhem prevalent in top-flight football in England, Spain and Italy.

Not any more. As the game's profile has risen, so have the stakes. And those high stakes don't have any time for the "glorious uncertainties of cricket". The bottomline does not respect honour in defeat. All that matters is results; the rest is for the writers and romantics. The big stakeholders are rarely given to sitting on their hands while their team's fortunes dwindle, hoping providence intervenes; they act fast, often shooting the first person in sight, usually shooting first and asking questions later, but shooting. And publicly; they must not merely act, they must be seen to have acted.

Football clubs in the UK, where the sport has the same position as cricket does in India, are seen as goldmines for billionaire investors, and the influx of their wealth has seen the advent of more powerful teams, with more - and perhaps better - footballers than were previously seen in the British leagues. TV revenues have multiplied, the average footballer's wage has increased, the game's profile is universal and omnipotent. But there has been a heavy price to pay.

That price has varied from club to club. Liverpool was bought by two Americans who were buddies at the time but now can't bear to sit in the same room. Manchester United was bought by one American who turned the club from a profitable, cash-rich and debt-free listed company into a private enterprise, which though profitable on its own, owes US$1.5 billion to all creditors and has $1.2 billion in total borrowings. Chelsea's owner, the second-richest man in Britain, has brought two league titles to the club and may bring a third but runs Stamford Bridge with as much glasnost as the Kremlin under Leonid Brezhnev.

Their methods are suitably unilateral. Liverpool's co-owners publicly differ over the future of the coach, Rafa Benitez. Roman Abramovich sacked Chelsea's most successful coach three months into the season last year - Jose Mourinho won matches, but not in the desired style. At Manchester City, owned by the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the uncertainty over coach Sven-Goran Eriksson's future reportedly sparked a near-revolt among his players.

Everywhere the bottomline is top priority. Once you sign that bottomline, you sign away with it your claim to be treated with dignity and respect. You become an instrument of success - collateral damage if the search for that success requires change.

The big stakeholders are rarely given to sitting on their hands while their team's fortunes dwindle, hoping providence intervenes. They act fast, often shooting the first person in sight, usually shooting first and asking questions later, but shooting

Now cricket must deal with the implications of chasing that bottomline. The franchise owners operate under market conditions. Unlike the BCCI, which is answerable to no one (and doesn't answer even when it is), the men who own the eight teams are accountable. One of them, N Srinivasan - vice-chairman and CEO of India Cements - had to explain in detail to the company's investors why he spent $91 million buying the Chennai franchise. Srinivasan took questions at the meeting with investors and analysts in January and replied in far greater detail than he has been known to at press conferences of the BCCI, of which he is treasurer.

He made two broad points: One, that this was seen as a marketing venture. "The way it will benefit me, how it will develop my brand ... is to use our entire retail chain, our distribution chain, to get involved in this process ... They will get visits by all these cricketers ... top cricketers will go around the state, will go around meeting all our people and customers, which we feel will add great value to our brand."

The second point was on the money. Asked from which year he expected to break even, Srinivasan's reply was unambiguous: "I will make money with day one, year one."

No room for glorious uncertainties there, then.

From that perspective, Vijay Mallya's manoeuvre makes sense. You can question the timing, you can question the target (why the CEO, why not the captain or the chief cricket officer?), but you can't question the intent. Mallya wants results and he wants them now. Not next season, not even at the end of this one. He may not be hostage to share prices but he is concerned about image, which is currently taking a bit of a battering. His sacking of the CEO, however illogical it may seem, will at least convey clearly what he wants.

The ripple effect will be felt across the franchises. In Mumbai, owned by India's richest businessman; in Kolkata, owned by the most successful actor. In Chennai, where some of those investors Srinivasan spoke to will be checking the balance sheet with greater scrutiny. There will be pressure, some uncertainty, perhaps even a bit of fear. Now we know why those playing in the ICL seemed to be having so much fun.

They wanted it to be like football. Someone forgot to tell them it's a whole new ball game.

Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of Cricinfo in India

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • USlaw_prof on May 10, 2008, 16:52 GMT

    A relative newcomer to cricket, I accept the claim that cricket has traditionally been protected from the "madness of despotic action." Absent a competitive environment, cricket officials have also been protected against any market pressure for competitive responsibility that characterizes English football and many US sports. An example: why Shane Warne was never picked to captain Australia. In some ways, the author's comments mirror the larger world issues with capitalism: it brings despotism but also weeds out inefficiency. Perhaps a cricket world with traditional governance of Test competition and the marketplace to govern 20/20 provides the right balance.

  • Matthew_17 on May 9, 2008, 19:29 GMT

    If Dravid & co. think Mallya will put each player on his lap after every defeat and console them they should think again.. They say they are jelling more after each and every game which might be the case but the thing is that they hardly learn from their defeats. 50 runs after 10 overs is such a pathetic effort.. I love Dravid.. He's done soo much for indian cricket but if he continues at this rate then am afraid he'll jeopardise his good name

  • sardaga on May 8, 2008, 22:11 GMT

    The Royal Challengers are not going to win matches with players like Rahul Dravid, Wasim Jaffer, Sunil Joshi(what were they thinking?), Arunkumar and probably even Anil Kumble.

    Rahul and Wasim have openly said that they wanted to prove a point that class matters in any format. In T20 though, I'm afraid, only scoring at a brisk rate is all anyone cares about, which these two are extrenely incapable of and worse they know it. It was pretty evident by the way Rahul was duck out twice already.

    It is the players who have to win the game for the team and not the CEO. Vijay, my friend sack these players and see Namma Bengalooru win.

  • stanunited on May 8, 2008, 20:57 GMT

    I completely agree with the comments posted by way can u compare EPL to IPL...mainly coz its 2 different forms of game...and the loyalty aspect of it totally different...the SA's like Kallis and boucher and the Aussies like Symonds were playin in the IPL just coz the money they got from here was much better than sitting at home doing nothing...Mainly wen it came to our man Mr. J Kallis, how can u pick a man in ur side who hasn't even bein picked by him homeside for the T20 competition...Come Dravid u need to think abt the game n not run around proving that test cricketers are the best...the game's changed its better u do as well...

  • HiltonP on May 8, 2008, 16:25 GMT

    I've been watching every single IPL game, and I'm loving every minute of it. I have an open mind as to IPLs potential success or failure. It's far too early to pass judgement. As a South African however I am disappointed at our performances, particularly given that we have just finished a series in India. Only Albie Morkel and Pollock have shown signs of their abilities, the others have looked lack lustre. Kallis is showing why he was not selected for the SA T20 World Cup squad, he's a test match player. Same can be said for Boucher. Smith's body language yesterday during his stumping was that of a man with little interest. Can't help but feel that there are some youngsters sitting back in SA who would do SA more proud if they were in the IPL. They're hungrier.

  • tpkarayacha on May 8, 2008, 16:13 GMT

    Well if sacking only Charu is going to resolve the issues, well God bless Mallya and his franchise. This does not mean I am against get rid of underperformers, but very fact Dravid is a captain of 20-20 Bangalore side, no matter how many more sacking happen, Bangalore team is doomed anyway.

    I would also show exit doors for all those who were responsible for choosing Bangalore team. Get rid of Dravid, Kumble and all the deadwoods as far as 20-20 format is concerned

  • Biso on May 8, 2008, 16:09 GMT

    An amusing situation. All along, the cricket bosses showed very little regard for the paying spectators and TV channel viewers. Now,they seem to have felt the pains of accountability when pitted against share holders. Nothing wrong about it. Did we not want professionalism in the sport? Dravid and Charu's blinkered vision has cost B'lore dear. Period.

  • flatout on May 8, 2008, 15:53 GMT

    When words like "accountability" and "bottom-line" enter sport, it's no longer sport - it's business.

    The whole point of sport is uncertainty. If people want 100% results all the time, then they should invent a new competition for the IPL - all played by robots, with human cheerleaders in short skirts on the side.

    For God's sake, cricket is played by human beings. I think the CEO's role should be titular. In fact, there should be no CEO at all. If people like Mallya want to own teams, then let them - on the condition that the don't interfere.

    The person I feel immensely sad for the most is Rahul Dravid. A decent man, who's done so much for our country's side, is now seen as a non-performer in a circus. For his own dignity, I hope he sees sense and quits the Mallya side. I am Bangalorean, and I don't see this side as Bangalore's side - it is Vijay Mallya's side. The same goes for the rest - Preity Zinta's, SRK's, Ambani's and so on.

  • on May 8, 2008, 15:15 GMT

    It is not fair to compare cricket and F1. Given the engine capabilities of the Force one car one cannot expect a better result from the team. However, Adrian Sutil has been failing consistently and is not far away from the axe.

    I am really wondering why all the test players ended up in the same team. Did Dravid or Charu wanted to prove a point that test cricketers can adapt to 20-20 format and compete with other other hard hitters? If that is the case then the fault lies in selecting the team and not in execution. One could not expect a better performance from the team given the background of the players in this team.

  • Night-Watchman on May 8, 2008, 15:11 GMT

    The article is a whole lot of nonsense. When our cricketeers fail, we bemoan the lack of professionalism, how they are more worried about ads than runs etc etc. When you actually put them over the block and tell them to perform, it becomes despotism.

    Face it, the day when an unfit player could stand in the slips and watch is over. Performance in the modern game is required in all areas. Someone must own up that their ideas of team composition was poor. The Royal Challengers management failed to take into account the shorter boundaries, flatter pitches and necessity of huge hitters. They are left with a side that has no genuine T20 batsmen and not so penetrative strike bowlers. They can neither put up a good score nor defend their measly totals.

    I fully support the team owner, he is paying hard cash. I do not see Dravid doubling up as batting coach for all the money he is paid. He has not scored for all the money paid, neither has his theory of team selection scored a hit.

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