April 16, 2010

Get off the front page

The latest financial scandal could discredit the league and take away from the good that it has done by giving young players the chance to share the spotlight with the stars

So cricket again descends to the front pages, normally the abode of tragedies, scams, budgets, or lately, full-page ads. I am not sure it is the right place for sports - unless, of course, a shooter wins a gold medal at the Olympics. They belong on the back pages, where people go to feel good. But now the IPL is being dragged out of there and this is not good for a league that has achieved so much but is still very young.

As a sporting event, the IPL has been excellent so far. It has provided a platform for young talent, for players who plied their trade in less-reported areas, and were a name on a scoreboard if the sports editor thought it worthy. Saurabh Tiwary echoed those sentiments when he said he got more attention for a twenty in the IPL than for a hundred for Jharkhand. We might gather together and bemoan the lack of purity in strokeplay, but if we were Tiwary we would say the same and look to the IPL for the world to know of our existence.

The IPL has also allowed us another look at the ageing stars; cricketers we enjoyed watching and thought would now be available only on television reruns or DVDs. One of the most thrilling moments in recent times for me was watching Anil Kumble bowl the first over of a match to Virender Sehwag. And as a result of watching these stars we know now that many can make the journey from Tests to Twenty20, but the reverse remains unproven, even though Shane Watson did use the shortest format as a platform to return to Test cricket.

The IPL, I fear, runs the risk of being remembered for what is appearing on the front pages and in breaking-news headlines on television channels. The players can perform great deeds but eventually sport, like everything else, is run by finance, and the IPL has been as much a financial event as a sporting one. When auctions happen and resultant financial tangles emerge, everyone becomes an expert on all matters. I will not claim that position but will make just one observation. The two areas the IPL needs to be most careful about are the quality of its franchise owners, and therefore complete transparency, and the distance it can keep from match-fixing (or spot-fixing, which is more in the news lately).

The two areas the IPL needs to be most careful about are the quality of its franchise owners, and therefore complete transparency, and the distance it can keep from match-fixing (or spot-fixing, which is more in the news lately)

In the first round of bidding for teams, the IPL was lucky that established corporate houses like Reliance, United Breweries, GMR, Deccan Chronicle and India Cements came forth. After initial scepticism, Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta and the partners in King's XI also emerged as committed team owners. They had a big role to play in the early days of the IPL and the seamless movement to South Africa last year. Indeed Cricket South Africa offered its hand to a vulnerable child and the IPL owes it a bit too. Going ahead the IPL needs the same degree of commitment. You only need to look to the current fortunes of some teams in English football, or indeed to the trauma of the West Indies Cricket Board's Stanford association, to realise how easily things can go wrong.

But while storms rage in political and other worlds, you wouldn't know anything was wrong if you watched the cricket or were at the grounds. Kevin Pietersen's masterful performance against the Rajasthan Royals showed just why he is one of the great players of this generation. And Harmeet Singh's delightful spell reminded us of how unfancied players can be empowered. The IPL allows Harmeet, Jaskaran Singh, B Sumanth and others to rub shoulders with Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds and more of their kind, and that cannot be a bad thing.

Indeed, if there is something the last week at the IPL has reinforced, it is that teams need contributions from local players to survive. The revival of the Deccan Chargers was built around contributions from Tirumalasetti Suman and Harmeet. Till then they had looked an eight-man team, but like with the Mumbai Indians and the Royal Challengers, they look much better when there are many contributors.

And the league table can't be closer. The greatest strength of the IPL is the equalisation of resources brought about by the spending cap. In future, whether it is on the front pages or back, this will separate it from other leagues.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. He is on the IPL commentary team

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