May 31, 2010

Equality isn't excellence

Despite India's early exit from the World Twenty20 for a second time in a row, the BCCI hasn't grasped the harm the IPL's bloated schedule is doing

Twenty20 season's done! It ended pretty well. A brilliant semi-final in St Lucia, a more brilliant pitch in Barbados, and the pleasure of Ian Chappell and Nasser Hussain commentating in tandem. The din of the IPL had almost faded away... but the IPL, whether or not it will burn out, doesn't fade away.

No sooner did India crash out of the tournament than the nation's most famous abbreviation reoccupied centre stage. Specifically, it was blamed for the World Twenty20 defeats. It was acquitted with equal ferocity by others, who blamed the cricketers instead, as though these points were in conflict.

Now it is not my case that the IPL suctioned general mobility out of our young stalwarts or deprogrammed their skills against the short ball. Nor that it accounts for MS Dhoni's puzzling tendency to take Ravindra Jadeja for Garfield Sobers. Yet even donning my glitziest IPL-loving robe, I cannot honestly see the case of the defence.

The defence posits that players from other countries too participated in the IPL. Factually this is a weak argument because only some did, and of those who did, barely a handful rode the treadmill the entire time like the Indians. That is one part of it. The other is this.

There were 12 teams at the World Twenty20. Eleven of them reached the West Indies in advance. They attempted to acclimatise to the time zone, the pitches, the light - the Caribbean morning glare so different from floodlit Indian nights. They played two warm-up games, tested combinations, and did whatever it is that teams do to gee themselves up before a big event. Do guess the missing side.

The Indians were unavailable for this most elementary of pre-tournament disciplines because their entire team, as opposed to a few players, was in the IPL. It is one thing for Australia or England to absorb Cameron White or Kevin Pietersen into their set-ups, which work on in their absence, quite another for India, which cannot run at all.

There was nothing unforeseen about this situation. Gary Kirsten, a good and sensible coach, raised these issues after the debacle of the last World Twenty20. He was told to shut up. Nor were the World Twenty20 dates a surprise. They were announced last July. The Indian board, learning from the last time, ought to have done everything in its power to free its cricketers a fortnight ahead. Four days they granted. It takes 24 hours to reach the West Indies.

Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri claim that their remit on the IPL governing council is over cricketing matters, and yet they ratified a schedule like this. Shameless. No less hypocritical are the reactions of the commentators who are besides themselves when India fits in just the one first-class game on a tour to Australia.

I worry for the longer run. It is not helpful to skirt the elephant. The administrators must understand what it does when it positions the IPL as the centrepiece of the calendar.

The IPL relies not on excellence but entertainment and equality. Equality it tries to ensure via salary caps for a level playing field, and the equalising 20-over format. The equality is a frequent boast. When Lalit Modi tweets after a low-quality tied game between Punjab and Chennai, "the most competitive cricket in the world without a doubt", he understands this in a different way than proper cricket lovers do. He doesn't mean calibre.

The Indian board, learning from the last time, ought to have done everything in its power to free its cricketers a fortnight ahead. Four days they granted. It takes 24 hours to reach the West Indies

Equality may make for a few nail-biting finishes but it cannot, ever, substitute excellence. And excellence, I'm afraid, is not going to be created by the IPL. It may only occasionally showcase it. The nursery is the first-class game, from where Rahul Dravid or Virender Sehwag have emerged.

Yet the Indian board has now created a system that incentivises Twenty20 cricket out of proportion. Ranji cricketers since 2005, and especially since 2007, when the threat of the rebel ICL drove up match fees, have been earning a good living - Rs 15-20 lakh in the six months of the domestic season.

This, however, seems like too much work when an IPL contract can fetch the same amount, or in some instances far more, in six weeks. In the Australian system, governed by annual contracts that include all formats, there isn't such a skewed inducement. Unlike the Indians, they play one rather than two Twenty20 tournaments. They are likely to produce the more robust cricketers.

To young Indian players, previously committed to building a game that could survive the scrutiny of long-form cricket, and so, one day, international cricket, the message is clear. The IPL money is fab, the parties are swell, the work is easier. Mediocre attacks on flat Indian pitches! Bye-bye all-round game, we don't need you! Hello IPL, bring it on!

Fat contracts can reward quality, not produce it. The job of administrators is to recognise this. India already has an interstate Twenty20 competition, which ran this season over 63 matches. As these games were spread over 25 first-class teams and consumed eight playing days, it was less of a burden. For the six-week long IPL, they would do well to listen to Tiger Pataudi, the only member of the governing council with integrity enough to acknowledge dereliction of duty, and condense the tournament. From a cricket point of view, it's a no-brainer: teams play each other once rather than twice. This will cut the number of matches to a still huge 49 (the World Twenty20 was 27 matches; Australia's Big Bash, played arguably at a higher standard than the IPL, expands next season to 20).

But no, we're going to have 94 matches. Ninety-four! They'll tell you the name of the game. They call it riding the gravy train.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan. He writes a monthly column for Mint Lounge

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ravish on June 2, 2010, 11:29 GMT

    @SCXX- Dude, don't take your fears or embarrassments and superimpose them on me and think they will apply to all. Like I said, the day a sport stops providing entertaininment value to me I don't care if it is India playing anybody else, I will stop watching. I don't care who wins or loses. I will watch a game even if it is Mumbai Monkeys playing Delhi Dogs as long as I think I get the entertainment value for what I paid for. Your perception of value is obviously different from mine. Its 3 hours of my time and I want to decide how I spend it and I dont want somebody to tell me what to watch. Guess what? That is the same opinion of millions of viewers who vote with their remote. Are you going to dictate to each of them what they should view? Let cricket or other sport compete with other options for my attention. If not, as a consumer I have choices. I dont care about Modi, BCCI, ICC, test cricket, ODI, or T20. These are all either products or organizers.

  • Pritish on June 2, 2010, 6:33 GMT

    Fair enough TwitterJitter. You want the entertainment, fair enough. It'll be quite entertaining when we see Afghanistan bounce India out of some major ICC tournament..really now.

  • Ishan on June 2, 2010, 6:27 GMT

    I hope bcci read this article. Cricket needs people like rahul bhattacharya to survive. Ipl has destroyed cricket. Cricket was so much fun before the IPl. Performances in domestic competitions like ranji trophy,duleep trophy were rewarded and regarded as the true test of an ability of a cricketer. There were sizeable crowd watching these matches.Tours to australia and southafrica were considered the real test of a cricketer. But IPL has destroyed all that. A few stage actors belonging to a highly unsucessful film industry which churns out more flops than hits have destroyed the game of cricket. They have damaged our most priced possession, cricket. They know nothing about cricket. Cricket is a unique sport that holds its respect among the noble men. The pure form of the game tests the true character of a man. Without passing this test no man can ever deem to bea good cricketer.But IPL does not take this test. It tests the ability of a player to hit a six.If IPLcontinues Cricket wld die

  • Prashant on June 2, 2010, 2:04 GMT

    @FanCric. Lifeless pitches indeed. Yet these don't seem so lifeless to you when we only win test series at home and get to number one. Lifeless pitches have nothing to do with the IPL. That our top order cannot score against anything that is >85 MPH and is rising has nothing to do with the IPL.

  • Ambarish on June 1, 2010, 22:00 GMT

    It was once said if you don't ask the right question you will never get the right answer. Kudos Rahul for doing the first bit, as for answers we will have to wait I guess. 3 seasons of IPL and apart from some swelling wallets and barrage of commercialisation we have hardly seen it meeting the goals set for improving the quality of cricket in India. Almost 150 matches and not one Indian talent that the world will take note of.

  • Ravish on June 1, 2010, 21:28 GMT

    @SVXX- "I have a weird feeling that Lalit Modi's Twitter team is on Cricinfo... ala TwitterJitter lol. With that same old hogwash about player improvement and all...oh well. God save Indian Cricket." Please find a word in my posting with player improvement or other garbage. I don't care about player improvement or national improvement. To me sport is about entertainment. I pay money and I get entertained in return. These T20 world cups are a joke with one held every year so that ICC can fill its coffers. I don't mind ICC filling its coffers but these are so poorly managed and don't provide much entertainment to viewers as evidenced by empty stadiums. They look like day robbery to me. At the core of it, sport is about entertainment. All this national pride and other stuff is hog wash just to force people to watch their games. I don't care about Modi or his ilk but the day sport forgets about entertainment, it can forget about viewers and can dig its own grave.

  • Imran on June 1, 2010, 21:03 GMT

    In 2009 Lahore and Silkot reached the final of Pakistan's domestic T-20 tournament's final. PCB barred all players selected for T-20 World cup 2009 from participating in the final of the domestic tournament (Shoaib malik (captain of Sialkot stallions), Imran Nazir and Kamran Akmal among other).

    BCCI should have done the same .


  • Pritish on June 1, 2010, 19:15 GMT

    Credit duly given to the IPL for being an excellent concept. But some people speak as if they have seen 100+ years worth of Test cricket, when they compare it to the IPL...I mean, cmon, it's been only 3 years and you're talking big. The ads have increased. The sixes have increased. The boundaries have decreased. You enjoy these games? Bowlers being smacked to all parts almost as if the game is masochist(Sehwag is an exception...he smacks irrespective of the conditions). The IPL is like alcohol....and you rue the hangover that comes afterwards, sooner or later. I don't understand marketing, but I do understand human nature. And when the number of injuries and cases of fatigue will reach a height, the so called sustainable model of the IPL will crash. 94 meaningless games next year..haha.

  • Pritish on June 1, 2010, 19:09 GMT

    I have a weird feeling that Lalit Modi's Twitter team is on Cricinfo... ala TwitterJitter lol. With that same old hogwash about player improvement and all...oh well. God save Indian Cricket.

  • Pritish on June 1, 2010, 19:06 GMT

    I fail to understand what is wrong with our country's people(assuming TwitterJitter and TheEmperorWhatever are Indians). Rewind to 2009. After the IPL, our team, fatigued and injured, failed at the World T20. Coincidence? Perhaps not. Gary Kirsten and other sane people pointed out the cause behind it, but no one seemed bothered...isn't it quite obvious, when you play more and more and more over consecutive days, you lose the hunger and motivation for the sport that you are playing? Granted, but it is still very hard to regain. Now we come to the present. It was a carbon copy of last year, and poor Kirsten must be going mad. He would've abolished this circus long ago had he or any SANE person been in charge. And Australia brutalised us, there's no hiding from that. Pure pace and short length. Fair enough, but when other teams did the same and obtained resounding success, it did seem quite embarrassing. And you're calling the writer a whinger??? Where is the sanity and country spirit??!

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