April 6, 2012

My wishlist for this year's IPL

Rather than becoming more like the EPL, where a few clubs hold sway, the IPL must look at creating greater competition

Now that the people from the movies have done what they are best at, even though one of the reigning superstars looked dangerously uninterested, the IPL can focus on what it is best at - cricket. To be honest, I have no problems with a spectacle to get a tournament going, especially if it is a lot of fun before the touring and tension starts, but India's obsession with Hindi movies to the exclusion of all else suggests we are getting increasingly limited in our definition of popular culture.

Eventually, though, the IPL will have to survive and blossom as a cricket tournament. The packaging is important. You don't buy quality wrapped in brown paper, but what it packages is critical. There is razzmatazz around a lot of sporting events, but the NBA is good basketball, the EPL is good competition, and the IPL will have to continue to deliver good cricket, which, to be fair, it largely has so far

Every season brings with it fresh challenges and the IPL will have to retain one of its strongest assets - the unpredictability of results. That means there has to be as level a playing field as possible, which was the foundation on which the tournament was launched. For all its worldwide appeal the English Premiership is almost a cash-for-results enterprise, as the spectacular rise of Manchester City has shown. It means that while there are club loyalties and the EPL is an evolved league that has managed to build a tradition of fan support, it is also clear that no more than four or five teams can even dream of winning it.

All leagues will inevitably produce a division between the richer clubs and their more middle-class cousins, and you can see that happening already in the IPL, with player retention and trades, but the future lies in each club believing at the start that it can win the tournament. Luckily T20 as a format, where possession of short-term skills can be valuable too, allows for closer games, but it is still a worry. I would love to be proven wrong but it is difficult to see a winner at this stage that doesn't come from the best four of last year.

One way to create greater competition is to let home teams produce wickets that give them the best chance of winning. Clearly you cannot have bad wickets or those that limit good cricket, but the basic element of cricket, to be able to win on different surfaces, must be retained. If you only prepare flat batting strips, and one ground resembles another and they all look like hitting ranges, you will get the equivalent of the white shirt and the blue shirt in male fashion. An executive may get away with wearing identical suits every day but cricket cannot survive on identical pitches. We cannot let that happen, we must not.

What we love is a cricket match, and everything that that beautiful expression stands for, not a batting festival. Cricket, even T20 cricket, cannot look like the last reel of a Hindi movie, where the good guys (the batsmen) are beating the daylights out of the bad guys (the bowlers).

In fact given the current alarming preference for taking all pace of the ball (in itself a contrast to what some feared - that the slow bowler would have no place) I would be delighted to see a few games where the ball flies off the track a bit. One of the great sights of last year's IPL was to see Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma letting it rip for the Deccan Chargers, and then to discover that the batsmen didn't quite enjoy it.

So I am looking forward to a few things this year. Good pitches and good outfields; boundaries that are where they should be, not merely at arm's length; young kids coming through and surprising us with their audacity; tickets competitively priced, so that everyone can come to the ground and have a good time.

And since we are all sentimental folk somewhere, I would like to see Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly giving us moments of joy. They are at different stages in their playing cycles, but you still want to cheer them on while you can.

Harsha Bhogle commentates on the IPL and other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Hamish on April 9, 2012, 8:16 GMT

    Look at the Champions league T20. That was a good way to highlight who is performing and who is not. The top 4 teams in IPL where nowhere near competing with other t20 teams around the world unless they grab players from them.

  • Indian on April 9, 2012, 8:08 GMT

    Harsha... can you please explain what is EPL?

  • Indian on April 9, 2012, 8:06 GMT

    Thanks Vilander - don't know which country you come from.. but I'm sure India is leaps and bounds ahead in economic growth... remember that next time you come around with a begging bowl.

  • ravi on April 8, 2012, 4:50 GMT

    Very True Harsha! But wat about a team which has the potential off the field but not on the field. Look at DC a good team, which can beat anyone on a given day, but also could be beaten by any other team day or night! And how is it that you make the team competitive? Make good pitches! Look at Visakhapatnam pitch, just a belter of a track, yielding sixes and fours at will! and hyderabad is no different too! C'mon IPL make it a brand!

  • gulshan on April 8, 2012, 1:41 GMT

    Why we talk about wickets, Yes there should b good wickets. But every team has a squad of 30 players. they have spinners, fast bowlers,all rounders. if a captain and coach cant read the wicket. they need to educate themselves than to blame wicket. You have the option to select from 30. So keep your composition as suc, that you should use your best available resources.

  • Muthuvel on April 7, 2012, 17:36 GMT

    why are we comparing IPL with a football club championship ? football is a bigger sport, and cricket is largely played only by south asians. Lets not get carried away here please, India is still a third world country so lets just watch and enjoy IPL.

  • Dummy4 on April 7, 2012, 15:10 GMT

    Its the good spinners who are under threat. Slow bowlers will always be in fashion as long as there are batsmen like Gayle, Sehwag, Pollard, Yusuf who like to the ball to come on to bat. Ashwin, Sharma & company may live happily ever after in the days of IPL.

  • Dummy4 on April 7, 2012, 5:43 GMT

    @jasif A lot of Indians care about the IPL. It is the only place where we have Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar playing freely without burden of expectations from the public. We don't mind paying high if they are playing high !

  • Srinivas on April 7, 2012, 2:28 GMT

    @jasif: Same old, same old - who cares about IPL? Yawn! Millions of Indians do care a lot about IPL with billionaires overseeing it. Well, if you don't care, good for you. This multimillion/billion dollar industry is here to stay and millions of Indians are proud of it and rightly so.

  • bharadwaj on April 7, 2012, 2:18 GMT

    IPL talks about good sporting wickets on day 1 and changes the chennai wicket into an grassy wicket.2 days later we see the wicket in Mumbai turing suare suiting home team.cant understand this logic

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