May 31, 2012

The case for an IPL window

It's not impossible to set aside seven weeks a year for it; the global game would benefit

Whether you love it or hate it, whether you follow it avidly or believe it debases a great and noble game, it is time to accept the inevitable when it comes to the IPL. It is here to stay. It is more powerful with every passing year. For the sake of sanity, and the reputation of Test cricket, it must be given a window in the ICC's cricket calendar.

As Sharda Ugra commented on these pages, IPL 5 was immensely popular not just with the players it rewards so handsomely, it drew in big crowds across a wide demographic. Its excesses were hard to take at times, but the fervour it communicates can only be a good thing for the game. And it will eventually devour all those who refuse to accept it.

The IPL and Test cricket must learn to live together, if not happily then at least behind a mental leylandii. The ICC's cricket committee, which is meeting over two days at Lord's, has the chance to begin that process by calling for an end to the posturing, the belittling and the power struggles that are doing a disservice to the game.

The committee, under the chairmanship of the former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, has been asked to consider "the proliferation of domestic leagues (including foreign players and, in some cases private ownership) and the consequent impact on international cricket".

That does not refer only to IPL because T20 leagues are springing up throughout the world - apart from the one in England, which is now a hardy perennial and which reseeds itself with humble success every summer. But it is the IPL that matters.

One of the functions of the ICC is "to promote, develop and act in the best interests of the international game as a whole". That task cannot properly be fulfilled while Test cricket is made a mockery of by trying to behave as if the IPL does not exist. Under the current situation, top players must make an unfair choice between financial gain and national loyalty and the public is being short-changed.

Lloyd, who has watched the decline of West Indies cricket since the halcyon days when he captained a side blessed with the greatest fast-bowling resources the world has ever seen, must be keenly aware that something has to give. Kumar Sangakkara, one of the shrewdest minds ever produced by Sri Lankan cricket, and another member of the committee, has been a long-time supporter of an IPL window as the only logical outcome.

West Indies are contesting a May Test series against England this year without the likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and the young mystery spinner Sunil Narine*. Predictably, for all their determination, they have lost the first two Tests, the warm-up act before England's main show of the summer against South Africa.

The faultlines in West Indies cricket, of course, cannot all be laid at the door of IPL. But how much more appealing would the series have been if West Indies had their full complement, and if Narine had arrived in England in direct competition to his fellow spinner Shane Shillingford as an exciting young talent? How unfair was it for Marlon Samuels, one West Indies player who did remain loyal to Test cricket, to suffer financially because of it? And how sad it is that Gayle, emboldened by riches from the IPL and other T20 tournaments, now behaves with all the calculating menace of a hired gun.

West Indies cannot afford to pay their players remotely the sort of money needed to persuade them to forego the IPL, but that should not be their aim anyway. It is far more beneficial to international cricket for talented young cricketers in the Caribbean to recognise a future in which they can conceivably enjoy the adulation of India's T20 crowds and commit themselves to the history of West Indies cricket. It is unfair to expect them to make a choice.

Even for England, which has held the line with reasonable success, the fault lines are showing. Eoin Morgan, not picked for England's Test tour of Sri Lanka, responded to his omission from the squad by remaining as a bench player for Kolkata Knight Riders until the end of the qualifying tournament - he never played but still came back proclaiming himself a better player for the experience. His lack of interest in fighting for his Test place has strangely passed without much explanation.

The IPL is a successful business model run by companies who know something about business. That is a fact and it is not about to change

Kevin Pietersen did return in time for England's first Test against West Indies but if his Twitter account was a true reflection, his thoughts were often elsewhere. Playing for Surrey in a championship match at Worcester ahead of the first Test, he got out as Surrey successfully fought to save the game, and tweeted not about the sterling efforts of his county colleagues in the match he was playing in, but excitedly about Delhi Daredevils' next match. Get used to it, is Pietersen's response.

IPL franchises might only be able to field four overseas players but they can sign up to 11, which this year left the possibility of 99 international players from outside India signed up for the tournament and countless more desperate for an opportunity.

Sri Lanka were England's opponents last May and Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene arrived in England with minimal time to acclimatise ahead of the first Test, their exact travel date the subject of endless conjecture as Sri Lanka Cricket subsided into one of its regular political struggles. The spat led to Lasith Malinga's retirement from Test cricket. Others will follow.

Other countries may carp that if IPL gets a window, they deserve one, too. It would be an argument that flew in the face of reality. There are overriding reasons why the IPL deserves a window ahead of other domestic T20 tournaments.

India is the financial powerhouse of the game, responsible for about 75% of world cricket revenue. The IPL is a successful business model run by companies who know something about business. The IPL has a hold over the world's leading cricketers like no other league. The IPL can win over a new cricket-watching public more successfully than any other domestic league. The IPL, allowed to run free, will inexorably damage the traditional forms of the game. These are facts and irrespective of national sentiments they need to be addressed.

Those who are not selected for the IPL can either spend two months recuperating from a heavy international schedule or could even play a spot of English county cricket.

What is frustrating about the current situation is that an IPL window would not be difficult to achieve. It consisted of 76 matches in 53 days, running from April 4 to May 27. Reduce that to 49 days and begin on April 1 and it can finish on May 20. There seems to be no other time of the year.

It would prevent West Indies and Sri Lanka extending their international seasons into early April, but that is preferable to seeing their playing standards crippled. It would necessitate England putting its first Test of the summer back to the last week of May, an affordable price to pay for a country that by fielding up to seven Tests and 13 one-day matches a year is already guilty of overkill. As quid quo pro, India could end its block on all its players taking part in other T20 leagues, England's especially, which would enable it to balance the books.

People often wonder why India, so powerful, has not lobbied hard for a window for IPL, The answer is simple: India does not need a window; India is winning the power struggle anyway. It is the rest of the world that needs to negotiate a sensible future.

*This article was written before Sunil Narine was picked in the West Indies Test squad after the conclusion of IPL as an injury replacement for Kemar Roach

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muhtasim on June 3, 2012, 17:15 GMT

    the case for an IPL window doesn't have to be rushed. Yes its true that the IPL has been a success for over five years. but, its still only in its 5th edition. There is a probability that the IPL's appeal might fizzle out over the next five years. I know that the chances of that happening are very slim but its quite possible

  • Hira on June 3, 2012, 13:20 GMT

    @Paul rone-clarke : dont you get it? india does not NEED to ask for an IPL automatically draws attentions of players and fans alike david hoops says its the other nations who need to negotiate coz india is winning the power struggle!lol ..besides no other nation can ask for their own window simple because none of them can match india's financial might, simple.

  • Cricket on June 3, 2012, 6:53 GMT

    Major League Baseball has 30 teams and each team plays 162 games over six months in a year mostly in the US.

    India and the US are comparable in the maket size for Cricket and Baseball respectively. And IPL is the major league for cricket.

    Some may not like it now, but there will be likely be a day when the IPL will be run like MLB.

    And that will only extend the life of test cricket because there will always be a special place for competition between national teams. Just look at Olympics, Davis Cup, Ryder Cup and others for example.

  • Jay on June 3, 2012, 0:42 GMT

    (Cont) The rest is history: a short 5 years. Many of the best in the world play in IPL - Kallis, de Villiers, Steyn, Morkels & Husseys, Clarke, Watson, Gayle, Pollard, Vettori, Jaya, Sanga, Malinga, Shakib & KP - among foreign stars. Not to mention Sachin, Rahul, Viru, Dhoni, Gambhir & many locals. IPL's success is well documented. Yes, it's had scandals too - eg, shifty founder Lalit Modi, now hiding in London. Overall, Indian cricket's evolution has led to a unique commercial ecosystem. IPL is an integral part. Important, it's a sanctioned sport (WSC was not)! But India alone cannot make cricket viable worldwide. There's a need to balance all 3 formats, as Rahul Dravid stressed in his insightful Bradman Oration. Ultimately it's ICC's job. History's lessons: Don't kick the can down the road. IPL's not waiting, judging by its relentless can-do spirit. There's a rare "IPL window" of opportunity! ICC must seize it! If not, chaos will ensue; market forces will finish the job!!

  • Jay on June 3, 2012, 0:32 GMT

    David - Spot on! It seems ICC's playing a game of chicken. Wrong game. Worse still, ICC's acting like a head-in-the-sand ostrich. Total folly. Perhaps ICC and ECB both thought KP was crying wolf. Well, the truth is out: KP quit international limited-overs cricket, the wolf sent the twin birds helter-skelter. They blinked, their willful blindness & parochial game exposed. The consequences: England's loss, IPL's gain. More collateral damage might be inflicted by friendly fire. Sadly, we've seen WICB dealt deadly blows by Gayle & Co. Remember the last time a major player exodus took place? It was in the 70s, instigated by Kerry Packer, the renegade businessman, with his breakaway World Series Cricket. The English-Aussie duopoly was forever shaken up. Out of the chaos rose ODIs. Years later, England invented T20. Along came Sir Allen Stanford, the Ponzi scheme fraudster who took ECB for a disastrous ride. Out of the chaos rose IPL (after ousting ICL)! (TBC)

  • John on June 2, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    @recycle-bin-is-empty on (June 01 2012, 20:38 PM GMT) Just wondering , do you not think that having more foreign players per team might stifle the progress of India's young players ? I know in English football there is much talk that too many overseas players (whilst good for the premier league and premier league teams) it has harmed our national side.

  • J Ranjith on June 2, 2012, 13:02 GMT

    recycle-bin-is-empty, I never meant to claim that IPL is success only because of Indian players and not foreign players. Isn't that obvious that everybody who played well share the bragging rights for that? Yes, but I was posting that comment to reply someone who said foreign players are the ones who make IPL success. What I emphasized though was that Indian audience know foreign players well but the apart from few foreign players it's many of those who Indian players who bring the crowd to the TV and stadium. Because after all this is Indian audience and they love to watch Indian players even as they love to watch talented cricketers from all over the world playing for Indian franchise.

  • Dummy4 on June 2, 2012, 11:21 GMT

    If Ipl get a window in May & April the tournament organizers should compensate ECB & WICB for their considerable losses incurred. West Indies Cricket especially is very negatively affected by all these domestic 20/20 cricket leagues. WICB cant compete with the big money on offer so each year we either lose players completely or players turn up for international cricket playing halfheartedly. The list includes Gayle, Bravo, Pollard, Russell , Taylor, Roach, Narine & will continue to grow if something isn't done. I am sure WICB has observed a drastic drop off in ticket sales for the early part of the season cause most fans like myself are hesitant to pay a pretty hefty amount of money for tickets to see a team without it's most talented players get beaten no matter how much of a fight they put up! Imagine how many less tickets BCCI would sell for a home series if Tendulkar alone much more several key players were away playing in a domestic tournament elsewhere?

  • sharks on June 1, 2012, 20:38 GMT

    @Jim1207 I am an Indian and though, i dont care about those saying that indian players bring down the quality and all, they should look at their age and experience before saying that,but i disagree on ur point that IPL is success only bcoz of Indian players, foreign players equally add the charm just like indian players and are a major contribution to IPL success. If IPL is given a window then i think more foreign players should be allowed to play in a match than 4 as of now, bcoz fans from other countries also should get to watch their stars playing in those 2 month time. I very much liked the 2nd option suggested by the first commentator here. Also non-sense rules like giving a free hit to the batsman after a no-ball should be scrapped ( y the bowler is getting punished here for his next delivery, he is already fined for 1 run). The game need to be made somewhat more bowler friendly also to improve the quality, it will only gain more audience and purists, in India and abroad.

  • sharks on June 1, 2012, 20:14 GMT

    An excellent article Mr. David. The thing is IPL is only going to get stronger, i wont be surprised if within the next 5 years 2-3 more new teams are emerging with more businessman and bollywood stars wanting to rake in on the moolah.....which will further complicate the issue in the international arena as more foreign players would be invited to join in,. The only solution is as David suggested, create a window of 2 months with no international match going on and all the premiere leagues be it bpl, ipl or big bash should be allowed to host in that time frame...that way those players who are not picked in one league will get the chance to participate in some other league.....Sure, IPL will be at the advantage here as most of the players will prefer to play in it bcoz of the obvious, but still thats the only way we come up with something which is impartial to other leagues, icc cannot create a window for every league.

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