Monday 25 April 2011 

Comment: The Big Indian Premier League Debate

Comment: The Big Indian Premier League Debate
Comment: The Big Indian Premier League Debate
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

We associate the Indian Premier League with many things – thrill of Twenty20, exciting cricket, enthralling youngsters and experience of old salts, crazy fan-following for city-based franchises and a business-like thirst for success.

What we forget to realise year after year is that it also fuels a major debate, one that has been raging on for four seasons now. It is the old country versus franchise, patriotism against money debate, fuelled both by the lack of an ICC approved window and the packed international calendar.

Earlier, perhaps, we didn’t hear too much noise. Somebody would shoot off a rant in the distance, much before the tournament would get underway. And the time it would take for such a whimper to become noise would be the same Lalit Modi would need to seal off lips, and the entire thing would carry on unhinged. It has happened before in case of the Sri Lankan and Australian players, in the first and second seasons respectively.

The Lankan Board sided with BCCI in 2008 and we saw umpteen bilateral series as a direct consequence, while the Aussies packed off on their own to play international cricket. None really bothered even as Ricky Ponting created a hue and cry.

This time the din is louder for the Lankan authorities refused to play ball, well initially atleast. Perhaps they didn’t like it that India hosted the World Cup finals or were emboldened by Modi’s absence and thought they could arm-twist the Indian Board. Whatever may be the reason, they reneged on their decision to let their players play on in the IPL for as long as they had promised. And you can’t really blame the players for creating a mess, now can you? The tour of England doesn’t start until early June in earnest and the camp was slated to start a month prior.

These are international cricketers we are talking about, well versed with conditions the world over. They cannot be treated like amateurs, expected to take part in team-bonding exercises while they let go the chance of earning millions of dollars.

Yes, whichever way you look at it, money is the most important factor in international sport today. It dictates terms on which Dwayne Bravo and Keiron Pollard play international cricket. They are fit aren’t they? Yet they will not be representing their country against Pakistan, while playing in the IPL at the same time.

The WICB terms it an opportunity for them to hone their T20 skills, which is another way of saying, we do not care as long as they do not sign central contracts and yet turn up to play for us sometime. That Chris Gayle could not barter out such a deal must be surely down to some poor negotiating skills.

The important question herein isn’t deciding what is more important – playing for your country or playing for the franchises who have made sure you will never have to worry about life beyond cricket? One thinks as international sportsmen there can be no doubting their spirit, for the passion of representing their nation cannot be matched by any paycheque.

Yet, they have to make the hard choices of altogether skipping one format of the game unless they want some strict disciplinary action taken against them (read cancellation of NOC for playing in the IPL). It is singularly down to some shoddy administration policy on behalf of the world’s cricket boards, who want to have their apple pies and eat it too.

It is an argument that is heading towards the debate on getting a window in the international cricket calendar. Let us consider both sides of the argument for a second. If we had three or four weeks free of Tests and ODIs, then all parties stand to gain – players, franchises, BCCI and the other boards they are paying a fee for letting their players participate in the IPL.

However it doesn’t end the monopoly that the Indian board enjoys over the tournament or indeed the market. They will never allow the IPL to get out of their exclusive control – like with the Champions League T20 which is also governed equally by the Australian and South African boards – whilst also maintaining a stronghold over investments in the advertisement market.

Simply put, if it was so easy to set up such a lucrative T20 gala, why hasn’t every other nation done so already?

For these primary reasons, the Indian Premier League will always remain what its name suggests – a domestic tournament held on a grand international scale. Therefore the bid to get it international recognition from the ICC and indeed getting a window in place will never succeed.

At least not in the near future, and in turn, it brings us to the other side of how this will hurt the cricketers and other vested interests. Lasith Malinga is but only the latest entrant on the list of names who have left alone any or all formats of the game because the lure of the IPL is strong enough. Truth be told, not every international cricketer out there is worth his weight in gold, especially the non-Indians.

Hence the call will have to be made sooner or later as to whether they want to go on playing matches that don’t pay too much or the ones that pay quite a lot.

This is perhaps not representative of their greedy side but the humane side. After all looking after themselves and their family’s interests is also on the to-do list of an athlete, beyond the quest for glory. Not everyone can be a successful commentator or analyst of the game and there are only so many jobs that retired cricketers can look out for. It is a compelling argument in favour of taking up the IPL which only does seem a little bit as a haven for cricketers who are over the hill or indeed those who want to be, despite all their youth and exuberance.

Chetan Narula

© Cricket World 2011