Monday, February 13, 2012

Why the IPL is going wrong for Indian cricket?

No, this is not to blame for the disastrous tours of England and Australia. But it is got to do with wrong precedents being set and incorrect models being created. Previously too, I have blogged about the kind of culture that the IPL is ending up creating, especially on the franchisee side. But, in itself, IPL is not to be blamed for everything going wrong. It might just turn out to be the proverbial final straw that broke the camel's back, which has followed a series of rather unfortunate events. Some for which the BCCI is to be blamed and some for which we, the society, are to be blamed. The IPL is geared towards making a good business case first, and then an opportunity for players to display their T20 skills. It has been made completely commercial. And the BCCI has managed to get everyone, from ex-players to 'cricketing experts' on its side to tom-tom the benefits of the IPL. Many of these people claim that IPL has benefited fringe players like Swapnil Asnodkar, Paul Valthaty and others, who could get their 'skills' noticed because of the IPL. 

But are the franchisees actually interested in developing domestic cricket? The one which is supposed to feed the lineup for international cricket? None of those who shine at international level have honed their skills in the IPL. They have gone through the gruel of Ranji trophy, Duleep trophy and U-19 levels before being chosen for the test side. Moreover, the way the IPL is handled and organised itself is a huge contradiction, much like the Parliament and legislative assemblies in India. Those framing the rules of business, are themselves competing for the business. N. Srinivasan, the current BCCI secretary and a board member for eons, is the owner of the Chennai Super Kings franchise, through India cements. When the players of the game begin framing the rules, there is always going to be suspicions of not being fair and neutral.

Now, for season 5 of the IPL, Sahara India has begun claiming about unfair treatment. They are right, when they say that a replacement of Yuvraj Singh is needed. But, they go on to say that there is no Indian player of the same marketable value as Yuvraj, so they want a foreign player. Thus, what is more important to Sahara is their RoI, rather than creating a franchise where budding players can display their talent. A player's marketable value is important, than his talent. This is the same case with all other franchisees. How many have played a positive role in developing local cricket? How many have actually taken the pains to take cricket to areas which have good talent, but not enough facilities? Have the franchisees declared any plans to upgrade existing or build new training facilities and/or stadia for budding local cricketers, who might not currently be a part of the IPL? Has the BCCI ever thought of this issue? 

Time and again, comparison is drawn with the football clubs in Europe. These clubs have been built over time and locals have been naturally drawn towards loyalty of their clubs. They act as a talent breeding centre, which feeds into the national teams of each nation. Finally, creating and nurturing the lines that feed the national cricket side is left to the BCCI. So, Saurashtra bears everything it takes to hone Ravindra Jadeja into becoming a strong international cricketer. Only after he has been tested at that level, does he catch the attention of the franchisees who now want to pick him up at all possible costs. This is a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Many states have rightly withdrawn the status of 'sport' to the IPL and have begun collecting entertainment tax on the matches played.

The great Indian media too has had its role in making the IPL larger than life. In an era of breaking news, a flash of 30 runs scored in 16 balls makes more headlines than 150 scored over a day or bowling 30 overs in  a day for getting 5 wickets. When Valthaty became the highest scorer in the IPL, the news anchors were clamouring for his inclusion in the India ODI side. This goes on day-in and day-out, leading the public and layman fans to believe that IPL performances are the benchmark for selection to the international side. Moreover, Valthaty features on the front-page of every newspaper, even if he has scored 45 runs off 20 balls. But a player's photograph rarely appears (even on the sports page) for his heroics in the Ranji trophy. Newspapers allocate a major portion of the sports page for each of the IPL matches, but Ranji trophy games are reported in one column, with the heroics of the players going completely unnoticed. Take up any leading daily in your area and you can see that Ranji scores are presented in brief, whereas IPL score cards are presented in complete detail, with analysis from their regular cricketing experts. Twnty overs per side of cricket is analysed in great detail, but these experts do not sit and analyse the Ranji trophy games.

Not currently, but gradually, this would create a belief and mindset that cricket should be played in a manner so as to come onto the radar of the IPL franchisees. People will subconsciously begin believing that since the media gives prominence to the IPL, compared to the Ranji and Duleep trophies, it is far more important than the latter. All that needs to be done is bang a few balls into the boundaries or limit the score by bowling a few tight overs and you could be netting in far more money that you would have made over your entire career (if you didn't play international cricket).

As a society, we too are to blame for this. We haven't rejected the commercialisation. We have favoured batsmen hitting the balls into the boundaries and have never liked to see the stumps being castled too often. Perhaps because we are more of arm-chair analysts and very few have played the game seriously at any level. So, it isn't much difficult to cheer a ball crashing into the boundary, but requires more knowledge to realise how a few kmph difference in pace can deceive the batsman. Talk to parents of young cricket aspirants, majority would want their ward to become Sachin Tendulkar. Very very few would want him to emulate Anil Kumble or Zaheer Khan or Kapil Dev.

So, finally, whose game is it any way?

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  1. "These clubs have been built over time and locals have been naturally drawn towards loyalty of their clubs. They act as a talent breeding centre, which feeds into the national teams of each nation ":
    NO. They are worried about their OWN teams, the national team getting stronger is just a by-product of competitive soccer.

    Why are we still debating international cricket and club cricket. As time evolves, only one is going to stay. And money is in the T20 leagues, so some day, not too far from now, international cricket will be played once in a while like international soccer.

    The IPL does not need to invest in talent right now, and they are not. The franchisees and the BCCI are not doing social service. International cricket has established talents for the next few years. After some time, you will definitely see feeder leagues springing up.

    If at some point, the BCCI makes more money from T-20 than from the Indian team, why should it care about the team. Ya, it is the "pure" game and so on, but corporates kill products when it is way past its sell-by date. Test cricket is just one product.

    Most people "tailor" their resume for the day-1 job anyway. Not because being a consultant in Mck or a financial trader in Optiver is the "purest" job, but it pays $$$. But if cricketers do that, somehow it is bad.

    I think I(A,B,SA,)PL are the best things to happen to the players. Capitalism 101- The market will sort itself out.

    What the BCCI is doing is exactly what big Govts are doing, and it is what they should NOT be doing. Interfere.

    The question is: Does the ICC and BCCI and all the orher boards necessarily have to "save" traditional cricket? If so, how? Just stopping private leagues is not a way. ICL showed that people will be willing to forsake international career. With more money in the game, they cannot ignore owning T20 leagues.

    Having said that, I am an ODI and Test cricket fan. I find T20 boring. But lets see how long we can keep Tests and ODI on life-support. If Eden gardens is empty for an ODI, you know it is dying! Recall, it was the same ground that was packed all 5 days (Even on the third day when India was on the verge of defeat) in 2001.

  2. Kaushik,
    Football clubs may be worried of their own good, but let's not forget that they do act as a local talent breeding ground.

    Capitalism-101 is about RoI, nothing else. It is not going to worry about the good for society, and other side benefits the game has. Hence, what is required is a benign hand of guidance (not interference). Had capitalism been allowed to rule, England clubs would rarely be fielding a local English player. There have been instances where teams have fielded 11 non-UK players and then public uproar caused the English football body to intervene and establish guidelines about foreign players.

    People who "tailor" their resumes for Day-1 jobs, are *mostly* those with least interest in the "engineering" aspect. Mind you, a high CPI is not an indicator of passion or interest for the field.

    Given the current way functioning of Indian cricket, IPL will never have to invest in developing talent. That is coming from the Ranji sides, which are sponsored and developed by the BCCI.

    Those who are playing cricket, have taken a risk with their career. And rewards for which are in proportion to the risk taken. Forget Sachin, because he is a rare gem, once in a generation occurrence. But even Virat Kohli can garner > Rs. 1 crore per endorsement.

    Of course, the IPL has developed a cushion for the likes of Manish Pandey and Saurabh Tiwary, but perhaps what needs to be prevented is the development of a vision of being fit enough for IPL only.

    We have seen it in the Indian media, where everyone clamours for good IPL performers to be drafted atleast in the ODI team. When will this subside? We have already seen players playing the IPL after hiding injuries, which surfaced when the team had to leave for West Indies and England.

    Yes, T20 leagues cannot be ignored. You cannot expect players to keep on playing "for the sake of the game", but the way IPL is currently be handled and projected, doesn't augur well for Indian cricket. More so, because people like Srinivasan are both, the umpire and the player in the game.