Gold Rush

bcci.jpg“Money, get away. Get a good job with a good pay and you’re okay.Money, it’s a gas.Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.New car, caviar, four star daydream,Think I’ll buy me a football team.”It’s strange to see how the lyrics from this Pink Floyd’s classic for The Dark Side of the Moon, written way back in 1973, are so applicable to the scenario in Indian cricket today.

The world’s richest cricket body, and the people who don the mantle of the defenders of this faith, that is cricket, in our country, the BCCI are about to launch their own version of the modern cricket league, the Indian Premier League, or IPL, for those who like their acronyms.

Mostly perceived as a knee jerk reaction to the Zee Group’s Indian Cricket League, the BCCI has kicked off a money-spinning domestic alternative to the Ranji Trophy and the other traditional competitions that take place in the circuit, meting out a some what step motherly, big bad wolf-esque treatment to them. The Ranji, as most purists will remember, has been the feeder line to India’s success, or lack of it at times, in the international fray.Under the pretext of improving the quality of cricket in India, the IPL is the new weapon in the BCCI arsenal to keep the money in Indian cricket to itself. Though there has been some decentralization of cricketing administration with the teams being sold to the highest bidder, these teams will still be bound by the rules set by the BCCI, hence making it a surrogate government in the teams’ functioning.Some pertinent questions that raise themselves every time the BCCI tries to vindicate its stance about the IPL are – what about the test teams and their selection? Can the IPL, a Twenty20 tournament in essence be taken as the basis to hand out the prestigious India cap? Another one – if the purpose of the IPL is to develop the Indian talent pool how can the foreign players, being paid ridiculous sums of money help that cause? An example to this effect is the English Premier Football League. The EPL replaced the traditional First Division in the late 1980s-early 1990s, under virtually the same pretext, with the English FA set to rake in more and more money. Removing the foreign player caps to allow more and more Africans, Frenchmen, Italians, Spaniards and Americans, to name a few into the league, the FA wanted to expand their horizons, on more than one front. And it has surely taken its toll on the one time World champions. Looking at where the English national team stands today, having failed to qualify for the next Euro Championships, and needing foreign coaching to try and get to the next World Cup, not to mention the failure to reach the finals of any major international event, one can only shudder at what the IPL might stand to offer the Indian national cricket team, the selection of which is already marred by regionalism and reputations. The EPL is both a model of modern sporting riches and a warning to national teams and those who pride themselves on those, around the world, what aspects the BCCI chooses to inculcate is what will determine the future of cricket in India.Objectively observing the BCCI’s pet project, the only plausible derivative from the IPL that will set it apart from the relative drudgery of the Ranjis and the Duleeps, is the glam quotient that the Board is bound to attach to it. In a country where the premier domestic journey has been held in virtual obscurity for ages now, the IPL will come as more or less, a breath of minty fresh air, with, one can only assume, cheerleaders, DJs, celebrity appearances and a whole lot of money, in tow.What is of primary concern here is, with the big money for little deeds in the IPL, will any one of any consequence at all play the Ranjis? What will the schedule be like, for the domestic calendar? Will the franchise responsibilities of the already advertisement-friendly cricketers take them further away from the central aim of promoting cricket? Will the IPL and its glamour steal whatever little thunder that remains from the traditional domestic tournaments? Monetarily, with the big bucks already in the BCCI’s pockets, what will happen if the bidder’s money is not recovered timely? Will they lose interest, and see the league collapse like the Major League Soccer in the United States?The Ambanis, the SRKs and the Mallyas of the world have paid a lot of money for their franchise teams, and wisely so. With the boom in the cricket world coinciding strangely with the arrival of T20 and India’s win in the maiden T20 World Cup, the scope for a lot of little heroes has arisen. Suddenly, the Rohit and Ishant Sharmas and the Piyush Chawlas of Indian cricket have a greater grip on the imagination of the Indian cricket viewer than their other bit part counterparts 5 years ago. Lalit Modi’s timing could not have been better, financially speaking. However, the repercussions and ramifications on the other aspects of the sport in the country are sure to suffer like never before.There are some in the BCCI that speculate that within five years, the IPL will have a larger turnover than the ICC itself, and that the game won’t really need it’s fickly minded international parent. In such a case, the BCCI stands to become, more or less, the lone profiteer from the gentleman’s game, a scenario that will bring a smile to the face of the Maratha warrior Sharad Pawar, and a lot of cheer to his camp of politicians-turned-cricket administrators.Coming back to the one question that will be answered only when the action begins, can the T20 format support the needs of the test team?Experts suggest that testing a player in an atmosphere of international opposition with millions watching on TV will prepare him for the gruelling events of international cricket, Tests, or ODIs. A cricketer who would other wise have had a remote chance of being noticed in the Ranji system will have a greater chance of making the team if he is seen performing well against class opposition in the IPL. The down side to this is obviously, the media hype that grips the country after every century a player scores, causing the entire nation to hail him as the next Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, or Tendulkar.The deciding factor in the success of the IPL will be transparency. With players like the Ambanis, Mallyas, GVK and Red Chillies in the fray, the possibilities for the flow of the green are infinite. If and only if the BCCI is able to enforce a salary cap and market funding cap into the system can they ensure a fair and well balanced league. The NBA in the US is a model that the BCCI seem to have drawn up their bidding system from, with the concept of icon players coming in to the fray. Even then, only time and money spent well will tell how well the situation at the Indian Premier League unfolds.Vineet Kanabar

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