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IPL – A revolution?

The question of IPL has been on the minds of everyone related to cricket. Bar England, players from every Test playing country have signed up, and even some English players are asking to join. Undoubtedly, it was on the minds of Lalit Modi and the BCCI higher-ups for some time, but it took the very serious threat of ICL to bring about the implementation. Either way, it’s here now and the cricket world will have to find a way to deal with it.

No one has bowled a single ball, yet its effects are already significant. West Indies is afraid their star players will miss a Test match if they choose their club over country. Other boards are complaining about commitments to tour games, practice, availability, and rightfully worried about injuries and their investment in the player. The players, on the other hand, have seemingly forgotten all about their clamor for less cricket. The star players will make more than a $1million USD per season, which is quite a bit of money considering they will play a maximum of 14 three-hour games as part of the league.

There are legitimate criticisms that can be directed at the IPL, however some are completely over the top. Ian Chappell claims that the home boards ought to be compensated for allowing their players to take part in the league. The claim has no merit, because players have been playing county cricket for a century, and no county has had to pay a dime to the home boards.

But the real question is, what will cricket look like in twenty years? Will players, lured by an obscene amount of money, no longer regard Tests between countries as the highest form of the game? I think those concerns are overblown. The same thing used to be said about ODIs when they first came along, and it is doubtful whether kids in Adelaide will want to grow up to represent the Mumbai Indians anytime soon. The BCCI will not allow any player to take part unless their home board gives permission, so there is no chance of them leaving a Test team to take part in the IPL.

However, when players realize actually how much money there is to be made in India, they cannot be faulted for wanting to secure a better future for themselves. Though most Test cricketers from big countries are well off, not all of them are, and even the stars outside India do not make the type of money that top footballers or baseball stars make. It is the height of hypocrisy to oppose players doing what they can to better their financial situation while accepting people doing the same in every other field. Players such as Kevin Pietersen initially balked at playing city cricket in India, but since the auction (where he presumably saw that he could be worth a million dollars a year for six weeks) he has been asking the ECB to do something that allows English players to participate.

A recent survey in Australia revealed that 47% of players would contemplate retirement if offered the chance to play in the IPL or the rebel ICL. That is an astonishing figure ? and one that cannot be brushed aside. The players obviously want it, and the boards ignore their wishes at their own peril. It seems ludicrous not to free up a mere six weeks of the international calendar to host such a tournament, if it means keeping first class and Test teams whole. And it’s not like the concept is new, as players have been going to play county cricket for a hundred years. As long as the BCCI keep their word and allow players to leave for international commitments, there should be no problem.

The way it is structured, there will be four overseas players per side allowed, and the rest will be Indians. The hype is overwhelming, but as it stands, the competition is little more than a very good domestic tournament, and those have never pulled in the viewership. Cricket is not like football, and fans do not have allegiances to clubs. Sure, those allegiances may develop over time, but the culture of cricket at the highest level is ingrained in the mind of the fans as being competition between the best that each country has to offer. One just has to look at some of the recent controversies to realize the fervor with which the notion of country and sport is mixed, especially in the subcontinent.

The idea of bringing big name international stars is a good one, as that is exactly what might be needed for people to watch a domestic competition. But it is unlikely to be enough. The season, as it is, will be too short. Fourteen three hour games is not enough to build an allegiance, and a month every year is nowhere near the level of sustained excitement needed to keep people talking until the next season starts. So even if it succeeds, it is unlikely to become the predominant item in the cricket calendar, unless the structure is radically changed ? and the BCCI will not be keen on doing that, considering the revenue it generates from international matches.

One of the stated goals of the IPL is to help Indian players develop, and one of the rules to accomplish that is to have a certain number of players under 22 in each playing XI. I’m not sure if that’s going to work. Facing Brett Lee for a couple of balls in his four over spells is nowhere near facing him for five days in a Test match. If anything, the biggest influence would be in the dressing room, where young players are exposed to the strategies used by top players around the world to prepare for games, stay fit, study tapes, and other intangibles that come with playing cricket at the highest level. But we come up to the season again ? it’s so short that is there going to be enough time that these youngsters will spend with the international stars to learn something?

I believe the IPL is here to stay, but it is not going to revolutionize cricket, or bring Test cricket to its knees. It’s a domestic competition that is slightly elevated by the presence of top world players, but it is hardly Test cricket. It’ll be similar to country cricket ? something that players do in their off season to make a few extra dollars, while providing some entertainment to a mostly Indian viewership. And not the least of all, it’ll be a way for cricketers to make some extra money on the side while still playing Test cricket.

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