In 1977, an Australian businessman, Kerry Packer when not given the telecast rights of the Cricket matches by the Australian Cricket Board to his TV channel, waged a war against the Cricket establishment by starting his own World Cricket Series and signed dozens of high profile Cricketers for it by offering whooping amounts to them. The purists mocked that series as Packer Circus but that Circus changed the face of the game forever. The series ended with Packer having the last laugh but it revolutionized the game to an extent that earlier could not have been imagined.
Three decades later, Subhash Chandra, the chairman of the Zee Television Group, decided to follow suit in the Indian context and started Indian Cricket League (ICL). This league lasted two seasons and ended without getting even half of the success of the Packer Circus three decades back. However just like the Packer Circus, the ICL also brought about a revolutionary change in the Indian Cricket. The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) being financially very strong, did not bow before Mr. Subhash Chandra but it decided to counter the ICL with its own Indian Premier League (IPL), a 20-20 Cricket tournament which has successfully completed five seasons since its outset in 2008 and is now ready to enter into the sixth one.
Cricket is perhaps the only game of its kind in which despite the basic rules and structure of the game remaining the same, the form and the style of the matches being played alongwith the public interest in them changes a lot in the three different formats in vogue today. There was a time when only the test matches (and first class matches) having two innings for each team and lasting for many days (sometimes for even more than five days) were played. The seventies saw the advent of the limited overs Cricket in which one thing was ensured that the match, if fully played, could not end in a draw like the format of the test (and the first class) matches. Since the people involved were habitual of playing (and watching) long innings then, such one innings matches were started with the no. of overs being 60 per innings which after more than one and a half decades only, could be reduced to 50 overs per innings. Since the no. of balls available for playing was less, new styles of stroke-making were invented to score runs quickly and the governing body also introduced some new rules to facilitate it because it had become clear that this new smaller format had gained more popularity than the erstwhile traditional format.
In the new millennium, the duration of the match was further shortened by reducing the no. of overs per innings to just twenty. This was developed in a new format called the 20-20 format, keeping the 50-50 format separate from it. Quite naturally, the less no. of balls to play, the more the stroke-making of the batsmen to score runs and hence the more the excitement for the public. Therefore, this mini format became even more popular than the 50 overs matches giving rise first to the ICL and then as its reaction, to the IPL. Now the ICL has had its life and does not exist but the IPL does exist with the official backing, support and ownership of the BCCI and since it’s pouring so much money in the coffers of the BCCI, it’s bound to continue for years and years. Now what’s the problem ?
The problem is that being the BCCI’s own tournament, most of the Indian Cricketers are always ready and available to partake in the IPL plus a no. of foreign players also making themselves available for it because of the heavy sums being paid to them by the teams who sign them (or buy them in the auction taking place every season), the focus on the traditional Cricket is less. Since the objective of the IPL is to make more and more and more money only, it’s been blended with the cine-world and cheerleaders (young girls) have also been introduced to entertain the public further. So where’s Cricket ? The original game in which the skills of batting and bowling were truly tested ?
I agree with the purists who consider the IPL (in fact, the 20-20 format itself) as just an entertainment show to make money and not the true sport. Yes, lured by money, there are a lot many Cricketers, discarding the real game and opting for this shorter format only. I was startled to know when Chris Gayle of the West Indies had openly asserted that he was more interested in playing 20-20 matches (including the IPL) and not the test matches (for his national team) because Gayle is one of those four rare Cricketers who have two triple hundreds to their credit in test Cricket. But the fact was evident. He did not bother to play test and 50-50 overs matches for his national team for many years but was always available to play in the IPL. Ditto for Andrew Symonds whose international career virtually finished due to his neglecting the international matches. And how lethal it can be to neglect the traditional game which you can play for your nation is to be understood from this fact that Symonds’ career in IPL also ended very shortly thereafter.
Now the batsmen do not show any patience to stay on the wicket and the bowlers do not show any zeal to take crucial wickets. The focus of the batsmen is on scoring runs this way or that way and through the clumsiest of shots without caring for the correct technique. I compare it (the readers may disagree) to the making of the money by hook or by crook, giving a damn for the ethics. The bowlers are also interested in giving less no. of runs and therefore, now their target is delivering a dot ball instead of getting the batsman out. Plus the boundaries have been narrowed and lifeless wickets are prepared to make it completely a batsman’s game with the bowler being reduced to a means to a supporting role only. And that’s the reason behind several great Cricketers’ failing to leave their mark in the IPL. Is it a healthy sign for the game ? No. ! The budding Cricketers are learning to play the shorter format so that they can partake in the IPL and neglecting the development of the basics of the game in them. The way one cannot try his hand on the light music properly without knowing the basics of the classical music, the same way a batsman or a bowler cannot achieve long lasting success in the shorter format without strengthening his knowledge of the basics which is possible only by playing in the longer format over a period of time. Finally, it’s a dream of every player to represent his country at the international level and for that he has to learn to stay on the wicket for some hours while batting and deliver long spells while bowling. That’s not possible just by playing in the IPL.
However, IPL is a boon too when looked from a different perspective. The sportspersons are also human-beings and they also need money to spend a quality life or at least meet the basic needs of themselves and their dependents. Indian Cricketers especially who have risen to the level of international Cricket, have been fortunate from this viewpoint when compared with the Indian players associated with the other sports (with the sole exception of Tennis). All the same, a few decades back, they also used to earn fame only and not money. Even the members of the Indian Cricket team which had stunned the sports world by winning the Prudential World Cup Cricket tournament in 1983, did not get much money thereafter. The span of active sport life is a bound to be a limited one. By his late thirties, a sportsman has to hang his boots. But life is still there. And the need for money will be there till the life is. Hence he has to make sufficient money during the his playing years only so that even after his retirement from the active game, he has money to live his life and is not forced to face any hardships due to dearth of money. We hear and read the painful stories of the sportspersons selling their medals won for the nation because of poverty. Who wants to undergo that state ? Nobody. Hence if the IPL provides money, it’s good for a person’s present and future and his mental health as well. With peace at his mind (not bothered by the monetary issues), he can do better on the field.
Now for the game. The IPL has given India some international players who have shown their class to the world. The past few test and ODI series played by India has highlighted this fact that now the much needed balance in the Indian playing eleven has arrived through Ravindra Jadeja. Very few people may be remembering that Ravindra Jadeja is a product of the very first IPL season when he had played for the Rajasthan Royals and caught everybody’s attention by his all-round skills. The 2010 season provided another durable Cricketer to the Indian Cricket team who has been playing for India for almost a decade and is likely to play for many more years for the nation – Ravichandra Ashwin whose talent came to fore through his playing for the Chennai Super Kings. These players are now proven match-winners for India. We can have more such players in the times to come. Hence the assumption that the IPL is killing the genuine Cricket, may finally prove to be a myth.
However, it is not to be forgotten that the players who are graduating themselves from playing for a IPL franchise to playing for the nation, are working hard on their game and not neglecting the basics. Jadeja and Ashwin bowl only four overs in an IPL match but they have mastered the art of effectively bowling more than 30 overs per innings in a test match. Virat Kohli plays attacking game in his IPL matches to score quick runs but he has learnt to stay on the wicket and set his eyes to play much longer innings in the international matches. Hence the player himself has to decide his goal. If he cherishes the dream to play for his country, then just playing in the IPL won’t help. Longer format whether it’s a 50 overs match or a test match, is an altogether different ball game which demands hard work, practice, patience and a will to adapt his style according to the demand of the format concerned. As the format changes, the player’s style is also to be molded accordingly. This is an skill to be developed by the player himself.
Besides, the IPL or say the 20-20 format of the game has set higher standards for fielding and catching. The players cannot afford to be lax on the field because every run saved is equal to a run scored. And giving a life to the batsman by dropping his catch may cost the fielding team the entire match. Hence the players have to be more fit, active and vigilant. This advantage of the IPL passes on to the international matches being played by the same players.
The IPL is there in India to stay for the decades to come (despite the fact that it has suffered the ignominy of betting and match-fixing too) and there shouldn’t be a surprise if the International Cricket Council (ICC) creates a window for it in the international Cricket calendar in the near future. Hence I don’t think there’s any use cursing something which cannot be done away with. It’s just like the Indian democracy which may be flawed but we have to learn to live with it because we cannot abolish the system. And if we want to change or improve the system, we have to be in it and not out of it. The same principle applies to the IPL as well.
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