The Indian Premier League, is the soap opera that millions of families are watching and following closely at present. The script however, has not been written and structured like one expects in a normal serial, but involves the uncertainty that prevails in the game of cricket. Unfortunately, many of the fans and stake-holders, some of them newcomers to these sporting encounters, cannot yet decipher and understand the difference between fantasy and the reality of it. There is a wonderful video clip doing the social media circuit of an enthusiastic cricket fan shouting his guts out for Mumbai Indians during the first match between Mumbai and Chennai. However, when Dhoni comes in to bat, he quickly changes into the Chennai jersey and cheers for them, even louder. On Dhoni’s departure the Mumbai jersey comes back into prominence. This is the correct reflection of the new IPL follower.
The tournament has been a true success for Indian cricket in every way possible. The players, administrators and the cricket lovers have all gained, but there have been some intriguing and concerning issues that also need to be highlighted and sorted.
Understandably, the IPL is a glamorous event, but the opening ceremony was like a B-grade movie. Bollywood stars hip hopping to some of the popular music numbers, looked cheap and completely out of place on a cricket ground. The act was more to please the television audience, as on the ground, one can barely differentiate between the highly paid artists from the rest, apart from the attire. Cricket should be at the centre stage and the activities during the opening ceremony needed to revolve around it. A benefit for cricketers old and young would have been much more appropriate than enriching stars who do not deserve to share the booty, which arises solely from Indian cricket. Apart from the performers, the only gainers were the event management companies, dancers from all corners of Mumbai who were brought in to make the performance look big and the IPL administrators, who sat and looked as if they had scored a scintillating century. They looked pleased as punch to have sanctioned this extravagansa. The popular advertisement of the cricket captains which one sees on television during the IPL and some of his teammates dancing, does make one feel that having them perform, may have been a better solution. At the least, the earnings could have gone to their team kitty.
The recent article by Gautam Gambhir on the multi-media fan following and on the expectations and control of the franchise owners is quite concerning. Cricket in India has always been a subject discussed and scrutinised more by the backbenchers and people who have not played the game. The social interaction through modern technology has made this group very active and powerful. Although, this becomes an important area for revenue generation for the various stake-holders, the opinions and criticism need to be better monitored. Influencing team selection and offensive blogs and messaging should be immediately curtailed.
There are many tales in cricket circles as to the aggressive control and operation of the cricket teams done by the franchise owners. The players and the staff are on their payroll and so have no other alternative but to pander to their whims and fancies. Being successful business and corporate people, they look at cricket in the same way as they run their companies. Winning is all that is important as well as improving the valuation of the team. The IPL for some of them is a platform to showcase their existence. The highly paid individuals who they surround themselves with are only playing to their egos. The days of the way in which cricket was run in England and India by the Royals seem to be back.
The amount paid for cricketers in the auction is still an unsolved mystery. The luck of the draw is what seems to be the answer, but when one is associated with such high salary discrepancies between good and mediocre players this definitely seems to be an area of concern in the way it is structured. How can the present Rajasthan Royals Captain Ajinkya Rahane be less valuable than many of the players commanding a much larger remuneration? There are many such examples of abnormalities and the BCCI needs to put a system into place that will bring continuity and a long-term approach, similar to the one followed by the football teams abroad. Franchise owners invest a lot of money in branding players with them and regular auctions may be a spectacle for the viewers but a nightmare for the owners.
The other thought provoking IPL news was the statement that the BCCI made as regards monitoring the workload of the Indian young bowlers. The feedback that they have received is that many of them have become just net bowlers being grilled to the nth degree by the franchisees and made to bowl endlessly to the foreign players. The BCCI is concerned about them and are determined to protect them from a burn-out and other injuries. This to me sounds quite ridiculous as a young bowler should be happy to bowl as much as he can. The more he bowls against the top-level players, the better he will get. Young bowlers in India need to be toughened, especially as the wickets require them to bowl longer spells under intense conditions. I guess the BCCI will need to fit a GPS tag on each Indian bowler to ensure that he is not overworked or else they will never be able to get the correct picture.
The initial fortnight of this year’s IPL has shown that there is very little to choose between the 8 sides and so the winner will be hard to predict. Teams are still experimenting with their combinations, especially with their foreign recruits.
Politics needs to be kept completely away from the IPL, water has already played its part, one hopes that the upcoming elections does not disrupt it further. The successful IPL tournament is the only pleasurable episode that one is watching on TV at present.
(The writer is a former Indian cricketer)