Saturday, October 06, 2007

A tale of two leagues

England, Pakistan, South Africa and Australia all have domestic Twenty20 tournaments. The West Indies were also in the process of organizing one last year before it got postponed. So for cricket crazy India to completely keep away from Twenty20 cricket was indeed quite surprising. But in a dramatic change in events, India now has two Twenty20 leagues all of a sudden, with star players from different countries joining in to increase their profile.

When the Indian Cricket League (ICL) was announced, first impressions were that it was another Kerry Packer in the making but as time went by it soon appeared from far from it. There were some visible similarities though. Both leagues were conceived as a result of losing television rights and both sought to promote a new form of cricket in their own respective times. But as one was able to revolutionize cricket for all times to come, the other seems to have fizzled out before it has even started.

I really liked the concept of the ICL when it initially appeared. With names like Warne, McGrath, Lara and Inzamam linked with the series, it was indeed a mouthwatering prospect. But as time went by the ICL increasingly gave the impression of a retirement home for international cricketers as it failed to lure in current players even after they were reportedly offered unprecedented amounts of money.

Mohammed Yousuf was probably ICL’s finest catch. After just being awarded the Test player of the year, Yousuf is in prime form and I thought that his joining the ICL would cause other members of the Pakistan team, who had similar grievances with the PCB, to follow suite. This would have meant that cricket boards would probably change their authoritarian ways of handling things especially when it concerned the players. However, the present cricket boards showed that they have a lot more money and power than their predecessors of the Packer days as they ensured the retention of their players by showering them with incentives and threatening them with bans.

Perhaps the main reason for the ICL’s limited effectiveness so far has been due to the BCCI’s prompt reaction to its creation. By forming a Twenty20 league of its own, in the form of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the BCCI has been able to counter the threat formed by this so-called ‘rebel’ league. With more countries involved and by having the support of the cricket boards, the IPL has been able to grab players that were on the verge of jumping on to the ICL roster and has successfully sabotaged the ICL’s plan for a successful and financially rewarding tournament.

Everybody likes a bit of competition, but I’m afraid in this case there would be only one winner. Those players who had hastily joined the ICL may be regretting it now, since there is a similar opportunity available that has the approval of the boards and therefore does not have them out of favor with their own cricket authorities. But there are a few pros in joining the ICL. Firstly, the ICL is not much of a league but more of a tournament, with the whole event hardly lasting 2 months. This means quick money for the players, and that too lots of it. This would also ensure that it has a more following amongst the audience, as generally people like to have quicker results. The IPL, however, is a league in the true sense with the whole competition lasting a good 8 months. This would mean that some of the matches would inevitably take place during cricket tours that are already scheduled and would result in fewer appearances by star players. So I’m guessing the appeal would get dampened to some degree.

However with most of the current players joining the IPL, it is the cricket boards who have won. In the end, they are the ones who will make most of the money and still will dictate what the players can or cannot do. So I think the ICL did make a good attempt but in the end, unfortunately, they were in the wrong era for it to be successful.

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