No cricketing issue becomes a hot topic before it hurts BCCI or Indian team’s interest. There were murmurs on Club vs Country topic since the inception of IPL still no one took it seriously. A player as important as Chris Gayle chose to keep his board in dark regarding his fitness and chose IPL over international cricket (if we believe WICB version, Gayle’s version is different though) still the club vs country debate didn’t get the fuel to be discussed on prime time. Sri Lankan board decided to call back its players from the IPL4 earlier than scheduled for preparation for an important series in England, yet BCCI managed to force the SLC to undo its position. Instead of a debate on club or country, the Indian media played the news stories assuming Sri Lanka’s decision was an act of revenge as India defeated them in the world cup final! But when Gautam Gambhir decided to play in an important IPL game for his club ignoring his injury, the debate got the much needed air. How can a senior player like Gambhir choose to play in an IPL match aggravating his injury that ultimately led to omission of his name from the Indian team for the West Indies tour? As his club KKR claimed, was BCCI aware of Gambhir’s dcision yet remained silent? Has IPL reached to a level from where it can threaten the international cricket?
Perhaps yes. IPL has already grown to a size bigger than it was meant to be. Club vs Country is just one part of the problem. Many may argue (in the defense of IPL) that in Football club and country both have their places and there is no conflict in that game, both can co-exist in cricket too. But there is a difference between Football and Cricket’s case. Yesterday Boria Mazumdar, renowned cricket columnist, pointed out this difference in his article. He wrote, “Unlike in football where a player plays for the club for more than 10 months a year, in cricket he plays for his country for a similar length of time. While Wayne Rooney is a Manchester United man for most of the year and wears England colours only during qualifiers or major tournaments like the European Cup or World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar will always be an Indian player who plays for the Mumbai Indians for six weeks in a year.” So where are we heading? To a conflict zone between international cricket and T20 club cricket?
When the IPL was launched to cash in the T20 format, there were a fair number of detractors of the concept. They were sidelined at that time as IPL seemed a brilliant idea four years ago. Even if it wouldn’t have added value to level of cricket played, at least it was expected to give the young, unheard names the exposure (and money) they needed while giving the senior names more opportunities to showcase their brilliance. IPL succeeded on that front, Manish Pandey or Ravindra Jadeja, David Warner, Kieren Pollard are a few prominent examples. But the warnings we overlooked then are becoming true now. At the cost of sounding too much apprehensive, I would suggest that cricket’s top authorities must re-look the IPL strategies.
Threats posed by the IPL very much look like what Kerry Packer’s world series cricket posed back in the seventies. Difference this time being a board’s involvement in the league. And not just any board, it’s the World Cricket Power house BCCI. We can not blame the BCCI for the idea. The idea of IPL was brilliant. BCCI infused its money and power to make it a success. But IPL seems to have grown into a monster now difficult to handle. Big names like Adam Gilchrist, Mathew Hayden, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Symonds and many more retired from international cricket earlier than expected and jumped to the IPL bandwagon completely. IPL gives you the chance to make big money by playing cricket for some 5-6 weeks. You can enjoy the money for the rest of the year with your family. But such decisions affect the country’s cricket adversely. We all saw how the retirements affected the Australian team.
IPL has also grown in the public as well as the cricketers’ mind unjustifiably. Suddenly, a player’s IPL performance has become as important as his performance in the international arena. It may have to do with the short public memory that players want to play and perform in the IPL so that public recognizes and remembers a player. Along with international retirement, we now have a term ‘IPL retirement’. So many emotional stories were run on news channels when Shane Warne declared his ‘IPL retirement’. Few months ago, when Sourav Ganguly in an interview said that he wouldn’t play any other form of domestic cricket to keep himself fit if he doesn’t get to play IPL, news channels announced that Sourav declared retirement from cricket. I wondered “then who had retired in 2008 after the India-Australia test series?” Certainly IPL which was launched to add fun and glamour to cricket has now become a serious business. Thanks to only this perception, IPL may hurt cricket in the long run.
So what’s the solution? It’s all in the perception. Cricketers as well as the cricket fans need to get rid of IPL fever. With the boards all over the world trying to launch T20 league of their own and a Champions League already in place, one wonders how will these leagues be accommodated in the cricket calender. The situation may get worse if it is not checked now. Cricketers must follow what they usually say that international cricket and test cricket are the real form of cricket. Otherwise IPL and all other T20 leagues may breakaway from the cricket becoming another sports competing with the ‘real’ cricket in the future.