As routine sets in, the debate and discussion encircling the IPL has become almost an invariable exercise. Five seasons since its advent, the critics don’t believe the IPL has or can do any good for Indian cricket, let alone world cricket, cynics highlight all the off-field controversies associated with the event to drive home the point that the IPL is not cricket but merely entertainment, and you have others who are either fans or admirers of the IPL who don’t move to challenge to the above views! Where have the discussions on the relevance of IPL to T20 cricket, or of IPL stints as a stage to perform big taken all of us? The fact of the matter remains that neither the organizers nor anybody else is sure what purpose the IPL serves. The ‘anybody’ referred to is indicative and is meant to bracket the section of people who don’t quite associate with the IPL.
There is stark similarity to the way the BCCI operates and the ICC is operating on the issue of IPL: undoubtedly a fall-out of Mr Pawar chairing the sports body which is keeping mum and taking a stance on the basis of public perception. It appears neither the BCCI nor the ICC is pretty sure of what stance to adopt on the IPL issue. With huge amount of money involved in the league and hordes of celebrity stars associated with it, it won’t take too long for the IPL to go beyond control and emerge as the Godzilla of world cricket, as feared by many. If the administrators believe that the IPL is here to stay or that the IPL shouldn’t be cricket’s future, they should do something about either choice as early as possible. The IPL should be the after-hours party, but shouldn’t consume the working/productive hours (first class domestic). It can be an addition to what cricket has to offer and not follow the path traced by football.
The other side of the debate is the impact on the quality and popularity of other formats. You don’t need a marketing expert to tell you which format of the game sells the most. Cricket South Africa (CSA) scrapped the annual Boxing Day test to accommodate a T20 game. T20 cricket is the selling product at the moment, but you cannot allow your greed to exceed a certain limit.
Test cricket and – to some extent domestic cricket – is struggling with a similar problem: lack of seamless interest and hollow following. The ICC finds itself diplomatically correct in tinkering ODI rules (more often than they should), but doesn’t wish to touch Test cricket in fear of retaliation. This fear has discouraged any thought for change. Today, when Test cricket’s following is dwindling and there is a possibility of a few legends retiring in the next couple of years, the ICC has nothing to show for in its attempts in preserving Test cricket. We have had many experts suggesting many ways to do so, but the administrators have adopted a position of non-action until it gets to a point of compulsive action.
How many venues have free passes for students? How many Test matches are hosted with a weekend in between? How many Test matches are drawn for bad weather? How many Test match centers offer attractive family prospects? How many first class performances are recognized for national team selections? These questions have been raised time & again, but without answers or action. By postponing the Test Championship & deferring day-night test matches, test cricket is steadily losing interest. Those who banish the argument of IPL or T20 cricket affecting test cricket should realize that test cricket like any other sport will have a set of people who will support and follow it, but for any sport to sustain it has to generate and grow fans.
ODI cricket has struggled to sustain popularity and T20 cricket hasn’t had any impact on the fortunes of ODI cricket. IPL or T20 cricket may or may not have affected the way ODI & test cricket are played, but that should be secondary as it appears that the IPL & T20 cricket are here to stay; the priority should be to focus on what is not going right, rather than manufacture reasons for the problem. It is time to stop all the ‘elaborate’ chatter and ensure execution of some actions to aid the preservation of cricket’s premier form.
The next time the technical committees of individual boards meet or the cricket committee of the ICC meets, the agenda should begin from the survival and sprucing up of test match cricket. The BCCI technical committee is to meet today (12th June), and a lot is expected of the Sourav Ganguly-led panel. The decisions of this meet will tell us whether the BCCI is really concerned about domestic cricket or otherwise.
Published with permission from The Spectator.