The Indian Premiere League (IPL), as a Twenty20 Cricket tournament, was founded by business and cricket tycoon of India, Lalit Modi, the then vice president of the BCCI in 2008. The very next year the IPL was shifted to South Africa for the UPA government couldn’t give security assurance due to the General Elections-2009. After the third edition in 2010 the BCCI suspended Lalit Modi thanks to a plethora of allegations and cross allegations that culminated in 2013 when the BCCI banned him for life after a series of investigations. He shifted to London in 2010 and has been living there since. Meanwhile the IPL has emerged as one of the biggest cricket tournaments of the world in terms of chiefly money—by the billions.
From its inception many cricket purists including stalwarts and even politicians criticized it as ‘commercialization’ of cricket with buying and selling of cricketers from across the world, called auction in moderate term, and teams consisting of Indian icons, young Indian cricketers and international cricketers based on their ‘price’ which was calculated as per their performances or potential. Thanks to its money-spinning ability and increasing popularity among popcorn cricket revellers the BCCI adopted the IPL as one of their ‘must’ activities and went to lengths at times, lobbying for it internationally. Even in the post-2010 period the IPL was never rid of controversies including match-fixing and the like leading to banning of franchises or teams from the tournament on a few occasions. However, the IPL grew and grew in importance, because international cricketers also began counting on it due to the money they stood to earn. National pride and franchise loyalties came into clash.
Again, from the start, many cricket administrators and veteran cricketers including stalwarts saw the IPL as the gateway for young talents—it is not clear if they just approved it naturally or due to the money-oriented vested interests. It cannot be denied that young Indian talents did get opportunities through the tournament in terms of both recognition and some assured money; but the point of concern was that the national selectors started looking at the IPL as a yardstick for selection in Team India despite the various domestic cricket tournaments being available since decades. Obviously, competitive cricket is being played in the IPL with team rivalries for the coveted trophy; however, the intensity generated by national pride—representing one’s own country in international cricket—can never be compared with the club-centric cricket of the IPL involving players of various nationalities. Problem is, the revellers started enjoying IPL matches as three-hour ‘cricket movies’, and the hype only magnified over time. We’ll now consider the scenario in the last two-three years.
Thanks to the IPL, an ocean of ‘talents’ opened up before the national selectors, and IPL became a somewhat ‘entrance test’ to find a place in the national team. In the roughly two-year period prior to the ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 Team India was ‘different’ in almost every match played by them—in any format. In the name of ‘finding the perfect team for the World Cup’ a process of experimentation began that turned out to be endless—and often mindless with players of dubious record finding repeated chances to play in the national team. An artificial syndrome called ‘the number-4 batsman’ was also created to justify this. As part of this process various ‘lobbies’ also began to form around certain ‘talented’ young cricketers with even cricket stalwarts joining these. One of the biggest examples was the peculiar case of ‘Rishav Pant’.
It is well-known that Rishav Pant has nothing to show in terms of one-day international cricket till now and yet when he was not selected for the World Cup team, a national hue and cry was raging across ranging from local protests to social media to editorial pages of national newspapers. Perhaps due to such national ‘outrage’ Indian strongman-opener Shikhar Dhwan got injured in the very first half of the World Cup. And what happened? Naturally, Rishav Pant was selected superseding various other ‘established’ options like Ambati Rayadu, Ajinkya Rahane and the like. And what Pant did in the matches he played thereafter? Well, he only contributed to the ‘decimating’ process of MS Dhoni who was persisted upon during the period for his ‘experience’ only, and the so-called hitters like Pandya and Pant came in to bat ahead of ‘experienced’ Dhoni, repeatedly—including in the crucial semi-final against New Zealand which paved the way out for India. It was ludicrous to watch Pandya-Pant duo trying to win matches after just 3 or 4 wickets down. This is also to mention here that Team India had 3-4 wicket-keepers, 4 if we include KL Rahul, playing in certain one-day international matches on various occasions. This absurdity got extended even to a few World Cup matches too. As a devout cricket lover since ages I must say that any team that includes 4 wicket-keepers in the playing eleven can never aspire to win a major tournament.
With the ICC T20 World Cup-2020 less than a year away the experimentation process started again with the IPL becoming the all-important platform to select from. In the first T20I match against Bangladesh on 3rd November, 2019 in Delhi Team India didn’t look like a national team—it was more like an IPL franchise. That the match was lost was a foregone conclusion—notwithstanding the fact that Bangladesh was playing without Shakib and Tamim.
If such kind of a mindless IPL-centric experimentation goes on unabated only Team India and millions of fans are set to suffer from the syndrome of snatching defeats from inevitable victories apart from demoralizing so many other tested cricketers. The essence of IPL is commerce, and it must be accepted by all stakeholders. Domestic cricket should get back its lost relevance. In this context it is reassuring to see the new BCCI President Sourav Ganguli giving such a promise for a new era of Indian cricket. Else, the IPL will continue to be a great asset in terms of money-spinning, and a liability in terms of Team India’s winning ability at the international level. This writer had expressed the opinion earlier that any cricketer who excels in Test cricket can easily excel in all formats of the game—it is proved by so many legendary players. The upcoming introduction of day-night cricket Test with the pink ball between India and Bangladesh in India this month is bound to increase interest in the classical format.