India’s newfound fascination for Twenty20 cricket has turned into a tug-of-war as money, power and court battles overshadow the country’s most popular sport.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is determined to be the sole crusader of the lucrative crowd-pulling Twenty20 format in cricket-mad India despite its secretary Niranjan Shah earlier describing Twenty20 as a “waste of time.”
This apparent change of heart had nothing to do with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s young Team India winning the inaugural Twenty20 world championships in South Africa in September, an event Indian officials once strongly opposed.
The Indian team takes a victory lap on the car presented to the man of the match Gautam Gambhir after the T20 match against Australia in Mumbai
It had everything to do with the unveiling in May of the unofficial multi-million-dollar so-called rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL), bankrolled by the country’s largest media group, Zee Telefilms.
A rattled BCCI banned cricketers signing up with ICL from representing the country, forcing the rebel body to file an ongoing case challenging the BCCI’s monopoly over the sport.
The BCCI also drew up its own $3 million (Rs11.91 crore) Indian Premier League (IPL) with the blessing of the International Cricket Council and supported by boards around the world.
And so began a game of oneupmanship, lapped up greedily by the media and showing no signs of abating with no apparent concern for the effects it could have on players, their international commitments and the sport in India.
The Zee-backed ICL presented India’s only World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev as its chief executive, while the BCCI’s IPL paraded the country’s other legend, Sunil Gavaskar, and popular commentator Ravi Shastri as members of its governing council.
At the moment, IPL is seemingly winning the battle in terms of getting star players to sign up. It says it has on board Test captains Graeme Smith of South Africa, Daniel Vettori of New Zealand, Shoaib Malik of Pakistan and the entire Team India.
IPL also persuaded ICL’s main draw, Pakistani star batsman Mohammad Yousuf, to break his contract with the rebel league and sign up with the official body, prompting ICL to serve legal papers on the player.
The best ICL has managed so far are retired international stars, headed by West Indian great Brian Lara and Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq, along with a slew of domestic has-beens.
Both leagues—despite obvious deep pockets—have found it easier to sign up big names than finalize start dates and other details of the events they plan to stage.
The only real concrete fact is that both leagues will feature Twenty20 matches between franchised teams made up of international players and young promising Indians.
ICL may begin in November and the BCCI is looking to start IPL in April next year, although like much in this saga, nothing seems to be certain.
The beleaguered Asia Cup limited-overs tournament, already put off twice before and now scheduled to be held in Pakistan in April-May, faces an uncertain future if IPL is held at the same time and there are concerns the players may end up playing too much cricket.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is impressed at the potential impact the leagues could have on cricket. “If the prototypical young cricketer is happy signing up for IPL franchises and making his money there, is he going to bother playing five-day cricket?,” veteran columnist Ashok Malik said.
Cricinfo, the game’s leading website, said: “Money could make Twenty20 the most lucrative form of cricket any aspiring cricketer wants to play.
“So what that would do to cricket skills and talent pools for longer versions of the game is anyone’s guess. “Also, it could change the way we look at cricket. Teams based on regional affiliations will be replaced by teams based on commerce, players playing not for local pride but for top dollar.