‘It’s all about big money’

Though the players’ auction in Mumbai generated widespread excitement, the cricketing fraternity in India is divided over how the IPL would impact the game. By Vijay Lokapally.

It was a nice joke. At the end of the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction, when a cricketer was asked if he had some time to spare, he whispered, “Call me later. I am at my bank.”

“Historic day,” gushed an official of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), referring to the players’ auction for the IPL. “Far more exciting than a one-day cricket match,” announced another. They conveniently forgot June 25, 1983.

Well, cricket had taken a back seat, for it rained dollars on the cricket ‘stars’ though some of them were only into their first international season.

Film stars and the corporate czars have made huge investments, buying teams and players as the IPL threatens to change the face of the game.

The IPL, to be played on Twenty20 format, has attracted the best of international players, some of them having retired from the game and a few others having opted out of this format of cricket. But then, the financial aspect was too tempting to ignore the IPL.

The eight franchises of the IPL put in nearly Rs. 20 crore each in one of the biggest auctions in the country. “The IPL clearly is all about big money and little else,” commented former India medium-pacer Madan Lal.

The traditionalists are critical of the cricket that the IPL is set to offer. “Just see how many retirements this IPL would force in international cricket in the next season,” remarked former India batsman Ashok Malhotra. This fear persists even though the International Cricket Council (ICC) is said to have promised to take steps to prevent players from retiring pre-maturely.

The auction of the players was unprecedented in the history of the game as the cash-rich BCCI launched a league that could well compel the ICC to take a fresh look at the cricket calendar. The IPL could pose a serious threat to the way cricket is followed and conducted the world over. Any confrontation between the ICC and the BCCI on dates for the IPL would be a bad advertisement for the game.

Vijay Dahiya, the young coach of the Delhi team that won the Ranji Trophy, said: “I think the IPL is a good thing. Financially, it offers a great hope and a great future to the players.

“By playing in the IPL, the domestic players will get a feel of international cricket even without playing for India. They can learn a lot,” added the former international.

However, the danger here is the under-21 players losing direction. Since each of the IPL teams would have to include four players from the junior ranks, it would create a fierce competition among the young aspirants to make a mark in Twenty20.

“Much would depend on how much you concentrate on the IPL. After all, you can’t ignore domestic cricket. You would have to excel in domestic cricket to win a place in the IPL. I think the IPL is a blessing for cricketers,” said Dahiya.

The ICC has refused to create a calendar window for the IPL until 2012. This, according to Malhotra, is a welcome move.

“Not because I am associated with the Indian Cricket League (ICL), but I don’t want international cricket to suffer. The administrators would lose their identity because your feats in the IPL would not be recorded as official.”

Malhotra is also of the view that the IPL will harm domestic cricket. “When you play domestic cricket now, you would prepare with the IPL in mind. That means there will be a change in the way you play your cricket. You will produce more sloggers and defensive bowlers than the traditionally strong players with emphasis on technique. I doubt if we will get to see youngsters wanting to emulate the former greats who gave this great game some unforgettable moments. Technique will go for a six,” he said.

Some of the coaches are in consonance with Malhotra. Tarak Sinha, a reputed coach, admitted, “There will be a surge of players wanting to slam the ball more than playing it on merit. For some time we have seen the erosion of technique and leagues like this will certainly bring about changes. But then, I am sure the cricketing fraternity would be happy with the huge money the IPL is offering to the players who have not even made a mark for themselves. I don’t know how many good Test cricketers would be produced in the coming years.”

It won’t be surprising if the coaches are compelled to teach their wards the art of playing the reverse sweep more than the forward defence now. “There is no place for a coach in Twenty20. If you don’t need a coach then I leave it to your imagination what would be the fate of the sport. In the IPL, an agent is far more important than a coach. In the IPL, you won’t be playing for your country’s prestige, you’ll only be playing to justify your price tag. It is not at all good for the game. I will advise all youngsters to treat the IPL as entertainment and nothing else. It can never be serious cricket,” said Sinha.

“Every morning we now need to check on the dollar rate,” joked a young cricketer! He would do well to take note of players such as Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin, who have opted out of the IPL to focus on their careers.

It would be pertinent here to mention former Australian captain Steve Waugh’s views in his columns on V. V. S. Laxman, who sacrificed his position as the icon of Hyderabad to allow his team to bid for others. “VVS has always struck me as a man of principles and his decision will no doubt add to his stature,” wrote Waugh.

Pravin Amre was of the view that the IPL was welcome as long as it did not hurt the traditional format of the game. “You can make money from cricket but you cannot make a cricket career just because you have money. I enjoyed scoring a century on Test debut (against South Africa) in Durban. The joy of making that hundred can never be bought,” he said.

“The IPL is good for the Twenty20 types,” Amre added.

True. Wasim Jaffer has more than 10,000 runs in first-class cricket, while Rohit Sharma a little over 1000. But look at the difference in the price that they commanded at the auction.

“The cricketers have become richer, but cricket has become poorer,” was Malhotra’s parting remark. This, perhaps, puts the IPL in perspective.