The game has just begun

No doubt the Twenty20 format is an ideal vehicle for ICL to launch its plans.-PTI

The success of Indian Cricket League depends largely on how it markets itself and how it sells the concept to the public and the sponsors. Merchandising is the key here, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Kapil accepted the job not only for the fabulous financial contract ICL offered him, but also for bringing together cricketers for what he termed as an alternative to the present cricket structure in the country. “There is no harm if the youngst ers make big money,” was how the former Indian all-rounder responded.

However, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was not amused. It sacked Kapil as Chairman of the National Cricket Academy.

It was not that Kapil was not willing to perform his duties at the NCA; he was just not given a free hand. He dared the BCCI to sack him. The Board, according to Kapil, had always been suspicious of the players, and even now nothing had changed.

Subhash Chandra had an axe to grind. Sore over not being able to secure the television rights, he was determined to embarrass the BCCI. And he hit upon a breakaway cricket league as the best way of achieving his goal. He then joined hands with Kapil Dev, and ICL was born.

According to Kapil, one of the main reasons why he joined ICL was that he was disturbed seeing the state of some of his former colleagues who were struggling to lead a decent life.

Through ICL, he looked at the possibility of forming a pool of youngsters who would not have to worry about their future. No doubt money, according to Kapil, was an important aspect, but cricket too was a prime factor.

However, as far as the Board was concerned, Kapil was a villain. It claimed to have communicated with the former India captain, but the end result was an acrimonious parting of ways between the two.

There was talk of ICL luring some big names such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Brian Lara etc. Only Lara has so far accepted the offer.

ICL may not have landed a big catch, but it has attracted some youngsters in India, most of them good enough to play for the country in the near future but fully convinced that the BCCI’s system did not encourage them. These youngsters have sacrificed their dream of playing for the country one day for a financially secure future.

The exodus from Hyderabad — seven players, including Ambati Rayudu crossed over to the ICL camp — is seen as a result of the players’ discontent at the way the state association runs the game. Former India players such as Erapalli Prasanna, Sandeep Patil and Madan Lal too seemed unhappy with the way cricket was run in the country and decided to join ICL. “It was frustrating,” Patil said.

The fanfare surrounding the breakaway league notwithstanding, ICL has a bumpy ride ahead. The initial enthusiasm and investment will not last long unless the returns are good.

So, ICL will have to think in terms of innovations, which certainly is not an easy task. No doubt the Twenty20 format is an ideal vehicle for ICL to launch its plans, but the novelty factor will depend on how the cricket lovers respond.

Though the BCCI had instructed its affiliates not to lend their grounds for the rebel matches, ICL is confident of going ahead with its plans. Getting grounds for the matches, according to Kapil, was not a big issue, with the West Bengal Government and the Railway Ministry coming forward to offer their grounds.

ICL is planning to have its first camp for the 48 players in Chennai, Kapil said. “The boys have to come together to prepare for the league.”

To start with, ICL will have six teams. This could go up to 16 teams in two years’ time, with a coach to provide tactical acumen. ICL also has elaborate plans to set up nurseries and academies aimed at spotting talent and grooming them.

“Not everyone gets to play for his state. There are many who would have been victimised by the selection policy of most of our state associations. At ICL, the selection will be based on performance only. I expect many youngsters to benefit from the guidance ICL coaches will provide,” said Madan Lal, the former India fast bowler who has agreed to a coaching contract with the breakaway league.

The matches will be played under floodlights. The aim is to target the TV audience. Each team is expected to have four international players, two Indian and eight promising youngsters.

ICL, set up with a corpus fund of Rs. 100 crore, will offer Rs. 4.5 crore as prize money. It will make use of the expertise of Tony Greig and Dean Jones in the administration of its league.

ICL will need a right mix of overseas stars and current national players. The focus is, no doubt, on entertainment with the backing of a dedicated television channel. The structure of the Twenty20 format encourages people to follow ICL purely as an entertainment.

ICL is an untapped medium, and it is for the Essel Group to package it as a great entertainment. It has the huge advantage of reaching the Indian households through a variety of TV channels.

Though established as a result of the friction between the Essel Group and the BCCI, ICL certainly promises entertainment. Imagine a Priyanka Chopra in a commentator’s role or a Shahrukh Khan giving pitch report. Passion will have to be created and much depends on how ICL markets its league, how it sells the concept to the public and the sponsors. Merchandising is the key here.

Some sort of irony this: Kapil wanting to serve the game and the Board crushing his plans. Kapil never played Twenty20 cricket, while the BCCI was initially opposed to this format. However, both are now using the Twenty20 format to get back at each other.

The birth of ICL has also forced the BCCI to plan its own international Twenty20 league.

* * * SO THEY SAID

I think the BCCI and ICL should have avoided a public spat. It is not good for their reputation. I don’t know what stopped the BCCI from knowing the intentions of ICL. If it was really helping them in the talent hunt, then there was no problem in allowing them to hold the league. The BCCI and ICL should have sat across the table and dealt with it in a matured fashion. There was no need for the BCCI to take such a harsh stand against one of the finest players the country has seen.

Kapil Dev’s ouster (from the NCA) was in the offing once he decided to back ICL. But it is good for the cricketers because they have gained from both the camps. Such competition is always good. Look what Jet Airways did to Indian Airlines. It has improved.

— Ajit Wadekar, former India captain.

The BCCI is only using its authority in a logical way. It is a body recognised by the government and authorised to conduct the game in the country, whether you like it or not, whether it is fair or not. Any other sport organisation wou ld have reacted similarly. But the BCCI has underestimated ICL. It should not have been so adamant and ought to have discussed things with ICL, giving them a slot to conduct the league. I will not blame any player who is joining ICL. He is only looking to improve his life and secure his future.

— Chetan Chauhan, former India opener.

I don’t know what the fight is about. Both the BCCI and ICL have a common target of promoting cricket and the cricketers. Why did the BCCI refuse recognition to ICL? I would like to know what stopped BCCI from allowing ICL to con duct the matches. Of course, it is not good to see a great player being removed from his post but one has to see if the BCCI could have avoided this needless controversy.

— Aunshuman Gaekwad, former India player.

The ICL is only trying to promote cricket. It is trying to help the cricketers who could not make it to their state teams for various reasons. Our intention has never been to belittle the BCCI. But to remove a great player like Kapil w as not proper on the part of the BCCI. What is their standing to take such an action? The BCCI has never treated former players with respect.

— Sandeep Patil, former India player.

What is wrong if some young players make more money? After all, ICL is only providing a platform for them to perform and prosper. It was never formed with an intention of confronting the BCCI. Why is the BCCI always worried when former players want to contribute something to the game? This is our way to secure a good life for the cricketers and ICL is helping not just players, but umpires and coaches too.

— Madan Lal, former India medium pacer.

Who are these officials to take such an action against Kapil? Have they played the game? Do they understand the feelings of a cricketer and what it takes to become a top sportsman? ICL is trying to help the game and offering money to y oungsters who have been otherwise denied opportunities for whatever reasons. The BCCI has always humiliated players and it has shown that nothing has changed.

— Kiran More, former India wicket-keeper and chairman of selection committee.

* * * ’GOOD LUCK TO THEM’

The BCCI put up a brave front in the wake of the launch of ICL. It appeared to be unperturbed by a number of players crossing over to the rival camp

in pic

PTI

Q: Why did the BCCI react so late in removing Kapil Dev from his post as Chairman of the National Cricket Academy?

A: Mr. Kapil Dev had been appointed as Chairman of the NCA at a General Meeting of the Board, and therefore any decision with regard to Mr. Kapil Dev could only be taken by the members in a General Meeting. Such a meeting was convened after giving due notice and at the Special General Meeting held recently, it was decided to remove him from the post of NCA Chairman.

Why do you want to ban the players who sign up with ICL?

The BCCI has not said it wants to ban any player. The players are free to decide what they want to do. The Board has merely stated that it is for the players to choose where they want to be. They cannot have their feet in both camps. If they are with any other organisation, then they cannot be part of the activities of the BCCI or draw any benefit from the Board. So, it is the players who are making the choice.

What happens if the State associations decide to retain the players who have signed with ICL?

All the State associations present at the recently convened Special General Meeting were of the unanimous opinion that the decision of the BCCI and the actions taken by it were correct.

Why can’t the Board take a lenient stand on the issue?

The stand taken by the BCCI has been unanimously endorsed by all the State associations.

Do you think any disgruntled BCCI members are involved in promoting ICL?

I don’t think so.

What happens if more and more players join ICL?

Good luck to them. There is a large pool of players waiting for opportunities in the BCCI, so whoever wants to leave is welcome to do so.

Any chance of striking a compromise with ICL?

The BCCI will concentrate on its own activities, particularly the development of cricket throughout India.

What is your opinion on the Railways wanting to give their grounds to ICL? Will you ban the team in that case?

The Railways Sports Promotion Board, which is a member of the BCCI, was also present at the last Special General Meeting and was fully supportive of all the decisions taken by the Board.

Vijay Lokapally