The IPL and what it really stands for!

Glamour and razzmatazz are the hallmarks of the IPL. The tournament should be viewed as just pure entertainment and not as an arena for the students of cricket.-R. RAGU

The IPL is a self-promoting exercise of the team owners, who treat it as a business module, least interested in the game as such. The BCCI, or for that matter the cricketers involved, are hardly complaining. They are happily laughing all the way to the bank, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Cricket coaches in small towns are faced with a strange request from parents. They insist that their wards be honed to play the IPL (Indian Premier League). The India cap can wait. Even well-known coaches in big cities are increasingly getting students who aim at an IPL berth with any franchise.

Any franchise is the trend. From an IPL team in your zone it is any franchise now. What happened to the catchment scheme that was so grandly proclaimed in the inaugural season? It has remained a scheme only on paper because a study of most teams would show that they hardly invest in local talent.

One remembers the 2008 edition when the IPL took the cricket fraternity by storm. Big names like Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne were drafted in as icon players. Each team had its own set of icons. They spoke highly of the concept of the IPL, especially players who had openly mocked at the T20 format, only to later succumb to the glamour and the financial attractions of the IPL.

In Delhi, and for that matter in other towns and cities too, star players indulged in promotional activities, imploring fans to come to the venues and fill up the galleries, which they did most loyally in search of entertainment. The venues reported full attendance and none was complaining, neither the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) nor the team owners.

As the popularity of the IPL grew, essentially because it provided entertainment of a different kind — more of the WWF variety — noise and contrived performances, the idea of promoting cricket and cricketers took a back seat. There was a rush to be associated with an IPL team. Players and support staff competed to get into the frame. In the process the game took a beating because mediocrity came to thrive.

The audience, sadly, failed to differentiate the good from the ordinary. Average first-class cricketers were glorified, rags to riches stories became common, and soon the IPL was seen as the be-all of cricket, much to the disappointment of some stalwarts who had contributed to the growth of the game over the years.

The so-called local talent was a farce really. The initial seasons of the IPL did witness some moves by different team owners to identify local talent through competitions where scouts went around more in hope than conviction. “It was never going to work because no big talent was going to escape the attention of the BCCI. It is rare that a precocious talent goes unnoticed in our junior cricket,” said a former international associated with one of the IPL teams. The IPL teams are required to have a minimum of four players from their catchment area. The Railways was supposed to loan its talent to Chennai Super Kings, a team which was exceptionally committed to promoting local players. Of the IPL teams, only CSK can claim to have a distinct identity of promoting local talent. Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals pursued the policy for some time.

Delhi Daredevils undertakes a committed exercise every year of organising a tournament for school kids with a goal to pick one player from the lot for an IPL appearance in the future. Some of the talented players get to bowl in the ‘nets’ but one is yet to see a truly local player being picked out of the blue and given an opportunity to share the dressing room with some of the biggest names in the game.

Some names were projected as ‘finds’ of the IPL. Paul Valthaty, Swapnil Asnodkar, Dinesh Salunkhe, Kamran Khan, Siddharth Chitnis, Shoaib Shaikh and Ajit Chandila are some names that come to mind. They enjoyed their IPL limelight and faded into oblivion. Just as Manvinder Bisla, who made his first-class debut in 2002, and gained prominence with a match-winning knock for Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2012 final. It would be wrong to call Bisla an IPL gain, but the tournament did contribute towards his popularity.

Darren Sammy plays with a ball boy as Chris Gayle watches. In an event like the IPL, youngsters are supposed to be inspired by the great players, but the concept of grooming young talent has been given the go by!-VIVEK BENDRE

Talking of local flavour, Delhi Daredevils is a unique team with not one giant from the state. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Ashish Nehra, Shikhar Dhawan, Unmukt Chand and Ishant Sharma have been picked up by other franchises. KKR, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals have only a superficial local presence. The IPL was projected as a tournament that was to draw inspiration from the English Premier League. There can be no comparison.

The EPL is a truly competitive league with each club boasting of the best of local talent. The idea is to reach out to the talent base with the help of international stars. The junior programme is closely monitored with the emphasis on picking them young and grooming properly to wear the club colours. Membership also boosts the coffers of these clubs which get massive support from sponsors with local interests.

The same can’t be said of the IPL. The team owners hardly show interest in setting up a local talent spotting programme. There is no structured set up to identify and groom players from the catchment areas. Even the support staff of the various IPL teams show reluctance to blood unknown players because of the risk of inviting the wrath of the owner in case they don’t deliver. There have also been cases of even the BCCI, aware of youngsters being lured away from giving their best in domestic cricket, continuing to ignore the trend.

The growing and misplaced notion that the IPL is superior to many other tournaments is a worrying signal for the administrators. The current generation secretly prefers to give its best in the IPL for two key reasons — a good show here brings them into the limelight through television and the astonishing financial packets mean they earn many times more than what the unglamorous domestic circuit offers.

In his recently-released autobiography, Tendulkar has warned of the ills of the IPL. He writes, “While I agree that IPL performances are important enough to open the doors to the national team, I am sure that IPL performances should not be used as a reason to pick players for the Twenty20 format, or, in exceptional cases, for ODI cricket. Playing well in the IPL does not make a player good enough for Test cricket. A major apprehension concerning the IPL is that its riches will make playing for India somewhat less significant and correspondingly less appealing.”

Tendulkar’s observations put the IPL in the right perspective. The League must be treated as pure entertainment and nothing more. The so-called measures of promoting young and local talent have remained only on paper. It is essentially the big names who matter. As for the unknowns, they get affected by the glamour that surrounds the teams. This is the reason why the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) looks to protect its players from the IPL. “The fringe players just occupy the benches and feel lost in the five-star culture. I don’t know how much cricket they learn,” said a key PCA official.

The PCA official’s observations reflect the image of the IPL. It is a self-promoting exercise of the team owners, who treat it as a business module, least interested in the game as such. The BCCI, or for that matter the cricketers involved, are hardly complaining. They are happily laughing all the way to the bank.