What the Corporate Cup should mean

IT wasn't the best time to unveil the Corporate Cup but that doesn't mean it is wrong.

BHOGLE

Even if players are allowed to choose their States in the Corporate Cup, Sachin Tendulkar would find it very difficult to accept an offer to play for Delhi against Mumbai.-Pics. N. SRIDHARAN

IT wasn't the best time to unveil the Corporate Cup but that doesn't mean it is wrong. A time when our young volleyball players have done extremely well, our hockey players are riding on an emotional high, our shooters are doing okay and our tennis players keep throwing in moments of glory isn't the best time to announce what people largely, and justifiably, feel is a moneybags event. Yet, even that doesn't make it wrong.

India needed a high profile, high intensity one-day tournament. In contemporary India, so besotted by glamour, that must translate into a high stakes tournament and while it is not ideal, it is not wrong. You needn't have a pot of gold at the end of every challenge but in a situation where pots of gold are being handed around, a fine piece of terracotta wouldn't be incentive enough. If Vivek Oberoi and A. R. Rahman are the reality of today, you cannot offer people Guru Dutt and Naushad, however romantic and brilliant it might be.

However, my fear with the Corporate Cup in its current incarnation is that it might end up becoming a corporate carnival and that would defeat the purpose, assuming there is a purpose beyond raising money. The major problem with our cricket is that it is geared towards producing self-driven, rather than team-driven, players. We need a high intensity event that will have a huge team element to it. It is difficult to see that happening with a Pepsi XI versus a Hero Honda XI. Indeed that is precisely what we do not need.

A spectator, or indeed a viewer since he tends to count for more these days, needs to be convinced that his money, or time, is going into watching a serious cricket match rather than a carnival. He needs to identify with a team that he can support or grieve over. That is how enduring relationships are built and, for all their good intentions, a Pepsi or a Hero Honda can never do that. A Mumbai or a Tamil Nadu or a Punjab can. Indeed, when the suggestion first came up, many years ago, that was what it was meant to be and I still believe that is how this tournament will be most relevant. A Pepsi Mumbai XI versus a Hero Honda Punjab XI suddenly changes the equation, it adds an element of team loyalty that is essential to any contest.

Six teams for a summer event would be perfect. Five state teams and an invitation XI for the first year would be just about right to ensure that quality players do not get left out of the spectacle. In course of time though, when teams become more professional in drafting outstation players, the need for an invitation XI will vanish. And a year down the line, players from one state could be made free to play for anybody. That may not be as free-flowing as it seems; someone like Sachin Tendulkar would find it very difficult to accept an offer to play for Delhi against Mumbai. Indeed, that is how it should be, a fine balance between the pay cheque and the emotional tug of your home team. If Harbhajan Singh accepts a lower offer to play for Punjab rather than move away to, say, Baroda, it can only add to the loyalty and that is the core emotion that will drive an event like this.

The timing would be perfect to get the best of overseas talent to play here. For a lot of people, a four and a half month stint in England, with cricket virtually every day, may be too taxing. A month long event in India, with outstanding hotels, great hospitality and a good pay cheque, would be very tempting. It might be prudent though to draw the line at two rather than four to ensure that the team element is kept intact and not lost to glamour. I would like to see some younger representation as well; two under-19 players in a squad of 15 and at least one in the playing XI. Given the amount of talent in India, that is unlikely to bring standards down but will add enormously to the development of 12 players.

It is not difficult to see who these six teams would be in the first year, indeed it should become an aspirational tournament in the manner the Wills Trophy was meant to be. But with the dismantling of the zonal quotas in the Ranji Trophy, the best thing that has happened to our domestic cricket in years, you don't need zonal qualifications here either. Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka and Punjab would have to receive the first four invitations with Baroda, Tamil Nadu and Railways in the short list for the fifth. And Sourav Ganguly can lead the sixth team with the likes of Kaif and Laxman for support.

The key to the success of an event like this though, a States Cup rather than a Corporate Cup, would have to be high quality television. It is an area the BCCI has chosen to neglect with great purpose when it comes to domestic cricket. The coverage of this year's Ranji Trophy final was a disgrace and it must bother many people that the BCCI does not demand quality. With corporate involvement they might have to; sometimes you need a shove and hopefully corporate sponsors of teams will demand this.

It can be a very exciting step forward provided the BCCI look upon it as a serious cricket tournament and not as the moneybags event it is being portrayed to be. Money in the pursuit of competition is not bad, as an end in itself it is a poison. Indian cricket needs to take great care in drawing this critical line.