Is the revolution that was the Indian Premier League, caught up in its own contradictory cross currents, on the verge of going bust, or is the 'brand' strong enough to survive in the long run? That is the question uppermost in most minds a fortnight before the fifth round of this money-induced
glitzy tournament gets underway.
After a phenomenal opening at the box office in its very first year, the product's credibility and value have taken a beating, right from the dipping TRP ratings to accusations of rigged matches and money laundering, and having created a nation versus club divide that has grievously harmed Indian cricket.
For the last four years, we have had this two-month long extravaganza each year, where players perform at a frenetic pace, where sixes are the norm, singles an aberration.
Here we have cheerleaders, dressed in their barest minimum best and unleashing their hyper energy, to add to the entertainment, already spiced up by the presence of glamorous heartthrobs of the film world.
It is a heady cocktail, a mix of the rich and famous, the talented and the mediocre joining hands in an attempt to attract huge numbers so that the sponsors have no choice but to link their brands with a tournament that needs mind-boggling investments to survive.
Fall from grace
The brief history of the IPL, how and why it was created in the first place, is too well-known to need reiterating here -from the Subhash Chandra-created rebel league to Lalit Modi's audacious leap to scuttle the rebellion and help the Board create its own IPL and his subsequent fall from grace as he got mired in accusations of corruption.
What had been brandished as a great hope for cricket's shortest format through the creation of a structure borrowed from soccer, it is today already a threat to the sport's main format - Tests.
Not just that, along the way it has become a behemoth whose fangs, given the money power of those who have invested in it, are threatening to derail not just the established structure of the sport but the very fundamentals of the game as we know it today.
The millions being paid to the players, some of whom are mediocrity personified at the international level, has led to their losing motivation to play the longer format and give preference to IPL over playing for the country.
Most of the players in India or abroad now dream of being bought by an IPL franchise, where the money to be made for just two months of cricket is more than they can ever dream of making in a lifetime.
That in itself is not a bad thing, in fact needs to be welcomed, especially when the spread of money is wide and includes even fringe players who otherwise would have found life a grim struggle for survival.
Clash of priorities
The problem arises when this tournament pits itself against the other two trusted formats - one which to most is its sacrosanct format, the Tests, and other the One-day version, created in the 60s to subsidise the longer format.
Cricket, unlike soccer, has now three different competing formats, and since there are only 365 days in a year, there does not seem to be space for all the three to survive. That is the main reason why the governing body of the sport will find it almost impossible to integrate the club structure with the international calendar, like soccer has done so well.
Even if one does not go into this debate of country versus club and the horrendous scheduling of the IPL, which leaves players no time to recoup and regroup for their international assignments, the set of skills which T20 requires may not be enough to help one succeed in the longer format. In fact, it induces habits which could ruin a player's real skills in playing Test cricket and even the 50 overs game.
That is why it is said that T20 is a breeding ground for mediocrity. Unfortunately for the advocates of the IPL, international cricket is still about Tests and one-dayers, and if a vast majority of aspiring players only think of getting into IPL teams, where will it leave India at the international level, especially in Test cricket?
Only money mattered
When the Indian Board took the first step in corporatising the game and selling the teams and players to the highest bidders, they perhaps, in their greed, had not done their homework well. They had unleashed forces for which the game would become a marketing product with the sole purpose being making profits. It had also, perhaps unwittingly again, opened a window for the moneybags to take control of the administration, the prime example being the Board president, N Srinivasan himself.
Today, when he takes decisions, no one is sure whose benefit he has in mind - the Board, its players or the IPL franchise India Cements, of which he is the owner. Since money speaks, and speaks unabashedly and loudly, Modi made some of the most powerful voices of Indian cricket stake-holders in this enterprise, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri being among them. Most of the media, dazzled by the promise of the advertising revenue it would get, shut its eyes to any valid criticism of the enterprise, and when the lid was blown off, everyone was caught by surprise.
Wary of consequences
All of a sudden, even those who still love the condensed entertainment this tournament provides, are wary of supporting this venture, for they too feel it has done more harm than good to Indian cricket. Last year's IPL came immediately after India had won the World Cup and the consequences of jaded players, instead of resting, playing in it and aggravating their injuries, has almost derailed Indian cricket. Embarrassing defeats in England, Australia, and now in the Asia Cup, have shown us that the losses of IPL have far outstripped its benefits.
No wonder then that the IPL is beset with an uncertain future. According to many reports, sponsors are not too keen on it and the television channel which has bought its telecast rights at unimaginable sums, is suffering huge losses.
The only people who have made money is the Indian Board, and of course the players. The rest are all in the red, including the team owners.
If the TRP ratings this year slide further - last year's was the lowest in its four years of existence - sponsors' interest is bound to wane further, putting a huge question mark on the very survival of brand IPL.
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