For a body that once dismissed Twenty20 as “gulli cricket”, it doesn’t seem to have taken the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) very long to acknowledge the huge potential of instant cricket. The BCCI initially even maintained there was no need for India to play Twenty20, which it said was invented in England because the traditional first-class and one-day games there failed to attract crowds. And now look who’s talking about attracting crowds! So comprehensively has the game been privatised along the lines of English football and American Baseball with Thursday’s sale of eight Indian Premier League (IPL) team franchises to some of the richest
Indians around. From movie stars and business magnates to corporate houses and airline tycoons, everyone appeared to be headed for the sales at the BCCI. The franchisees were reportedly offered teams named after a dozen cities to choose from, and they are expected to spend up to a whopping $ 10 million on their choice, including players’ salaries.
From all accounts, teams are to be managed like soccer or baseball squads, each with its own CEO and a host of support staff. They are even allowed to trade, appoint coaches and support staff, buy equipment and make the best use of their resources. This may now fuel the debate about the merits of the IPL — and Twenty20 cricket in general. Critics ridicule the Twenty20 format as a mercantile exercise that would eventually destroy the game. Australian cricketers, for instance, in a recent survey commissioned by the Australian Players Association, expressed concern that the Twenty20 game can only be played at the expense of 50-over and Test cricket. But there’s no denying that the new venture offers an excellent opportunity to take the game to new frontiers. Today, few doubt the potential of Twenty20 cricket to become the most lucrative form of the game for any player worth his boots to want to be part of.
With the focus on innovation as its backbone, the Twenty20 game has caught on spectacularly wherever it is played, and the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa proved this dramatically. In any case, even if the larger issue of redefining instant cricket remains debatable, the IPL is bound to give India’s domestic circuit a much-needed shot in the arm. State associations that usually miss out on international games for long periods can now look forward to staging Twenty20 tourneys. The huge revenues that accrue from selling TV production and broadcast rights for the championship could be used for developing the game in the country. Another bonus is that this will rob ‘superstars’ of an excuse not to play with their lesser brethren in low-profile matches. And this, in turn, will give promising players a chance to be picked for the national side. Make no mistake about it: cricket in India — and indeed, the world— will never be the same again.