‘Going, going, gone! Mahendra Singh Dhoni, gone for $ 1.5 million!’ Till recently, not many cricket enthusiasts could have imagined the names of most of the top players in the world going under an auctioneer’s hammer, as happened in Mumbai on Wednesday. The Indian Premier League (IPL) players’ auction saw eight franchisees gobbling up some 80 international cricketers from Team India, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)-contracted players and overseas players. The franchisees are now apparently free to focus on marketing their team sponsorship rights. Teams are named after the city or area where they are based. And all teams have to play one home and one away match against each other in the tournament that begins in April, and which will be played under the ICC Twenty20 rules.
This couldn’t be happening at a more opportune time, considering the tensions that weigh down international cricket at the moment — be it umpiring controversies or the deteriorating player relations as witnessed during the Indo-Australia Test series. So the idea of having cricketers from different countries playing alongside each other for the same team is certainly exciting, as it gives the game an opportunity to bring people together. Having a specific number of local under-21 players, along with a maximum of four foreign players, in the starting XI for each team is also an excellent proposal. This will give lesser-known players a chance to make a mark for themselves, while letting retired players showcase their skills and maintain their brand image in cricket. Since the matches will be played after office hours, television ratings are bound to go up phenomenally, increasing ad revenues. (That this could also subtract a large amount from the gate money at venues is, of course, a risk the organisers have to take.)
Now that the BCCI has launched the IPL, the board has an even bigger responsibility to professionalise the game in the country — and to strengthen and revitalise domestic cricket. It could be tricky, for instance, to get international players to play more domestic matches in the subcontinent, given the packed calendar. As would be to make lifeless Indian pitches come alive for the IPL matches.