Legends League Cricket: It's the after party for retired giants, all about keeping the spirit of cricket alive
That phrase - 'second inning' - is what outlines the LLC concept. However Gayle summed it up rather perfectly, calling it a "win-win" scenario for all involved.
"I feel like Tom Cruise here. Absolutely relaxed!", said Chris Gayle, reclining casually on a chair, with black shades on, on the sidelines of the Dehradun-leg of the ongoing 2023 Legends League Cricket (LLC) when asked to compare the tournament with other overseas leagues. The West Indies legend is still hitting it out of the park with Ranchi having witnessed a glimpse of the good old and ever-threatening Gayle Storm over a week back, but for the 44-year-old it's more of a walk in the park now.
Imagine perfecting one skill all your life, and carrying on the art on a competitive level day in and day out before age puts a stop to it. For professional athletes, life gets even tougher and rather quieter. From a packed stadium of thousands signing to the tune of their elegant stroke play or the aahs and oohs to some lethal deliveries, a sudden deafening silence can be hard to cope with. That is where LLC enters or rather plans to carve a niche for itself.
"There was nothing called legends league before and whatever there was, wasn't serious cricket, it was pure entertainment. In golf, we have the Masters. No other sport has that. We want to be pioneers in cricket. Look at the level of cricket in this tournament, so many games have stretched till the last over. So we have to keep raising that bar, so that the players who are on the verge of retirement see LLC as a second inning," LLC CEO Raman Raheja explained.
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That final phrase - 'second inning' - is what outlines the concept that is LLC. A second chance of reliving the glory days - the same sport, level of competition, ambience in all its glitz with the roaring crowd, but with nothing at stake. Perhaps Gayle summed it up perfectly, calling it a "win-win" scenario for all involved.
"Cricket is our life. Cricket is always in our blood. That's what gave us pretty much everything and we appreciate the game. So when we get a chance to actually play the game, even though we say we are finished with international cricket, but when you get a chance, it's not like we're going to be playing consistently right throughout the year. So you get a window for two months within the year, you get a chance to play some T20 cricket. It's fantastic. And like I say, you can rub shoulders with some legends, some rivalry players you have been up against in the last couple of years since you've been playing international cricket. So, I mean, just like I said, just a wide range of win-win," he said.
Former India wicketkeeper-batter and T20 World Cup winner Robin Uthappa, however, outlined the human aspect in talking about the importance of this league. "Did you know where Praveen Kumar was after he retired?" he asked the small group of reporters that stayed back late till 11 PM on the opening night of the Dehradun leg of the LLC.
Three years back, in an interview with Indian Express, Praveen, the India fast bowler who epitomised the dying art of swing bowling, opened up on his battle with depression. The exasperation at being forgotten so easily, added to the loneliness and silence as Praveen, eight years after he last rolled his arms donning the Indian jersey, was pushed to the edge before his eyes fell on the picture of his children. The 37-year-old then fought his way through therapies before LLC provided him with a second chance.
"In other leagues like the IPL, you want to prove yourself to play for the country, but here you've already retired from the international scene. So LLC is probably for those certain sections of cricketers within whom that fire is still burning and they really want to play and they really love the game and I think they do it more from that perspective that this is something that they know. It's quite hard to be very honest, if you look at it from the human side of things," Uthappa said.
"Once a cricketer stops playing cricket, it's quite challenging because practically the nice way to put it is he walks off into the sunset. But in all honesty, he's going off into oblivion and a lot of people don't know this. A lot of us didn't know where Praveen was, after he finished his cricket. A lot of us go through a lot of existential crises because you're suddenly in the limelight the whole time and suddenly you're done. There's no limelight at all. So I truly believe that sportspersons and athletes die two deaths, the first when they finish their career. And I think you need to have something that makes you feel like you're engaged a little bit because you lose purpose sometimes and tournaments like these actually give you that sense of purpose. It makes you feel like, okay, let me work hard and get ready for this tournament and go out and play this tournament. They feel - I'll play in front of my fans again, make the fans have fun and then interact with my old teammates and old friends. So this gives them a sense of purpose as well."
LLC comes with some monetary benefits
Retirement is a tough phase for any professionals, with a steady source of income suddenly vanishing. Cricketers are no different. Hence, while few get a chance to strike a deal with top broadcasting channels or media houses as experts, a handful others make the most of YouTube platforms to open their channels to share cricketing knowledge. LLC, however, opens up a fresh income avenue for these star players post retirement.
"It is like a second career and this League also ensures some sort of financial security to the players post-retirement," former India cricketer Pragyan Ojha was earlier quoted by Sportstar before the start of the 2023 season.
Not just a vacation entirely
From 82 players across four teams from the inaugural version of the franchise format, LLC has expanded to six teams comprising 120 players with the average age falling from 45 to 38 this time. While both versions had their shares of veteran cricketers in Jacques Kallis, Gautam Gambhir, Irfan Pathan, who had long bid adieu to the gentleman's game, season 2 has seen a fair influx of freshly-retired stars like Martin Guptill, Mitchell McClenaghan, Hashim Amla, Ross Taylor among few others.
While Raheja's motive of LLC is to be a readymade platform for a "second innings" to these retired cricketers, he also stressed on the need to "keep raising the bar", not just from a competitive point of view, but also from the perspective of the spectators, and it was largely evident from the ongoing edition. Nine of the 11 completed games have stretched till the last over, had some brilliant run outs and athletic catches.
However, Raheja emphasised: "We are not here to compete with international cricket, we want to complement it, go side by side."
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