Saturday, 5 May 2018

Lets scrap the IPL!

Lets look within ourselves for a moment and accept the fact that the IPL is just a platform for rich people with way too much money and time to make fools out of a million people! Sure the first season was exciting. Nobody knew what this tournament would do, or what purpose it would serve. But the IPL has pretty much done it's job. It's made the game more febrile, the players have become household names and club loyalties have been solidified. One would think its time to wind up this charade and get on with some good old inter-national matches, but the BCCI is just too unresponsive. The organisation has a strange allure which creates money mindedness in every person who holds office. The sole purpose of the IPL was to garner support for the new 20-20 format which suddenly gained traction once India captured the World Cup in South Africa. The IPL definitely achieved some great things. Its been a source of livelihood for many out-of-favour players like Gambhir and Uthappa and has introduced new stars like Sanju Samson and Ambati Rayudu. But how long can this go on? Surely at some point these players have to break into the national side and prove their mettle! But how many have done this? And who is answerable for all the money that has come into the game? The IPL has hijacked the game of cricket and made it so attractive, that it has become an obligation to watch each and every one of these matches.

Lets start with the auction process. Even if one is to let the seemingly antediluvian concept of selling people slide, what logic does a pre determined pay cheque make? Think back three years and you'll remember an absolutely appalling performance from multi-million dollar man Yuvraj Singh who was paid upwards of 10 crores for his dismal show. Many guys who were paid with lesser zeroes ended up making a mountain of runs. So at the end of the day, its not talent or performance that earns you money in the IPL, its your reputation. So in theory, a player could bring in 20 crores for himself, and not make even 20 runs throughout the tournament. This logic is lost on me and hopefully many others. The IPL is thus the clash of well founded assumptions made by affluent people on who is likely to make runs or take wickets. In foreign leagues there are scouts who traverse the geography in search of fresh talent. But in IPL, scouting is delegated to statisticians and the new talents are often benched or given a few matches at most. If the idea of the IPL was to win the trophy, then why is there a limit on the number of overseas players. The IPL was envisaged as an effort to develop grass root cricket and discover talent, stashed away in oblivion. But discovering and shaping talent is a long and arduous task, which often collides with the self-serving interests of the team management. After 11 years of IPL, the highest point of many great players' career has been representing their club!

The actual IPL matches have become facetious to the point where the lack of context has become all too obvious. The people of India who ignore their state's Ranji team and yet catch a flight to follow their club are also at fault. Beyond money, there is no loyalty that the players share with their club. Some matches are simply begging for more relevance and sense. The reverse fixtures are often monotonous and the lop sidedness of the teams is becoming too huge to ignore. Come the second half of the tournament, dead rubbers dominate the schedule with table toppers feeding their egos by steamrolling physically and emotionally drained bottom-placed teams. The umpiring standards have dropped this year, and understandably so. There are literally more than a dozen games to be played for each franchise. To put this in context, 20 teams in the La Liga play each other twice. And so do the meagre 8 teams in the IPL. If the goal is longevity, then surely their must be some context. The passion and fervour of the international fixtures is completely absent from IPL matches. Most of the stadiums are occupied by people who are out to have fun. To spend the evening and unwind themselves. But there is nothing unwinding or relaxing when India is playing! The tension is palpable and the crowd is genuinely involved. This fanaticism is what sets cricket apart in India, and the IPL is slowly killing it. The yearly overdose of irrelevant fixtures and nonsensical pre-shows which are basically like a pension scheme for retired cricketers is a dull script which begs to be scrapped. IPL matches need to bring more meaning to the players involved. There must be appropriate incentives for victory and dire consequences for failure. This would probably make the viewers more interested and the players more responsible. With around 14 games to be played, almost every team is bound to win a handful of matches, but with no effect on the overall result.

Almost everything associated with the IPL has become trivial. The cheerleaders look disinterested, the contest winners look like they'd rather be somewhere else, and the stadiums get emptier every year. This brings me to my next problem. The venue of IPL matches. Home grounds are an asset to every team, but the IPL was never like any other sporting league. The La Liga is all about the prestige of the Spanish cities and the honour that comes with lifting the cup. The city based clubs in IPL are only auxiliary to the ultimate goal of improving Indian cricket. Thus home grounds make little to no sense. Bengaluru has a population of 1.43 crore people. The Chinnswamy has a capacity of 40,000. It would take 50 seasons of IPL for everyone in Bengaluru to watch an IPL match. During this span, not only would the population have exploded, the second generation of players after the current crop would have retired. Since making the IPL matches a universal right seems impossible, it would have made a lot of sense for the BCCI to shift games into newer stadiums and smaller cities, where the experience of a live cricket match remains novel. The IPL is not a birth right of all metro habitants! The continuous change in venues would make the tournament more interesting and also socially penetrative. The opening ceremonies are an event in themselves, where Bollywood's overpaid celebrities make it a point to delay the cricketing action with their dance numbers.

The IPL was supposed to be about cricket. To bring out the best in the game that has evolved so much over the years. Sure, the IPL has created a niche for itself in the cricketing world, and yes it has revitalised limited overs cricket, but at what cost? Regular reports of corruption and narcissism, coupled with an unending schedule of exhaustive fixtures, the IPL has made cricket, a mere adjunct to the whole concept. I think its time the BCCI puckered up and decided to scrap the IPL and replace it with more meaningful international fixtures. The Champions League of the past made more sense! The IPL has grown beyond India and the BCCI. It has lost relevance and has become a tradition which is carried out annually. We would do well to take a leaf out of the Big Bash league, where Australians have found some good limited overs cricketers. The IPL still caters to the ego of already established players who have no point to prove. Soon, the IPL will dominate Indian cricket in such a way that international fixtures will loose prominence and the cricket lovers will have to be content with meaningless matchups between genuinely disinterested franchises. The alternative of course, is to scrap the whole thing!

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