Beyond a boundary - The ICL Saga

2007 Aug 21 by Suresh Menon

How many players can you ban? And what happens when the national team players swing one way or the other?

Perhaps it is the influence of Bollywood films that are so much a part of our national psyche. The hero is accepted so long as he loves his parents and doesn’t sleep with the heroine before the intermission. Even the villain is forgiven if he can establish that what made him take to crime was lack of money to buy medicines for a dying grandmother. In other words, all acts need a basis in strong emotional rhetoric.

And that is why the Indian Cricket League, which is a business venture financed by a television company, finds it necessary to keep telling us that everything is being done for the good of the game and with the best interests of the young players at heart. “I will back them till the last day I live,” thundered executive board chairman and the face of the ICL, Kapil Dev as he released a list of some 50 players who have signed up for the ICL’s Twenty20 tournament. No dates were announced, no venues or teams, and there are no guarantees for the future. But the ICL is taking pains to show that its heart is in the right place.

The Board will not allow any of its grounds to be used for the matches, but that will not deter the newcomers since there are enough municipal grounds. Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav has offered ICL the railway grounds around the country.

Kapil is confident; he is also assured of sympathy from those heartily tired of the BCCI’s shenanigans. If nothing else, the new league will deliver a well-deserved kick up the BCCI’s backside. Unfortunately, it is as difficult to take the ICL’s intentions seriously as it is to take the BCCI’s.

In fact, the similarities are scary. Both are more keen on international cricket than domestic. Both believe that they exist only to make money. Both have their focus on television money. Neither is particularly keen on grassroot development. Neither has a plan for infrastructure. If the ICL makes the Board more aware of its responsibilities and the Board learns from the ICL the value of professionalism, then the game might benefit.

Kapil Dev has made vague noises about a 50-overs tournament as well as a three-day tournament in future. For the moment, it is Twenty20, and just the thought of Inzamamul Haq playing that version might cause the authorities to raise the entertainment tax on it. Tony Greig, with his experience in splitting the cricket world as Kerry Packer’s sidekick, has also been signed up by the ICL which has roped in men like Erapalli Prasanna, Kiran More, Balwinder Sandhu as recruiters/coaches/credibility-givers.

Getting the players is the easy part. There are enough has-beens and will-never-bes who are easily persuaded. The BCCI (which is in a meeting even as I write this) is set to ban them.

The BCCI has brought this upon itself. The floodgates might be open for similar ventures, backed by money and media power. How many players can you ban? And what happens when the national team players swing one way or the other?