The thought of the market deciding what form of the game should survive is at once scary and abhorrent. No sport can be about making money alone.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys might have done world cricket a disservice by winning the Twenty20 Cup in South Africa last year. Had India performed poorly, it is unlikely that the chain of events would have been set in motion leading to the inaugural IPL tournament in India, and the player-official skirmishes in cricket boards around the world. India were the biggest stumbling blocks to the development of that format, telling the International Cricket Council not to get carried away by something they thought was a step below pyjama cricket - bikini cricket, perhaps.
But India won, a nation went mad and the moneybags moved in. Now Ricky Ponting suggests that the international calendar should be redrawn around the IPL tournament. If it means calling off a tour of Pakistan and cutting short a tour of the West Indies, then so be it. For those who thought the IPL would kill the Ranji Trophy, hereʼs news: it is set to influence Test cricket in a big way.
There is nothing wrong with players making money. A desire for security is not to be frowned upon. But business houses who buy into the Twenty20 dream cannot be expected to have the health of the game at heart. In the wonderful words of the Australian writer Mike Coward, the bottom line is the bottom line. This cannot be the guiding philosophy of the cricket boards.
If the 44-day tournament (where the top players will make crores of rupees) is a success, then it is not difficult to see India nudging the world in the direction of Twenty20 cricket - to the detriment of one-day internationals and Test cricket. A reduction in the number of ODIs may not be a bad thing, but if Test cricket and all that it stands for begins to disappear, then the harm done to the game will be incalculable.
The thought of the market deciding what form of the game should survive is at once scary and abhorrent. No sport can be about making money alone. That is why cricket boards, and indeed the ICC itself needs to be old-fashioned and consider themselves the custodians of the game rather than boardrooms where men in suits squeeze every last penny out of it.
Twenty20 cannot be everything the game is about. Success in the IPL will be calculated purely in terms of money. Moderate success is not bad; in fact, it is necessary, since a flop might scare away investors from cricket as a whole. But overwhelming success will mean that we will get more of the same. Some bright head with an education in his childhood that did not include readings from the story of the goose and the golden egg will suggest two tournaments in a year to double the income. That will mean rearranging the international (and domestic) calendar further..
Luckily the format of Twenty20 - its lack of subtlety, its dependence on a sustained high while batting, the limited variations on the theme - all suggest that the new fans it hopes to attract to cricket will tire easily. And in that lies the salvation for the game. Like one-day cricket did at one time, Twenty20 can subsidise the sport itself. That is not such a bad thing. But it is up to the ICC (or its boss, the BCCI) to work towards maintaining a balance.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of DreamCricket.com