If anything, T20 will encourage players under-22 (four under 22 players will have to be part of every team) to slog or restrict from ball one and will train them into 20-20 specialists who can hardly ever aspire to win India Test matches or even fifty over contests.
Cricket, it is now recognized the world over, will never be the same again. Every time Richard Madley's hammer declared a cricketer sold in Mumbai on the day of crickets giant sale, the game inched closer to becoming real big money sport, gravitating rapidly towards cash rich counterparts like English soccer or US baseball.
In an era of hyper professionalized commercial sport, this transformation was inevitable. Whether commodification of cricketers or the creation of a free market in cricket is good or bad is missing the moot point. Rather than passing a moral judgment, it is time to accept that cricket, for its survival as a global sport, needs to go down the commercial path, even if that turns so called legendary amateurs like W G Grace in their graves.
Rather, what is far more significant is what this commercialization will eventually bring in its wake. Will it filter down to the grassroots in India and herald an overall improvement in the games health as is being touted or will it, even if inadvertently, weaken the foundation of Indian cricket? Also, will the IPL, by having made some rather unknown names cash rich, somewhat undeservingly perhaps, create tensions within team India is a subject of debate.
While marketing managers will sight numerous examples of how professional sports men operate, there's little doubt that cricketers of the likes of Laxman and Kumble have every reason to feel hard done when they note that a Yusuf Pathan or a Manoj Tiwari will earn double their money. A thought for Zaheer Khan is pertinent here. Why should Sreesanth earn more than India's real spearhead is a question justly doing the rounds in Indian cricket? The only marketing premium Sreesanth has over Zaheer is his antics, which, it seems has fetched him a crore more. At the same time it is relevant to take into account the kind of pressure the youngsters will be under when they step out onto the middle. With the tag of crorepati players glued on them, they might well be under a kind of pressure unheard of in the history of Indian sport. Also, when some of these crorepatis return to play for their regional teams for the Ranji or Duleep Trophies, which might soon lose importance courtesy IPL, the reception they may get from their not so fortunate teammates is a matter of conjecture.
Yet another cardinal question is whether the cash rich league will generate huge crowds necessary for the franchise owners to break even. While a definitive answer is impossible to provide at this stage, it can be suggested that the hype generated assures it of crowds at the initial stages of the tournament. At the same time for a city based competition to create sustained fan loyalty, star players needed to play for host cities. With Ishant Sharma turning up for Kolkata against Delhi, which boasts of Manoj Tiwari in its ranks, fans may find it difficult to get themselves charged up. Will Kolkata celebrate if Ishant bowls Manoj? In fact, in this scenario, more than cricket, it will be the cricket-entertainment mix that will draw spectators to the grounds. Whether or not fans will want to be entertained for forty-four days in the absence of a strong sense of regionalism/cityism, crucial to the currency of sport globally, will determine crowd presence in IPL games.
Another feature the IPL auction highlights is the amateur nature of the whole exercise. It had all elements of a first time written over it. While some franchise owners went head on with buying stars at the start, others preserved money to start with and were eventually left with huge amounts to splurge on lesser stars. This explains why a Ponting who certainly has three years of cricket left in him sold for less while Manoj Tiwari or Yusuf Pathan commanded a far higher price. With proper planning David Hussey would never have earned near double of Ponting and Glen McGrath or Mike Hussey would not have gone into the reserve pool.
Finally, the core cricketing aspect of whether IPL will strengthen the edifice of Indian cricket is a non-starter. If anything, it will encourage players under-22 (four under 22 players will have to be part of every team) to slog or restrict from ball one and will train them into 20-20 specialists who can hardly ever aspire to win India Test matches or even fifty over contests. The experience of the young Indian batting line up down under is testimony to this argument. While a Robin Uthappa is certainly a star in the shortest format of the game, that he still has miles to go to emerge as a Test player has been brought to light in Australia. The same, sadly for India, applies for Yuvraj Singh. While he is back in form for the one day version, that he will have to sit out in the forthcoming Test series against South Africa is near certain with seniors like Laxman or Ganguly continuing to do an excellent job for the country.
While the IPL is surely an exciting proposition, whether or not it will stand the test of time is thus a million dollar guess. Survival, in the long run, will depend on its relationship with cricket, the sport, and thats where IPL appears to be on a sticky wicket. This is because batting on a difficult twenty-two yard strip isnt the forte of either Shahrukh Khan or Preity Zinta or even a Vijay Mallya or Mukesh Ambani.