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By Suresh Menon
The Board of Control for Cricket in India will not admit this, but the IPL is playing havoc with the international programmes of smaller boards like those of the West Indies and Sri Lanka.
First there was the Lasith Malinga kerfuffle. The Sri Lankan fast bowler was virtually abandoned by his national board and denied a contract when he was injured. Who can begrudge him the dollars that will buy him and his family security? His knee is injured, he is not getting any younger, and despite the media’s attempts to reduce his case to a club versus country debate, it is much bigger than that. It is a ‘security for self and family’ versus ‘an uncertain future’ debate. Put like that, the choice becomes easy.
Thanks to the Sri Lankan board speaking in different voices at different times, its team makes a tour of England with the leading players getting no time to acclimatise. Despite knowing the dates, it initially gave the players permission to stay on for the IPL till May 22, which would have meant missing the two games in preparation for the first Test commencing on May 26.
Although the spin doctors put out the story that the IPL is ideal preparation for the tour, they have found it difficult to convince anybody that playing 20-over matches under lights in the peak of summer in India with a white ball is all the practice that is needed to play a five-day Test in daylight with a red ball in a country that is emerging from winter.
Chris Gayle has for some time now expressed the desire to play in the IPL to the exclusion of everything else. West Indies are playing Pakistan now, but Kieron Pollard, potentially their finest one-day player is playing in the IPL for Mumbai Indians. “It was mutually determined that Pollard would be best served by being allowed to hone his T20 skills in the Indian Premier League which will bring future benefit to West Indies cricket," his board has declared. Dwayne Bravo, the vice captain in the one-day series where his team is currently trailing 0-3, has been allowed to skip the Test series that follows to play for the Chennai Super Kings.
The question that many ask at this point is: Should the BCCI be concerned so much about world cricket when its brief is Indian cricket? So long as Indian cricket is served, why worry? Countries construct their diplomacy and economic policies on the foundation of self-interest, so why should sport be different?
The answer is simple. As the World champions, the No 1 Test-playing country and with the power and influence that comes with having the richest cricket board in the world with the potential to make themselves and everybody else richer, the BCCI must give up their narrow-minded domestic concerns and focus on cricket the world game. Whatever the compulsions of political entities in the United Nations, sport must follow the beat of a different drum. For that is the reason for its existence – it is artificial and should strive to be idealistic. Also, what goes round will come around as boards that ruled in the past have discovered. India will not be on the top forever, and countries at the top have a responsibility to the game beyond concerns for their own backyard. A parochial attitude is bound to boomerang.
Already, if news reports are to be believed, there is a fall in the television audiences for the IPL. There is a sameness about the matches, and worse, a sameness about the breathless commentary that is turning people off. Cricket needs its variety. The boards with dollar signs in their eyes must recognise this. The one board which can make the difference cannot abdicate its responsibility and say ‘let the markets decide.’