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The Lankan Example: Opening the floodgates?
by Suneer Chowdhary
Jul 17, 2008
Mr. Haroon Lorgat, the ICC CEO, has a definite point when he talks about the future of international cricket with a little fear, in the face of the ever increasing pressure from the affluent Indian Premier League (IPL). His demeanour and the sign-off from the interview spoke about the creation of a separate window for the IPL, and that there seems to be no other solution for the same.

He was alluding to the recent turn of events, when the 'strong and close relationship' that the ECB had built with the Sri Lankan Board came crashing down as the players from the Island nation decided to take on their own Board on the hastily planned tour. With Zimbabwe out of the fold, the English Board had approached their Sri Lankan counterparts, who had then readily agreed for a series.

But that would have simply meant that none of the Sri Lankan players would be in a position to participate in the second season of the Indian Premier League for a period of more than a week or so. Given that this was not a regular schedule tour, the players revolted; The Lankan Board had little choice but to back down, and from what one had last heard, the tour itinerary was all set to be pushed further back or even scrapped. The law of economics had had the last laugh yet again.

And this is just one of the so many issues that have reared their heads - ugly or otherwise - because of the one month long tournament. One has already heard about how the participation of Kevin Pietersen in the IPL would invariably help secure his child's future and assist him in doling out his children's education fee 'fifteen years down the line'. And hence, to sponsor his future child's schooling, there were strong enough rumors of Pietersen getting signed up by a rich Indian family for the next three seasons of the IPL. This could just translate into players like Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff not signing the central English contracts, as that would bind them to English cricket only, and tie them down to the whims of the English Board. Perhaps, this marks the rebirth of the freelance cricketer.

The irony of it all is that if the series did go ahead as scheduled, none of the English players would have been able to be a part of the IPL either, something that would have alienated them from ECB in a similar manner as the Lankan cricketers!

The point here is as clear as it could get; this is just the beginning of an issue - if not a grave problem - that would need a definite and firm solution. While one can still visualise the co-existence of Twenty20 and the other forms of cricket, the tournament of the likes of IPL, and the many more planned in the future have already begun to gnaw away at international cricket. Not before long, the cricketers would leave the respective Boards with no choice but to reduce the number of international fixtures in order to not interfere with their 'T20 club-cricket schedule'. Or worse, the breaks between matches would reduce, and there would be barely any tour games for acclimatization and the usually talked of issues of injuries would become more norm than exception.

And the reason one calls it just the tip of an iceberg is because, even as we speak, the English counties - or at least three of them - and the MCC have come up with a blueprint of an IPL-like nine a side tournament that would probably be just as rich. The proposal states that this would be a 57 match, 25 day long tournament and there would be a bidding process to auction off the players, local and international. Having smelt blood, there would be no stopping the germination of these leagues, after all no Board would pass up an opportunity to make merry while the sun shines overhead.

The IPL is expected to be a 45 day long tournament, and if other cricket Boards such as Cricket Australia (CA) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) do bring out their own versions, then one is easily looking at a 100 day calendar that may have to be dedicated to these 'Premier League' tournaments. And such a situation does not seem too far removed, either. As a result, international cricket would suffer. The question that begs to be asked is that if club cricket is the way forward - and by that one means that if the general viewing public wants it that way - then is it in anyone's hands to stop the juggernaut?

Having said that, and revisiting the English proposal, one wonders about the feasibility of the same. The revenue projections for a ten-year long tournament are mind boggling, even bordering on the realms of unreasonableness. For starters, and with no disrespect meant to the English cricket fan, this sport still ranks number two after soccer, in the country. While it may be high on its popularity quotient in England, one can safely punt on the fact that it will not generate comparable following vis-a-vis the IPL. The question here is whether a 25-day long tournament would be able to generate enough sponsors - and hence the lucre - for it to be a viable business. Even if it does, would it be attractive enough to be able to entice the cricketers into choosing this form of the game over the international cricket.

To put it simply, would it pay enough?
 
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