Monday, August 13, 2007


The things I am talking about here are in a state of such furious activity that this post may look foolish in a week’s time from now. Yet, I’ll say what I think about this latest addition to stories the media wants to pounce upon and made headlines of, because I feel strongly about it. As a cricket lover for more than a decade, I have always heard complaints and rebukes against the BCCI and seldom have there been any compliments. The BCCI has, of course, been successful in translating the craziness of a billion people for international cricketers into an amazingly enormous source of money. But all too often, we hear the same complaints: lack of regard for the people who make it the popular game it is, lack of contribution to development at the grass-root level, high and mighty in attitude, functioning and demeanour and always too ready to sacrifice the interests of the game and the players for some extra hard cash. In a way, the BCCI (since I have known it) has almost never been a body for cricket – it’s always for the money in cricket.

What has enabled its unbridled success in this direction is its monopoly. True to its name, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has held a firm grip on the game. When I say this, I don’t mean that the BCCI has controlled gully cricket or endless discussions about the game, for that it something in the hearts of millions of Indians and indeed, can’t be messed with. But when it comes to the money flowing from the craziness for cricket, the BCCI has brooked no interference. The BCCI, irrespective of changes at the helm, has always liked to maintain one status quo: constant in-flow of the greenbacks.

This is the reason why the Indian Cricket League has created such a furore. Suddenly, new tricks are being played on the old dog of an establishment, and no, it hasn’t been taken too kindly! True, the ICL is not really a creation primarily for the betterment of the game. In fact, I would be downright stupid to suggest that Subhash Chandra is showing the benevolence of a Mother Teresa for as inane a cause as cricket. The motivation clearly is profit. But I see off-shoots of this profit-driven enterprise which will certainly benefit the game.

Foremost, it’s lovely to see the BCCI running scared. This has seldom ever happened and to date, they are trying to put up a cocky face and act as if nothing of consequence is happening. False bravado, I say. The actions of the men of the establishment are speaking louder and more clearly than their words. They are clearly a rattled bunch! Think of it: Sack Kapil Dev? No stadiums?! And life bans?? The last I heard of life bans from the BCCI was in the context of match-fixing. So, is the BCCI equating playing cricket for a competing league to the sins of match-fixing and doping? Clearly, they have lost all sense of parity and perspective in their panic. A life-ban is the highest punishment they can possibly mete out; it’s their equivalent of a death sentence. Somehow, I don’t think that this hasty strategy will work eventually, and as of now, as a cricket lover, I delight in the BCCI’s sweat.

If and when the ICL comes through, it may not be the best cricket to watch. The best cricket will still be an equal contest between bat and ball, and between well-matched teams, and all the better if it lasts a full five days. Still, I feel the ICL might just work. I am no fan of Twenty20 cricket, but in a world where attention spans last no longer than a pop song, ICL might succeed in capturing Indian imaginations. The hard hitting, the frenzy and the glamour will probably appeal to the Indian masses. More importantly for me, its success would mean that more cricket players will come into the limelight. As Sanjay Manjrekar once said, we are hardly a nation of cricket lovers; a humungous bulk of this nation is not cricket-crazy, but international-star-cricketer-crazy. It is a fact that there is hardly any fan-following at the domestic level. The intermediate stages for a talented player en route to the international level are fraught with despair and difficulty. How often have we not heard of Ranji-players who almost made it to the Indian team but just fell short or missed out because of board and selection committee politics? And of so many who played for a match or two and were then found not to be good enough for the top level. Talent often goes waste because it is so tough to come through the unsupportive system and many make it, not because of the system, but in spite of it. Hence, if ICL can add a touch of glamour and fun for cricket at this level, it’s just brilliant.

Even if the ICL produces 5 x 6 = 30 guys who can bowl a good spell, whack the ball hard, dive around on the field and catch the eye of the public, cricket will be a winner, for, as the talent pool widens, so will the interest in the game (as compared to the obsession when a mere 11 players who step-out to play an international match). But the ICL will need to be creative to come good. Like World Series Cricket before, it should make people sit-up and take notice of this new animal. Mandira Bedi before and after will not be enough; the quality of the matches need to be good. In addition, there has to be ‘something fresh’. The Twenty20 format is new to India and that is a bonus in itself. But further innovations can only do more good. Suggestions that I can readily think of include use of TV replays for difficult decisions (of all kinds). An orange ball was tried out in Pakistan and that could work here as well. Matches should be scheduled such that people can catch them after putting in a hard day’s work at the office (which is a clear advantage this format has). The camera work, the graphics, the statistics, replays, ultra-motions, commentary teams, transmission quality: all of these have to be impeccable and mind-bogglingly good.

More importantly, the teams and the players have to be worth watching. While the international stars will always be wonderful to watch, interest shouldn’t fizzle out when Indian youngsters take strike. Team work and bonding could be vital and there has to be pride for their teams among the players. The young upcoming Indian players have to be promoted and branded well. They should be capable of performing well and winning matches. This is where the role of the ICL organisation is crucial. While raw talent will be available, it has to be groomed well. Along with the skills of the game, fitness, mental toughness and attitude need to be worked on by thorough professionals. Special emphasis should be reserved for fielding. Fearlessness, brashness and devil-may-care attitudes have to be inculcated in the cricketers. The ICL brand of cricket must be something to behold. ICL players must be something to behold. Andrew Symonds was training with the Australian rugby team in preparation for the Twenty20 World Cup! I would like to see every ICL player to go through a routine somewhat like that so that they emerge from the assembly-line as proud gladiators. An initial talent hunt for hard-hitters, speedsters, outstanding fielders, wily spinners and sound keepers would be a good place to start. It’s something Zee should be able to do well. Innovation should be the name of the game, be it training methods, equipment, or approach.

I have one another interesting idea for ICL. It stemmed from BCCI’s life ban for ICL players. My initial reaction was, hey, that’s a monopolistic practice; surely, that shouldn’t be allowed by law. I need to check on that, but I guess a legal battle is possible somewhere down the line given the hard stances BCCI seems to be taking. But then, I thought of another ploy that could get around the ban, and make the BCCI look foolish. What if some of the players (maybe one talented rookie per team) were to remain an undisclosed entity? He could play entire games with a mask to cover his face and go under the name of “blackmask” or “maskman” of the team, or some other fancy name. That would kick in some real interest, send the media into a frenzy and the speculation would create quite a buzz around ICL. And what about poor “maskman” if and when he’s unmasked? Well, he’ll have to take the risk (he should be paid to take the risk!) and if he feels at some point (say, after a minimum fixed number of games) that he can no longer play as a secret shadow, he could reveal himself and stake his claim for a place like any other player. The idea is probably too fanciful and might not work, but I am thrilled to think of it…

After so much thinking and planning for ICL from my side, all I hope is that it works. Also, I hope Subhash Chandra is reading this and taking note! If he isn’t, well, I still wish ICL all the best and look forward to interesting times in Indian cricket.