Archive for Indian Cricket League – ICL

Test cricket just not suited for India & sub continent conditions.

There is something prudish and snobish  in glorifying test cricket. Especially in the Indian context, since ages I have witnessed test cricket in the subcontinent heavily favored to the batsmen. A lot has been said about the climatic conditions and soil texture prevalent in India; not sure  if it is the only reason for us producing slow turning wickets.

 I have been following India cricket since the early 1980s. the one day world cup was what caught my imagination and propelled me from a ordinary follower to a passionate fan. One-day following soon shadowed into test cricket appraisals. After all they kept preaching that a true cricket fan always follows test cricket. One thing about test cricket is that it is the best test of endurance of a player. How can I forget the Dean Jones innings in the tied test in 87, followed by Gavaskar’s unsucessful marathon to save the test and series against Imran’s Pakistan in Bangalore! However such moments were far and wide between. At the same time, we could not follow the Indian team overseas except for the One day international matches . So a magnificent win by kapil’s devils over England in the mid 80s was followed only througha half an hour  highlights capsules. Even the great 1989 series between India and Pakistan; that debuted greats such as Tendulkar and Waqar Younnis was given the miss by the only state broadcaster present in India. Again what we saw live of that series was the one day format, between the two fierce rivals.

The stark difference between the Indian and an English or Australian fan lies in the fact that he/she has witnessed test cricket which is fast, result oriented and aggressive. This is in stark contrast to the games dished out in the Indian subcontinent. Even former Indian and Pakistani captains have admitted that the fear of loss saw them play out for draws. Slow batting featherbeds also helped their cause.

There is a ironical debate as to which is a greater rivalry the ashes or the Indo- Pak encounters. My take is that in terms of test cricket it is the ashes ; while the one day format honors goes to the Indo- Pak contest.

 Experts may disagree with my inference, but my whole analysis is based on a spectator’s inference. I would divide Indian cricket into two eras;” pre 1983 world cup” and the post 1983 world cup era. I know I am being grossly unjust to magnificent cricketers like Wadekar, Solkar, Vishwant and the magnificent four spinners ( Bedi, Prassana, Venkat & Chandreshekar); to name a few. But my problem lies in the fact that my generation (following cricket over 25 years) has just not witnessed enough good quality test cricket at home.

For us the great Indo- Pak rivalry for us evolved at Sharjah in the one day format. It had all the modern greats; Gavaskar, Imran, Kapil , Miandad to  Akram & Sachin play hard and fiercely  to define the other of all cricket battles. In the same corresponding period India and Pakistan did not play each other in test cricket for over a decade and that is where the lack of interest in test cricket amongst subcontinent fans originates. The tragedy of test cricket in the Indian subcontinent lies in the fact that Waqar Younnis and Wasim Akram never faced Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid in their prime.

 The situation looks even grimmer today. One major factor for rapidly diminishing popularity of India test cricket lies in the retirement of Anil Kumble. Kumble was the champion cricketer for India in every home series in the past two decades. The Indian batsmen would pile up the runs and Kumble would pick up a fifer in the second innings to give India victory in most home series.

Today as we celebrate centuries and milestones of our batsmen; our bowling without Kumble just cannot pick up 20 wickets( a mandatory requirement for a test win). As I write this piece Tendulkar is inching his way to another century, inconsequential and completely devoid of any chances of an Indian win. I was told cricket is ateam sport, defined as a  battle between bat and ball, however 1500 runs scored with neither side picking 20 wickets seems just not the prescribed great game of cricket.

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Champions’ league “Blue”

Two entertainment products found a similarity amongst themselves last weekend; one in the field of cricket and another in form of a Bollywood flick. The similarity starts in the way both products announced their “sales pitch”. The product never said anything about the script/teams or the actors/players proficiency. According to  the promoters of both, their USP was the mullah spent in creating the product. Money took precedence over everything else. The product was almost in your face saying” its god damn expensive, so you better indulge in it”.

 

Alas both products did not realize that consumers don’t take to a product just because it is expensive. The operative word for success is “value for money” and that is where both products fail. The metaphor of the failure in both products was two towering figures; unfortunately standing in the dusk of their careers; Sanjay Dutt & Glen McGrath. Unfortunately for them the promoters tried to milk their humongous brand equity without reading their present status. Both are in professions where fitness and form is of paramount importance; their expanding bellies puffed up cheeks read a completely different picture. Another towering figure that did a great damage for himself who coincidently played his part in both products was the Mozart of Madras- A.R. Rehman. What on earth was the brief given to the maestro by the promoters of both products- god alone knows! But both the Airtel Champions League Anthem and Chigi Wigi did not work with the audiences. Somehow it was just not something expected from a genius of the caliber of Mr. Rehman. I would however rest the case in favor of the Music maestro by saying that the main culprit was somewhere in the promoters brief to him, for  both products

 

As Bollywood is not my cup of tea let me just concentrate on the Champions League. There are a few fundamental errors in the league and unless they solve these; they can never reach the status of the UEFA; they want to emulate. T20 cricket today has a few fundamental errors. A T20 format player is caught between loyalties to club or country. This is something Soccer players never face. It is high time players choose the format they want to represent. The way forward is to have a separate T20, One Day and Test side across all major cricket nations’ right from the grassroots level. This is aka Rugby structure of the world. IF you play Rugby league you stick to it and don’t switch to Rugby union. However if a T20 player can represent his country in a test format he would need to give up his T20 code to take on test cricket. This is something Rugby league players do as the world cup of Rugby is played in the Rugby Union format.  This will take away all discrepancies and statements like “T20 is like dessert”. Every format needs to be respected equally. This would also take away the hypocrisy practiced by many players and cricket experts who enjoy the financial benefits of T20 format while praising test cricket. I would seriously like to see how many players would take up Test cricket and forgo T20 league cricket. I am sure after a certain age it is best to not indulge in too much of desserts!

 

Most importantly what the bifurcation of players into three different codes –aka rugby; will create a   proper window for t20 cricket. The present format of the IPL – One month 60 odd matches is too much burden on the players and fans consuming the game as a sport product. It makes the IPL more of an event rather than a league. A league should ideally be played over 3-4 months with no more than 4 days/week itinerary, very much like the English Premier league.

I am sure most of you would see this as a deathblow for test cricket- but let us bestow some trust on the spectators and beauty of test cricket. I am sure it can survive on its own without any protectionism and embargos on other formats of cricket

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Chronicles of India’s T20 cricket

Two years two world cups, two IPL editions and one champions league later- modern day cricket power BCCI, stands at the cusp of changing the very fabric of the game we all came to love. Today some fractions of the same BCCI that economically benefited from the riches of IPL, find that it is killing its golden goose –International Indian cricket. The latest revelations from none less than the CEO of BCCI Ratnakar Shetty questioning  the young Indian players commitment to the national cause, flop show of the champions league( t20 format)  and champions trophy( one day format) and emergence of freelance players has dawned the realization that cricket has  changed for ever. Personally I find it a far more complex issue than just calling it crass commercialization or lack of player commitment from the present crop of players. How the game will evolve will need time. Can the diminishing interest in the ongoing Airtel Champions league be revived in the next round of matches? Will brand “cricket India “survive post r the high profile Australia series? Only time will tell!

 

In my pursuit of the above answers I tried to understand the history of the t20 format of the game in India.  Going through the archives of sports reports; I was marveled at the U-turns taken by the BCCI. A modern day Greek tragedy sees the most powerful cricket board that resisted the t20 format of the game initially do a flip around  to own the biggest T20 cricket property in the IPL. I thought it is right for you the cricket fan to know how the t20 format took birth in India and how the IPL today is proving to be a Frankenstein monster for the BCCI and Indian cricket.

 

My first glimpses of t20 cricket were when English county teams started playing it. I saw a prophetic Ravi Shastri claim in England; on an India overseas series that the format did not make sense to him and could never succeed. Back home the czars of Indian cricket too tried to avoid the format with the primal fear of it eating into the money spinner of those times “One-Day cricket”. As ICC and rest of the world embraced the shortest format of the game BCCI resisted it.

 

Again during India’s tour of England in 2007; BCCI had to reluctantly select an Indian team for the inaugural t20 world cup. Somewhere down, the Indian establishment did not want to add to the success of the T20 format with its humongous financial clout and support base. It strategically asked five of its top players Tendulkar, Dravid , Ganguly, Zaheer and Kumble to withdraw themselves from the world championship. An Underdog side led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni was sent to South Africa. The rest of that campaign is history.

 

At around the same time India was witnessing its first comprehensive private participation in cricket in form of Essel group’s ICL. ICL looked to work around creating a brand out of the much languished and abandoned domestic Indian cricket and its players. Their sport product was packaged with some International players not part of their respective national squads. It was a masterstroke- without affecting the fabric of the international game. The private entrepreneurial effort suddenly was foreseen as a solid sports product with the best of India’s domestic talent pool and high quality broadcast. The BCCI knew that a private entrepreneur had realized the opportunity to create a viable economic sport product at the domestic level never before tried by any cricket board of the world. Instead of collaborating and encouraging private involvement in its operations; the BCCI took an antagonistic approach to the ICL.

 

The situation provided an opportunity for the megalomaniac marketing wizz kid of the BCCI ( Lalit Modi) who also harbored dreams of starting  a private cricket league like the ICL in the 1990s. Modi had flirted with sports broadcast with limited success till then. He brought ESPN to India but soon cut off the tie up. He had invested some money in trying to poach international players to create a private league with the 50 over format but was met with stiff resistance from BCCI. On pretext of countering the ICL, Modi sold the IPL concept to the BCCI – who without thinking of the long term repercussions joined his bandwagon.

 

Most experts had predicted that the IPL was a global giant that would swallow the international fabric of the game. However in their approach to destroy the ICL –cricket establishments around the world (some readily, others reluctantly) agreed to support the IPL and block out the ICL. In reality the IPL was a bigger threat than the ICL for the world cricket establishment. The ICL was based on working with domestic Indian players and mixing them with former or over the hill but recognized international players to create competent t20 cricket teams with city based following. On the other hand IPL was based on creating a league on basis of their star value of present day international players. Imperial franchisees were brought in with the bait of owning the game of cricket. This worked completely opposite to the initial ideology of the BCCI which wanted to restrict the T20 format to protect the other two longer versions of the game, especially its golden goose One day – 50 over format.

The irony of this eventful T20 chronicle today sees the BCCI facing a Frankenstein monster in the IPL . The IPL was created to blunt out a domestic ICL, but more than the ICL it has managed to hit on BCCI’s biggest brand – “ the national cricket team” fondly known as the men in blues.

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The new genetically modified opening batsman!

Cricket metamorphosis is in its top gear at the moment. A lot of discussions are taking place as to what shape modern day cricket will take. Can the 50 over format survive? Will t20 work as an overkill for cricket? What will be the fate of test cricket? Et al! One major question that has been pondering my mind, since over a year, is the vanishing role of a specialist opener. When I first started following cricket religiously; some of the big stalwarts where opening batsmen. Indian fans worshipped openers, because our first cricketing superstar was an opener in the form of the little master- Sunil Gavaskar. The names Gavaskar, Boycott, Greenidge, Haynes, Rameez Raja & Graham Gooch were revered specialists; epitome of technique and concentration. However the last decade has thrown in openers who were not originally bestowed that position. Look at the names. Players like Jaysuriya, Shewag, Gilchrist and Tendulkar (50 over format)  to present day tormentors like Dilshan and Shane Watson prove that openers are not born they are made.

 

I guess the easiest inference for this new breed of lower middle order batsmen transforming into successful openers will be blamed on shorter formats of the game! However I think there is a bigger reason for this phenomenon- covered pitches and an attacking approach to all formats of the game including Test cricket. When the likes of Gavaskar and Boycott started off in their careers pitches were green and uncovered. Gavaskar is famously quoted with approaching the opener’s role with the idea that “give the bowler the first 30 minutes and the rest of the day is yours”. I guess today covered and protected tracks have become batting havens. Additionally with bouncer restrictions; the game has heavily tilted in favor of the batsmen in the modern context.

 

An opener today does not need to play the role of wearing off a fast bowler and seeing off the shine on the leather cherry. He no longer needs to protect his teams’ best batsman- ideally batting at the no-4 position. This throws the inference that in modern day cricket and especially the T20 format you need your best three batsmen playing at the top three batting positions.  The new genetically modified batsman first took the role of a pinch hitter. First seen in the case of New Zealand’s mark Greatbatch in the 1992 world cup, and further perfected by Jaisuriya and Romesh Kaluwurthana in the famed Sri Lankan 1996 world cup campaign. The biggest genetically modified opener is modern day great Sachin Tendulkar. A classical No-4 middle order batsman; Sachin opened in the shorter format of the game to take advantage of playing a full 50 overs. This phenomenon is most relevant today in the T20 format where you would want your best batsmen to play as many overs as possible. I believe that T20 will result in batting positions depending on form and talent rather than an orthodox approach of specialist openers, middle order and lower middle order batsmen.

 

It has already been well documented that every new format of the game has a positive effect on test cricket. If one analyses the best test team of the last decade you will realize that the Australians have scored their runs at nearly 4 runs per over in the longest format of the game. 20 years back such a phenomenon would have read as the opposition bowlers displaying poor form and eventually losing their positions in the test side. Today a bowler returning with an economy rate of 3, (even in the longer format) would read as a good day in the field for that bowler.

A classical opening batsman in the mold of a Gavaskar or Boycott is an extinct species in today’s’ game. That is quite a misfortune because blocking and seeing off a hostile spell of fast bowling is one of the toughest arts of batsmenship. It almost feels nostalgic to remember a Gavaskar or Boycott seeing off the new ball from the great West Indian pace quartet. I wonder if we will ever see a new young batsman in the mould of a Gavaskar or Boycott. If the answer is “NO”, then the coming generations of crickeut fans will surely miss one of the best contests between bat and ball in the game of cricket.

 

I am not sure of many other cricketing nations, but in the Indian context two such cricketers who faced the axe despite being classical openers are Wasim Jaffer and Akash Chopra. I remember watching a test match between India and West Indies in the Caribbean in 2007. The slippery and sharp Fidel Edwards was peppering the Indian openers ( Jaffer and Shewag) with some serious leg line short bowling. The marveling observation was the ease with which Jaffer was fending off the deliveries as compared to his more illustrious opening partner. But unfortunately such situations are far and between in modern day test cricket. Therefore an opener in the Shewag mould is any day more effective as compared to an aka Jaffer mould batter, even in the longest format of the game.

 

All I can say is a big goodbye to the classical test opener. It is sad that today’s game does not need your high-level skills of batsmanship. Batsmen like you encountered the fiercest contest between the bat and ball. Unfortunately modern cricket with covered and batting friendly pitches, military medium pacers on the opposing ends & rules tilted heavily in favor of batsmen- need just a stroke maker and not a classical opening batsman an epitome of defense, technique and concentration.

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An Inferior cricket product leaves IPL-2 on the verge of a bubble burst

The self proclaimed messiah of world cricket Lalit Modi, seems to have taken too many liberties with the brand “Cricket India” ;resulting in heartache for IPL broadcaster-Sony, IPL Sponsors & advertisers ;not forgetting most important constituent – the cricket fans of the country. This time round Modi & his coterie of franchisees felt that moneybags gave them the final say in terms of what was best for the game ridiculing cricketers, legends and the basic ethos of cricket.

The first problem arose when an arrogant Modi called his product recession proof and bullied his broadcaster to cough out an extra Rs.400 Crores, least appreciating market conditions. Sony took the bait of Lalit’s proposed product modifications (forced mid innings break); ignoring consumer requirements as well as player considerations. Fans, experts and cricketers (none less than Shane Warne, Sachin Tendulkar & Harbhajan Singh) have been unanimous in their protest against the marketing gimmick that has affected the sport product adversely. The Coaches have no say in the timing of the break that makes it a poor cousin of the original time-out concept adopted by sporting disciplines such as Basketball and Volley-ball.
The affect of this has been the fact that people have lost interest in watching the matches as shown by Television rating figures for IPL matches. The decline in TRPs is drastic making one wonder how the Sponsors and broadcaster can justify the costs borne by them for this cricket Tamasha. The fact that the IPL matches are just not holding the attention of the audience can be best reflected by the AMap (market research agency) finding. According to CEO of aMap, Amit Verma: “Even though larger number of viewers watched the first two matches, curiosity did not sustain as much as last year.”

The product is fast loosing its fizz. As compared to TRPs of 8.21 achieved last year by IPL , this year has seen a sharp decline at TRP ratings falling at a dismal 5.48 by the second match of IPL season-2 (latest Tam ratings). It is important to realize that 8.21 Trps was the highest achieved by IPL- season1 and was registered in the tournament opener which averaged to around 6 for the entire tournament. So it is only certain to predict that the poor figure of 5.48 will fall further having catastrophic consequences for an already bleeding SET MAX and it’s on-air clients; who have presumably paid Lalit and his IPL tamasha a higher premium as compared to last year!

I find it ironic that the ICC which rejected the official recognition of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) on basis of affecting the basic fabric of the game –finds no faults with the whims & fancies adopted by the self proclaimed messiah of modern cricket- Lalit Modi.

I also urge the media to recognize the fact that cricketers and legends of the game have been reduced to mere puppets or ridiculed by Money Czars ( IPL franchisees) and market considerations. It started with the Gavaskar- Shahrukh Khan verbal dual where the filmstar questioned the credentials of India’s first sports hero in the modern context of the game. Gundappa Vishwanath –match refree for the first match was a mere spectator at the toss where the coin was tossed by Lalit Modi instead of the batting maestro who was reduced to the job of just picking up the coin from the ground. Match-2 saw the same treatment being meted out to Yashpal Sharma who had to pass the honors of tossing the coin to India’s infamous traveling goon – Niranjan Shah. I want to ask the ICC now is this not affecting the basic fabric and ethos of the great game of cricket?

The biggest fraud in this whole tamasha has been the handling of the domestic Indian players. Rajashtan Royals has sent back its domestic talent , Chennai Superkings have followed suit and many more domestic boys are on the way back, if sources from the various IPL franchisees are to be believed! This has been a perennial problem with all IPL teams, Season-1 saw players being asked to vacate their hotels for franchisee guests. The treatment meted out to Ranadeb Bose (team India player & highest wicket taker in the domestic format) by Kolkata Knightriders has well been documented. I think if IPL is recession proof and if the revenues are larger than last year –how come so many domestic boys are facing the axe !!!!!!!!!!!

The matches too have been drab. The avg scores are below the 120 runs/ innings mark making it a poor viewing experience for the sports fans. Ajay Jadeja ( NDTV cricket expert ) made a relevant point in his analysis judging the IPL as an inferior cricket product that has certainly been overpriced as a sports property.
The biggest blunder has been in Lalit Modi- ill-advising his franchisees of shifting their city loyalty to a more global presence. Saurav Ganguly’s handling by KKR management and their strategic decision of removing Kolkata from all their merchandise has seen their brand equity disappear as quickly as a plate of rosogollas from a KC Das store. If most franchisees try & follow suit forgetting their home base ( IPl was formulated on city loyalties) then dooms day is not far for the overvalued IPL bubble to burst.

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ICL deserves a thumbs-up from every true cricket connoisseur

The ICL season-2 was an eye opener for anyone with an eye for emerging talent. R Sathish, G Vignesh, Ali Murtaza, Stuart Binny, Imran Nazir , Rana Naved Ul Hasan, Alok Kapali, Shahriar Nafees et al – the list just keeps going on & on as to how these young players have marveled live & TV audiences not to forget pundits in the commentary box, with their superlative performances.

A lot has been said about the unfair ban faced by these professional cricketers & I don’t want to dwell on it further in this mail. However as a true admirer of the game and the magnificent men who play it; it’s an absolute shame that they don’t get recognized!

 

The talent pool and performance prowess at the ICL is far too strong to ignore for the cricket authorities. How on earth can one ignore matches that generate prime time television & 50, 000 packed stadiums?

 

As a sports optimist I would love to see a utopian scenario where sanctity prevails in terms of spirit of sports:

 

1. ICL, IPL & Stanford should be seen as ancillary supportive units to international cricket. Though Stanford & ICL have played to right role within the right parameters & framework, to act as ancillary units; IPL has been a bit of a gobbling giant with serious ramifications of destroying international cricket. The ICC needs to step in to restore order, reconise the ICL so that the monopolistic IPL can be balanced by a recognized ICL.

 

2. Free transfer of players: the IPL is no doubt the barrier breaker for creating a platform & viability for T20 & league cricket. However it suffers from the lacunae in terms of perfection of restricting the Indian talent pool. I guess if a free market exists for player transfers as seen by the soccer model in Europe; both the players & franchisee will see a synergistic benefit.

 

3. Player benefits is primary objective of cricket administrators & not maintenance of  the present pyramid : I was reading an interesting interview with the Ravi Sashtri proclaimed Moses and cricket’s so called renaissance man Lalit Modi, with a leading electronic media company . When quizzed about ICL’s ban ; Mr. Modi justified it by saying that private bodies have to be discouraged to maintain to present structure of world cricket. I fail to comprehend this logic! Should player development & commercial enhancement be the logical objective of the boards or should it be the present stance of maintaining their monopoly on the lucrative world cricket turf? I leave the judgment to you.

 

Finally despite all odds & restrictions the ICL has delivered a transparent & vibrant sports product and justifiably needs the support from all us sports aficionados to emerge as a premier sporting event on our annual calendar.

 

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Ranatunga shows the way forward on ICL issue

It finally took a cricketer to understand the importance and wisdom of accepting a strong cricketing body comprising of a rich talent pool of cricketers & vibrant cricket structure. Sri Lanka’s most successful captain & CEO of cricket board has taken the path breaking step of understanding the modern cricket world & its dynamics. For how long could the premier cricket body (ICC) ignore a league represented & chosen by players from every major cricketing center of the world.

Arjuna Ranatunga has taken a step which will restore sanctity in the cricketing world. It is important that the ICC emerges as the supreme authority on global cricketing matters rather than follow the diktat of an IPL honcho. The IPL honcho has does great disservice to the BCCI portraying it as a bully rather than as a leader in cricketing initiatives.

It is important that the ICC does not let go of this opportunity to restore its supremacy on all global cricketing matters and shows the IPL honcho his right place.

In the final analysis it is a moral story for a few over-zealous authorities, that you can try hard but for how long can you keep a hardworking professional cricketer down.

This is great news for domestic Indian talents who choose the vibrant ICL platform; this is just the beginning of great things to follow for them. Finally they have got their rightful due for all the hard work put in.

VIVA domestic Indian cricket!

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