Posts Tagged Champions league

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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