February 28, 2008

IPL will be a huge and unexpected boon for emerging Indian talent

By H Natarajan

The watershed auction of the who’s who of the game last week emphatically hammered the point that India is the El Dorado of international cricket. India’s commercial capital was the playground of the richest like Mukesh Ambani, Vijay Mallya, Shah Rukh Khan and Ness Wadia who were lassoing in marquee names by nonchalantly throwing money like grains at a kabutarkhana.

The forces of globalization are changing the face of the game – no mistaking that. India is the nuclear powerhouse of the game and while it may seem far-fetched to even suggest at this point of time, I for one would not be surprised if the ICC becomes irrelevant in times to come. ICC survival as cricket’s apex will depend heavily on the relationship it’s able to forge with the omnipotent Board of Control for Cricket in India. The ICC knows that the BCCI is quite capable of flexing its financial muscle in a manner that could jeopardize the very existence of the ICC as the game’s governing body.

The business and financial acumen of Jagmohan Dalmiya then and Lalit Modi now have put the BCCI in a position of command. In 1971 – a watershed year in Indian cricket - an Indian cricketer got Rs 750 for a Test. At the exchange rate today – that’s 37 years later - it still works to a mere US $18.75 (approx). Compare that with the Rs 6 crore that India’s ODI captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, got at the auction. Even a greenhorn like Rohit Sharma or a relatively unknown like Manoj Tiwari were lapped up for Rs 3 crore and Rs 2.7 crores respectively. It simply means that these boys would be earning several hundred times more in just over a month than an average Indian can hope to save after 35-40 years of blood, sweat, tears and toil in a job.

With so much money to be made in such a short time outside the international playing arena, the IPL has ensured that parents will look at the game as a serious viable career option for their children.

The Subhash Chandra-Kapil Dev-powered Indian Cricket League (ICL) had some big international names – largely, recently-retired players - like Brian Lara, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Chris Cairns, Lance Klusener, Craig McMillan, Abdul Razzaq, Nathan Astle and Marvan Atapattu. If the ICL did not make a big impact on the Indian followers in its inaugural year it’s because it had virtually no big name from India which is a factor in sharp contrast to the IPL. In fact, the IPL not only has all the big and emerging young names in Indian cricket but also several top class current players from all over the world.

Personally, what is most satisfying is the fact that many of India’s emerging young talent in the under-19 and under-22 age groups will get to rub shoulders with the biggest names the game has known like Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee, Kumar Sangakarra and Shaun Pollock. It’s a God-sent opportunity for the likes of Virat Kohli, Pradeep Sangwan and Tanmay Srinvastava. That’s like getting 100% scholarship out of the blue to a coveted university like Harvard or Yale.

If there is a tinge of regret it’s that someone like Ambati Rayudu, a player of whom much was expected, is lost to the ICL. And unless equations change dramatically for the ICL, the 22-year-old could be lost forever.

Indian cricket will also be enriched by new thought processes with the likes of John Buchanan and Tom Moody, coaches with huge reputations, aligning themselves with the IPL.

Of all the teams, Hyderabad seems strongest on paper. Imagine having four of the most devastating batmen: Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Symonds and Shahid Afridi at the top of the order! Each of them can change the course of a match single-handedly and in a matter of few overs. Then there is the young pup Rohit Sharma and captain VVS Laxman, whose selfless act of sacrificing the icon status gave his team much buying power. If there is any lacuna or lopsidedness to their attack it’s their bowling resource which has three left-arm pacemen in Chaminda Vaas, RP Singh and Nuwan Zoysa.

The team that looks to have gained the least out of the auction – at least on paper – is Mumbai. They have quite a few players whose age and fitness may come in for severe examination in a game where there is very little margin for errors. Sanat Jayasuriya, Shaun Pollock, Sachin Tendulkar are no doubt class acts, but they do not have the legs that they had a few years back.

Mumbai, like some others team, has not used up its permitted quota of eight overseas players which means they could still correct the imbalances. Interest would now be on the English players – especially the likes of Dimitri Mascarenhas, Kevin Petersen and Paul Collingwood.

Hopefully, the IPL will force the BCCI to do a much, much-needed rethink on spending money on infrastructure to ensure that the millions of fans in cricket-crazy India will get to enjoy the game the way it should be and not be treated like cattle. The paying spectator has suffered the most and longest and its time they get their much-deserved due.

One thing is for sure: If the IPL succeeds then the game will not be the same again - just as the game underwent a dramatic transformation after Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.


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