Friday, January 27, 2012

And what of the IPL?



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I am Indian. I am passionate about the game of cricket. Like millions of other Indians who are also passionate about cricket, I am reasonably intelligent. Perhaps India's cricket team, especially the guys who are asked to front up to the media, have a different understanding of my intelligence.

Ishant Sharma's, R Ashwin's and especially Gautam Gambhir's responses to the media have been frankly disgusting. The thinking in the team that leads to comments like "we will see them in our back yard" and "it is just 2 series losses" I feel is appalling. How many more losses will it take for the team to get their senses back and stare at reality?

Like every one else I have played the game. Not at any serious level but as far as I am concerned serious enough. On streets, on the beach, on proper cricket grounds. With all sorts of cricket balls. At times I am a fan and at times an armchair analyst. Sometimes a critic; not always polite. Sometimes cynical and even unreasonable. In short I am just like any other cricket loving Indian.

I have no explicit loyalties towards the BCCI and to me they are simply a body that runs and administers domestic cricket in India and have the authority to form a team that represents India internationally. Somebody gave them that authority or they took it upon themselves. I really don't understand how it came about. But its unimportant. I don't easily trust them but perhaps I do not totally appreciate what it means to administer the game of cricket. The BCCI nevertheless to me is incidental.

To me the face of Indian cricket is its players.

To my mind, they are athletes who should feel privileged that they have been chosen to represent India. That they are contracted employees of BCCI is a minor administrative aspect to me.


Rahul Dravid in his speech at the Sir Donald Bradman oration said something about cricketers at the end of the day being entertainers. I must say I never thought of cricketers as entertainers. To me they are sportsmen. Athletes. That athletes entertain is a possible, but not entirely guaranteed, side effect of their performance. Men like Chetan Chauhan and Anshuman Gaekwad did not entertain and yet they were proud sportsmen. Test cricket, the Olympics, World Cup Soccer isn't about entertainment. It is something infinitely exhilarating to witness and experience sports played among men and women who are willing to give their all for the glory of their country.

To me India's cricket team is meant to give their all for India's glory. That is my basic and at the same time ultimate requirement. You meet that and you have earned my trust, my respect. You lose a 100 Test matches in a row, I will have no complaints.

That the BCCI can join hands with the private sector and create a private league with the express interest of making profits and entertainment, is none of my concern. I do see its benefits. I certainly recognize the opportunities it creates for all players. Established as well as fringe. Young as well as veterans. I also see the disruption and distraction it has created. I recognize the threats it poses. Some real and current; some anticipated.

I am unwilling to entertain the view that the IPL is not affecting India's national cricket team. Because it is.

When Sachin Tendulkar skipped the tour of the West Indies after playing the IPL, I was extremely uncomfortable. Something did not seem right. I became even more circumspect about the IPL. The threat of the IPL to my team was real. I understand the need for an ageing body to rest. I do not and will not want to understand why the window for private cricket (IPL) not utilized for the rest.

When Gambhir and Sehwag revealed injuries deep into the IPL season I was disappointed. Not because their absence would hurt India's chances of winning but because it was evident that my team was putting club over country.

India may well have lost all the 8 Test matches they lost even if the IPL were absent. But I would have trusted that effort. But knowing that my team has indeed put club over country, I find myself questioning whether their efforts were genuine.

Am I the only one who feels that way? Why aren't there more people who are similarly fearful of the IPL. Why aren't more people not questioning Sachin Tendulkar who could have used the IPL to rest and gone to the West Indies for India.

I remember at that time the debate was about India not being "ruthless" at Dominica and content to do just enough to win the series. At that time all I could think of was, India did not even send their best team to the West Indies because many of them exhausted themselves playing in the IPL

Why is this okay? What has changed?


Just because BCCI says that IPL is legal does not make it alright for me. I want to know what Sachin Tendulkar feels. What Rahul Dravid feels... not in a politically correct way. I want to know where they stand.

For over 8 months I have heard a billion excuses for India's losses in Test Matches. The loses don't hurt as much. What hurts is that I can no longer say that my cricket team is 100% committed to bring glory to India. I honestly cannot say that. What I will not forgive Team India for is the pussy footing around the issue of IPL. I understand there are investments at stake, money on the line. What I do not understand is that how and when did my team including Sachin Tendulkar, become stakeholders in that.

I do not have it in me to forgive my team for putting club before country. They had a legitimate chance for greatness with tours to the West Indies, England and Australia lined up. All they needed to do was to give it their best shot. And they did not. This is not just 2 series losses as Gambhir puts it, it is the question of my team clearly affected by the IPL and unwilling to confront the problem head on.  They played the IPL, arrived in England half cooked and if I know my team, their conscience unclean. Because deep down even they know that they compromised India's interests in Test Cricket. And yet they are silent.

May be they have contracts with the BCCI prohibiting them from speaking against the IPL. May be making it mandatory for them to play the IPL. May be. But to me my team should be committed to India. Can they honestly say they gave themselves the best possible chance in the West Indies and England?

Ganguly and Kumble retired without taking a stand. The last 3 seniors still have that opportunity. I want them to openly speak about how the IPL is leaving them conflicted. Skipping tours, hiding injuries and generally risking an India game for the IPL is not cricket.

To me the reasons for India's poor performances may be about unimaginative, stubborn, rigid captaincy. May be about the openers failing. May be weak bowling is a reason. May be the seniors have slowed down. May be the #6 slot is the problem. These problems even if real can be fixed. A new captain can be appointed, the openers can be trusted to find form again, new bowlers can be found, the seniors can be replaced with sharper more fit men, eventually a long term #6 can be found. There is no humiliation in losing in the face of these known issues. What is killing me is that my team has succumbed to the IPL and no one has the desire to tackle the issue.

And from what I know of the BCCI and the general stakeholders in Indian cricket, no change will come unless it is good for the long term profitability of cricket in India and that includes the IPL. May be I am too paranoid about the IPL but unless rebuilding makes business sense to the IPL, it ain't going to happen. Any decision to rebuild has to be evaluated against the bottom line of advertising revenues. Because that is the core of the money the BCCI has gotten...by the sale of TV rights. Its not going to be about whether the new generation will score as many runs as the seniors rather it will be about whether the young generation will bring in as much advertising revenue as the seniors.

The players have become all too powerful and have been conditioned in the Indian system to not use their power to solve real problems facing the game. They will use it simply to further their Test careers whether they want to or not. They will continue to be victims of the system corrupted by greed and short term profits.

India's Test players have been conditioned for decades to think if themselves as national players. To put country first. Always. For the last 5 years they have been put in a situation where they find themselves conflicted. It is eating their conscience. It is showing in their performance.

The IPL is welcome to thrive as long as it is not preventing players to give it their all for India. At the moment it is causing disruptions.

The problem is not confined to India alone. India is merely the early adopter to the franchise model and seeing its national cricket team disrupted because of that. Bangladesh, South Africa and Australia too will face similar questions. The problem is not the T20 format. The problem is the franchise model. It certainly has its benefits. It will bring new fans, trigger growth of the game globally but isn't it utilizing resources and skills meant to represent the nation?

And whose responsibility will it be to make sure that India's national team is not negatively impacted by demands of the businessmen who run the IPL franchises?

The BCCI?

19 comments:

Soulberry said...

Well expressed right through. Great read.

My only problem with IPL, which I had expressed back then, was when it began to expand the number of games played. I disagreed with that. They went on to increase the number of teams and the number of games still further. It is this monster that can be leading to player lassitude.

IPL would be a great tournament if it were limited to about 50-odd matches and lesser time. Playing double that number of matches and extending tournament time is simply bloat that's begging for criticism.

Vaibhav Sharma said...

Yes you are right. I think even the players want to put country over club, they wanted to rest during the IPL4 but the influence of BCCI and franchisees and the kind of money that they have taken, they just could n't afford to skip IPL.

Golandaaz said...

Thanks SB,

I have to agree with you about the length of the tournament. Also after the tournament enough time needs to be given to the players to prepare for the next India assignment

Golandaaz said...

VS,

Finally we agree!

Even so, I am not entirely thrilled that players of the stature of SRT and RD are not speaking out. If they don't who will?

Vidooshak said...

Gol

A formula HAS TO BE found where money generating formats like IPL co-exist with romantic formats like test cricket. I bet you online following of test cricket is higher than that of IPL including TV audiences.

I think professionals sportsmen are becoming more "professional" Mercenaries for hire. When I was a kid, I didn't understand why Pete Sampras would not play the Davis Cup? Isn't country greater than anything else? But for professionals, it's apparently not.

I agree with Dravid in the sense that, sportsmen have been dumbed down to be entertainers. He is taking that as a fact whereas I think it's in the power of sportspeople to change that. Entertainment is a by-product of the battles on the field, but entertainment is not the sole objective.

The IPL has affected India's season more than anything this year. I think our seniors and others made poor choices, but I don't really have a problem with that. I have a real problem with the indignant attitude being displayed post the butt kicking that they received. Not "embarrassed" but "disappointed" to me is the statement that puts this team in perspective. Any self-respecting sportsperson would have been ashamed, embarrassed and more by this. Disappointment is a huge euphemism...

Shridhar Jaju said...

The timing of IPL 2011 terribly affected India's tour of England - that I can say with conviction! There were some lessons that needed learning from that tour.

So in preparing for the Australian tour, the seniors got good cricket under their belt against the West Indies, albeit at home. Sehwag and Gambhir played the ODIs too to regain their form. Dhoni took some time off, and Zaheer played a couple of Ranji games before the practice matches in Australia. The team SEEMED to be making the right moves.

Yet we have this result now. I know IPL has caused certain losses to the Indian cricketing environment, but I do not think that the loss to Australia can be as directly attributed to the IPL as the loss to England was!

We may want to search for other reasons, and the next best seems to be the age of our middle order. But they weren't far younger when they played very well in South Africa 2010-11. It's inconceivable to imagine that their abilities have just deteriorated over the last 12 months!

So what needs to be blamed for our two whitewashes? Well, frankly, I have no clue! These two losses have left me an utterly confused soul when it comes to thinking about Indian cricket, and I have been arguing both sides of every damn issue without really making any point!

It's so bad that now I end up thinking - what a waste of a comment!

Shridhar Jaju said...

"I have a real problem with the indignant attitude being displayed post the butt kicking that they received. Not "embarrassed" but "disappointed" to me is the statement that puts this team in perspective. Any self-respecting sportsperson would have been ashamed, embarrassed and more by this. Disappointment is a huge euphemism..."

To this bit from Vidooshak's comment, I just wanted to say: "Touché"!

Govind Raj said...

Never seen a more passionate write up on Indian Cricket. Simply what most of us felt.

Just look at these points:

SRT thought 100 No. 100 in a Test in the Caribbean was lesser important than an IPL win, he didn't get either.

Viru and Gauty played deep into IPL carrying injuries and ignored test Cricket: test Cricket has never been kind to them since.

India didn't push for a win in the final test in West Indies. They never came anywhere near a win since then [away from home I mean]

May be Test Cricket has a God and that God is taking revenge on Team India big time !

Golandaaz said...

Vidoo, when someone says I am x but not y...its a strange statement. Usually it means y is also somewhat true.

I am quite certain they are thoroughly ashamed and they are extremely uncomfortable with the IPL thingy....that it requires them to put India second.

Its just that Indian cricketers are not known to cause ripples by airing their views publicly if it is in conflict with the BCCI

I think in that respect the earlier generation was a bit more rebellious. I know of Gavaskar leading the front to negotiate better pay and Vengsarkar defying and defending his right to write a column while captain of India.

This generation want to be 'good boys'

Golandaaz said...

SJ, I agree that the Australia tour was too far away from the IPL to have explicit impact.

However can you truly isolate the tour. Each tour starts with experiences, outcomes, etc from the previous one. Once India took the decision to put country second behind their clubs....what unfolded was a series of unfortunate events.

My claim is that the tipping point was the IPL 2011 and the way it impacted the WI tour.

Plus I think the team is feeling conflicted and not happy about it

Golandaaz said...

Govind, Thanks !

India have invited the wrath of the Test Cricket Goddess.

We can safely conclude that Test Cricket is a woman :-)

Bala said...

I remember RD making a clear comment after the first IPL auction that he was not happy about players being sold in an auction . But with Anti-IPL laws everyboby is clear that crickt is entertainment now and that is what he meant in his recent oration !We are expecting players to be ashamed of series losses! But imagine how RD and Ganguly being ICON players would have felt when the club owners discarded them from thier city franchisees. There is no need/room for any shame in this era! Make hay when the sun shines !!

Golandaaz said...

Bala,

Points well taken.

My view is this. Yes there are laws. However if they are unjust or leaving the players constantly conflicted; I believe the senior players have enough clout with the public to defy the BCCI.

I realize may be I am asking for too much from the seniors. But if they are simply to be worker bees then I say find younger ones

Vidooshak said...

The extent of denial is amazing. Viru, Dravid and now Bhajji (the chief cheerleader) too claiming that there's nothing to worry about??? Are you friggin' kidding me??

Gladly, Bhajji was left out...Hopefully, the selectors start culling some of the others that are temporarily out of form for 10 plus test matches and will come back to form after 8 months time..Domestic cricket calling...force 'em to play and prove their worth..

Bala said...

Vidhooshak,

The selectors of course can drop anyone ! But it is not correct to force RD and Laxman to retire on their own when they are not exclusively responsible for the losses. Well if you are asking why they did not score triple centuries to save the team like Clarke did, the answer is they could have if the Australian bowling was as pathetic as Indian bowling was..
At best this can be a disappointment that they did not..but it cant be a blame that the whole world expects them to commit suicide or something of that sort. In this tour everybody has failed including seniors ,juniors sub-juniors et all. Virat Kohli played some good knocks but so did Dravid in England when everybody else failed. If Dravid or SRT want they can easily prove with records that their performance in overseas condition has been far better than others even if you take England and Australia tours. Yes..Laxman is the one having poor statistics now..
But if we insist they should retire just because their advancing age that is a different story to talk...

Golandaaz said...

Bala, we have been writing in favor of the seniors to retire for 6 months now. Frankly I have no appetite to keep having the same arguments over and over only to come back to the same point.

If anything India's performances since the Lords test where we first raised alarms against the seniors and the IPL has only vindicated our view.

Vidooshak said...

Bala -

What would you suggest we do? Play the same team and replace Kohli and Gambhir? The bowling has been more or less the same for the last several years.

My point about Dravid was that if he doesn't think of retirement after a performance like this, when will he? What circumstances should make someone think of retirement?

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