The premier Indian T20 tournament and cricket entertainment for millions of fans, the Indian Premier League (IPL), seems to be in jeopardy.
The 12th edition of the tournament in 2019 is likely to be held in April and May next year, the slot reserved for it. This scheduling has several issues, and may require considerably tweaking. If not, it may just become another fruitless event in the Indian cricket itinerary.
The 2019 general election is a prime concern. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is awaiting the dates of the polls to decide whether IPL 12 should be held in India or moved overseas. The IPL is the bread and butter event for the finances of the BCCI. The commitment that BCCI has made to sell the various rights of the tournament to the television broadcasters and other stakeholders makes it impossible to shorten, cancel or postpone the cash-rich event. The IPL has grown by leaps and bounds and has now become a creator of wealth and work opportunities for cricketers as well as franchise owners and other individuals involved with it.
The biggest problem that IPL faces, however, is from the 2019 World Cup to be played in England and Wales from May 30 next year. The 10 top teams participating in it have many players who are integral part of premier IPL sides. These players have been auctioned for huge sums of money and are faces of the tournament. The unfortunate part is that the country they represent will want them from at least a month before to prepare and train for the prestigious World Cup. IPL will lose its glitter if these players are not there for the last mile of the tournament.
Furthermore, the latest statement from Indian captain Virat Kohli has put everyone involved with the IPL on the backfoot. He has asked the BCCI to rest all the probable Indian fast bowlers during the IPL and compensate them for their absence. This, he feels, will keep them fresh for the World Cup.
The proposal, if implemented, will make things tricky for the franchise owners, as they would need to relook at their existing set of cricketers. A different venue will require players with different skill set, and without the major players, it will be an arduous task for the franchises to form a well-balanced team. It would be a nightmare not only for all of them, but also for the support staff who are involved as coaches, fitness trainers and analysts. Furthermore, all the people involved with the World Cup will be worried as they will need to choose between doing duty for their country and being part of the financially lucrative IPL.
The 50-over World Cup has become the most important event in the cricket calendar. The winner is hailed as the champion side of the world. In the 86-year history of Indian cricket since the first match was played in 1932, the two moments which are recognised and remembered the most are the two World Cup victories that came in 1983 and 2011. Winning the World Cup 2019 is, therefore, the most important agenda for the Indian side, more so for captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri. They will be judged by the way the team performs in the World Cup and every match they play now seems to reflect the search for the right combination for the mega event.
Similarly, teams around the world are also preparing themselves and they too would want their players rested and fresh for the World Cup. This, I feel, will become a major issue for international players participating in the IPL. The interesting part will be the players who prefer playing T-20 leagues for commercial gains vis-a-vis playing for their country. These players will be in a quandary as they will need to decide on one way or the other. The West Indies side will be a prime example of it, as without their star players they look a very average team.
Indian cricket ’s golden egg, the IPL, is truly in trouble. Therefore, the BCCI needs to take all the cricket boards into confidence and quickly structure the 2019 IPL tournament. It must figure out a way to have most cricketers participating in the event. The BCCI, worrying more about the auctions and alternate venues, is not as important as the main ingredient that makes the broth tasty and in cricket that is “cricketers.”
The IPL is a property that has become the envy for administrators from most other cricket playing nations. The money pouring into the IPL is enticing the cricketers and the cricket fraternity to make a bee-line to be there. This, therefore, makes India a super power of world cricket.
The franchise owners and the multi-media companies have invested large sums of money to make the IPL a huge success. The BCCI has to use all its might to ensure that the tournament is not diffused in any way. It may need to use strong-arm tactics quickly or else the IPL 2019 will lose the glamour and glitter that one normally associates with it.
The coming tour of Australia and New Zealand and preparations for the 2019 World Cup is important for India, but the IPL is what has given the BCCI financial leverage. Protecting the league should be of prime importance for the BCCI. Unfortunately in India, non-cricketing matters are consuming a lot time. Rather than worrying about a personal remark from Virat Kohli to a disgruntled fan, the time has come for the BCCI to seriously look at the immediate future of the IPL or else the 12th edition of the glamorous league will become just another tick-box in its calendar.
(The writer is a former India cricketer)