The T20 must no more be allowed to remain a self-contained confection
Rehabilitation is evidently a rocky road. Less than 48 hours after it appeared that N. Srinivasans exile from his perch as president of the BCCI had ended,the Bombay High Court termed illegal the two-member inquiry committee appointed to look into allegations of spot-fixing and betting. So there they will go again,the powerful folks who run Indian cricket,to try to extricate the board from the mess. But dont you get the feeling that the terms of popular questioning in the last stretch of the IPLs sixth season this year have already been narrowed? That the concerns voiced about the absence of best practices in the running of the IPL (and by implication,the BCCI) have been whittled down to issues centred on criminality and illegality?
Betting and fixing are serious misdemeanours,and inquiring conclusively into such charges lies in the domain of law enforcement agencies. But the BCCIs studied evasiveness on questions of the corrosive effect of the IPL will take a heavier toll on cricket than it did this summer. The list of concerns has been well-articulated: conflicts of interest that bind the IPL,contracted television commentators,unspoken consensus (or compliance) among team owners on which bunch of cricketers to not bid for,wrecking of the international calendars of other teams and Indias own,putting experienced cricketers and newcomers under unstated obligations to team owners for endorsements and non-match appearances,encouragement to freelancers,heaping the indignity on the odd cricketer of not playing at certain venues,and so on. But the IPL appears to be a self-contained confection,with its numbers (of the spectators crammed into stadia day after day during IPL season and the millions more who tune in on television) deployed by administrators to fend off questions.
How to break this barrier,how to incorporate the IPL engagingly into crickets universe? In his lively and telescopic book just out,The Great Tamasha: Cricket,Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India,James Astill offers a suggestion worth weighing. Given how it is wrecking the international calendar,he contends that if India would only request a six-week pause,or window,in the international cricket schedule for the duration of the IPL,other countries would be quick to agree to it. It would be a pragmatic recognition of Indias power in cricket,which might well help shore up the international game. It wont happen,he immediately warns,because such a window might make the IPL accountable to other boards.
The utility of making the IPL accountable to other boards may be debatable going by experience,most other boards and the ICC have not exactly distinguished themselves as visionaries or even selfless regulators. But insinuating the League into the international calendar could be a good beginning to make its cricket count. The reason that the IPL gets away with so much silliness,so much arbitrariness,is that,beyond the few hours of a cricket game,it has little recall. In the flow of match after match,it is difficult to remember the turning moments of fixtures past and,more seriously,it is difficult to place a cricketers contribution in the IPL in his overall record and the game.
Stacked up against other sports,cricket is a strange specimen. It is not growing geographically,and it is thrown into such periodic fits of anxiety that its viewership may turn away that desperate measures are recommended. Schizophrenically,success in holding certain viewerships (primarily Indias) is used to claim unaccountable exceptionalism (arbitrarily changed formats in international tournaments to guarantee the Indian squad a longer run,the IPL). Its administrators will not even engage on the question of what format the five-day Test,the one-day international,or the Twenty20 determines the truest test of the cricketers skill.
Happily,those who play the sport are more forthcoming on where their dreams of cricketing glory lie. Yuvraj Singhs memoir of his struggle with cancer,The Test of My Life: From Cricket to Cancer and Back,brims with the aspiration to somehow prove his worth in the Test arena. On the IPLs value,he has this to say: earlier,before facing off against the Australians,he had to steel himself for the sledging to come; after the IPL,the chatter is more cordial. At the end of his international career,Rahul Dravid pleaded for some coherence in how a domestic T20 league is placed among Tests and one-days,for some measure for articulating the utility of each format (financial security,global ranking,bilateral context).
Perhaps,for the IPL to count,T20 will have to count. (And lets be sure about this,if crickets best are to give more than a month of their year to the IPL,then T20 has to count.) The mood of the moment is for ways to perfect global rankings. How about a knock-out tournament every four years (or two or three,itll be the same difference) where each country fields a common squad for all versions of the game? It will at least give us an evolving guide to calibrate performance in each format for a wholesome appraisal. It could also wrench T20 out the clasp of the kind of exceptionalism that is the IPLs. Itll help us determine whether T20 is worth taking seriously,and in what proportion.
The writer is a contributing editor for The Indian Express
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