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T20 must be taken seriously,it cannot be dismissed as a seasonal affliction

Written by Mini Kapoor |
May 22, 2013 3:21:02 am

T20 must be taken seriously,it cannot be dismissed as a seasonal affliction

In the last week of the Indian Premier League’s sixth season,even if Sreesanth had not disturbed the self-congratulatory tenor of the extravaganza,there are questions that had to be asked. But now that he and his two fellow offenders have burst the bubble,one has fascinatingly been put in sharp relief. With the BCCI and former players in agreement — and unexceptionably so — that,were the allegations of spot-fixing to stick,his record should be expunged from all forms of the game,it begs the question: what in fact is the contribution of an IPL match to a cricketer’s overall record?

Of course,in a team sport,it is difficult to settle the issue of how a player’s predeterminedly poor performance may have altered the contribution of the rest. (Alas,the bookmaker’s inducement to influence a player’s contribution on the day cannot really work on the demand for a match-winning feat.) After all,in,say,a 100-metre event,if the athlete placed second were to be proved to have run an unclean race,that spot would be retrospectively awarded to the competitor placed third,and so on. It is not that easy to settle in a team effort,and the expunging would leave a ghostly absence in a match summary.

But that’s about Sreesanth and his career stats. Much of the commentary on spot-fixing has focused on how the IPL format,with its match or two a day,is predisposed to such illegal efforts. It is not clear that such a line of inquiry would,in any way,yield anything useful — throwing away a match or an over or a wicket is a transgression that requires such low regard for one’s sport that blaming it on the IPL and Twenty20 format is simply evasive. To steel sportspersons to rebuff the temptation requires altering the ecosystem of the entire sport,not just by active vigilance,but also by reviving the spirit of mentoring from the amateur era so that they value what they play,whatever be the level of competition.

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This is why the scandal must invite a relook at T20 and the IPL,for the lack of clarity on where a cricket fan could factor in the worth of an innings or bowling spell in such competitions. Six years after the commerce and calendar of cricket were altered by the domestic league,it is essential that T20 and the IPL are aligned with the sport in a more coherent manner. For T20 to be seen as a sequestered form,limited mostly to the IPL in a two-month period every summer,would drive cricket to schizophrenic stress. Of course,there are domestic leagues in other sports,football being most prominent,and they handle the participation of players in club leagues and national teams very well. But they play the same game in both contexts.

Cricket,a full decade since the first T20 match,has settled for a strange division. Tests and one-day matches are scheduled in the international calendar,while T20s are consciously rationed on those tours and packed in during IPL time. So,Dhoni,whose captaincy has coincided with the rise of T20,has so far played 42 international matches in this abbreviated format,while by Monday he had already played 155 T20 matches in the league format.

Given that the BCCI creates space for India’s national team to be available for the IPL franchisees while scheduling tours,are we to understand that time is being set aside for them to play a form of cricket not prestigious enough in the skills it demands for it to be more prevalent in an international context? Because,as the IPL has panned out,it is not just the opportunity to benefit has-beens and wannabes alone. It inspires the best in the game to participate.

One can understand the purists’ scorn for the T20 form — and the IPL’s excesses — and their consequent desire that the international calendar be uncontaminated by its perversions. But does the BCCI see it that way? Does it really believe that too much T20 will wreck cricket as we’d like it to be? That it should basically remain a two-month-long indulgence,to enrich the board and the players and everyone else besides,but not be elevated to a standard for sorting out the greatest players and teams of the moment? If so,that would be destructively cynical.

A year ago,while delivering the Bradman oration,Rahul Dravid proposed an interesting division on which cricket could ideally be structured: nation versus nation for Test cricket,multi-nation tournaments for one-day internationals,and domestic leagues for T20.

But,as the allegations against Sreesanth have shown,a taint on one format will not necessarily leave the rest of cricket unaffected. A beginning needs to be made of finding ways to collectively own the T20 format,and to do so in a manner that recognises that the IPL is not any old domestic league. In its composition and in the priority that the best cricketers anywhere in the world give it (even if it is for purely monetary reasons),it is not.

Those of us given to holding our noses and dismissing it as a seasonal affliction need to reconsider our disdain. T20 is as much cricket today as Test matches are,and the IPL is its primary competition. Players and commentators do not help in taking stock when they put the different formats in silos,reserving enlightened appraisal for one and a cheerful anything-goes-and-then-let’s-forget-it affectation for the other. Let’s start taking all forms of cricket seriously. And we can only do so if current cricketers and other stakeholders — including franchisees and television commentators — own the responsibility of opening up on the cricketing issues T20 and IPL raise.

The writer is a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’

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