It was with a wry chuckle that I read about Sharad the Pawar’s volte face on the India Cricket League today, ostensibly at Digvijay Singh’s insistence.
In a complete U-turn on the stand against the breakaway cricket venture promoted by the Essel Group, BCCI president Sharad Pawar today said that the Indian board would not ban players who join the Indian Cricket League (ICL).
“There is no confrontation between the BCCI and ICL, it is a media creation. We did not issue any statement on banning anybody for life if he joins another organisation,” Pawar told reporters in New Delhi.
The wry chuckle was not because of Mr. Pawar (and perhaps the BCCI’s) total reversal of position (“Pawar also warned that promising young players would be ineligible for the Indian team if they played in the tournament, which is being bankrolled by Zee Telefilms, India’s largest listed media company”) over the space of a few days (after all, when you have a well-oiled girth like Sharad Pawar, it does take some time to replace your behind with your front).
The sense of amusement came from considering the amount of political wheeling-dealing and testicle-grabbing it must have taken for Mr. Pawar’s belated show of gratitude for Subhash Chandra, reputed to have been a powerful hand behind Pawar’s ascension to power (a gambit motivated by Chandra’s enmity with Dalmiya who Chandra held responsible for Zee’s bids for telecast rights for cricket being repeatedly turned down).
Of course, I totally expect Mr. Pawar to turn around again,within the time it takes for the earth to do one and a half rotations on its axis, and claim today’s statement as a fabrication of the press .However if in the unlikely scenario, that he sticks by what he has said then it may very well be the life line for Chandra’s drowning franchise.
That is simply because the only way ICL can survive is if current international players or those at the fringe of national selection play in it. That however is not going to happen till the BCCI (which now seems to be at odds with its president) “supports” ICL ( i.e. allow cricketers contracted with ICL to play for the “national” team) and the other world boards follow suit. If BCCI does not come round, the only other alternative for Mr. Chandra is to create an alternative to ICC and a parallel world cricket organization —something even his pockets may find tough to sustain.
This is critical because the money in cricket, more so in India, is in international matches. We enjoy cricket because this is the only sport in which India stands a reasonable (as in a non-zero) chance of winning every time it takes the field. Watching the game thus is less about loving the sport and more about cheering for the country.
If any proof is needed that “cricket” itself does not sell, one only needs to look at the Challenger tournaments. Assembled are the best of the Indian cricketing world, fighting hard for places in the national team, in a fast-paced series of one day games.
And who is watching the games–at the grounds and on the TV?
Virtually no one.
It could be argued that the problem has been marketing and that it may be possible to imbibe the same degree of audience passion that exists for an India Pakistan game in a match between say Marathi Manuses and Bengali babus (the Indian Idol-type talent shows subsisting largely on this “support the singer from your region” feeling to rake in the moolah). But for that to happen, the teams need to reflect a hometown flavor—Brian Lara turning out for Delhi and Inzamam for Chennai, no matter how sublimely they play, just wont cut it.
Summing up, unless Subhash Chandra can really pull of a miracle by integrating his baby with the mainstream cricket framework and coming up with innovative marketing strategies that actually make people connect emotionally with his teams (something that Packer was unable to do) , this alternate cricket structure will become a league of “has-been”s and “never-were”-s all playing with the passion, optimism and joi de vivre of a department of motor vehicles clerk.