The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

24 Comments

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.

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24 thoughts on “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

  1. First to comment.

    “Marathi Manuses and Bengali babus” …would Ranadeb Bose have been given a chance in the third test had he been Ranadev Bhosle? That would have taken away the fun of watching Sreesanth, wouldn’t it 🙂

  2. And first to reply. The heavens would thunder and tracer bullets would fly and shadows appear if I so as much suggest that Ranadeb Bose was not selected even after a 5 wicket haul to keep a talented but temporarily-gone-round-the-bend bowler in the team, because of where Ranadeb comes from. And before anyone says anything, the official board verdict is that Manoj Tiwari is still injured.

  3. @GB
    (after all, when you have a well-oiled girth like Sharad Pawar, it does take some time to replace your behind with your front) Sahi hai bheedu….

    “political wheeling-dealing and testicle-grabbing” – another Gem from GB… 🙂

  4. Chandra is trying to do a Kerry Packer and i think he may even succeed to some extent.
    Here’s why –

    1] The current cricketing body is totally dominated by politicians like Pawar,Shukla, Lalu etc. who know squat about cricket

    2] At the cost of being controversial i *think* that the “classes” are moving away from the game. Its now more HYPE and less substance

    3] With the media explosion, India is (or seems to be) ready for converting the sport – a’la NFL or Champions League with international players being roped in.

    4] The sensibilities of the younger generation are more in inline with shorter duration of sport. If Chandra can add muscle to 20/20 he may have already scored one point

    5] In early 70s limited over game was considered as “impure” and it slowly caught the fancy of the majority and it was accepted by the “classes” eventually.

    6] If Chandra can sustain the initial set backs and persist, financially or otherwise, the idea will actually translate into a major success.

    P.S : BTW i am not for Chandra’s new league, i am just opining about what i feel will eventually happen. Suggesting that i am totally out of my mind – is perfectly valid.

  5. Haha…. hilarious one, Arnab. You have a keen eye for the details and for picking up off-beat topics with some sort of subterranean radar.

    You wrote: “after all, when you have a well-oiled girth like Sharad Pawar, it does take some time to replace your behind with your front”

    I remember reading in “India Today” in the nineties about an acerbic “communal” Mumbai politician (also known for his cartooning skills) making a speech at Shivaji Park about Sharad Pawar before a crucial election…. This “communal leader” said: “After this election, you will see whether Sharad Pawar’s Ratalu hangs in the front or in the back”.

    I didn’t get the joke until someone enlightened me that Ratalu is Marathi for “sweet potato”, and Mumbai slang for you-know-what. 😉

  6. That “testicle-grabbing” remark reminded me of “monkey steals the peach” manoeuvre !

    You say that we watch cricket because India stands a good chance of winning in every match. But then they are so inconsistent that I wish betting was legal so that I could bet against them – a win-win situation!

    Another thing that I miss in international matches is that the audience is homogeneous – unless you actually go to a cricket ground outside India. I once watched a Ind-Pak game in an auditorium US in which Ind scored score 349 but won only by 5 runs or so. The audience was almost 50-50 Ind-Pak. The feeling that you get in such audiences is indescribable.

    In India where even raddi movies, tv shows are successful – why can’t the cricket be sold? Just look at how club football in europe and the three sports in US are packaged and sold. I think that the idea, per se, is feasible. But then there’s also the fact that attempts such as PHL have failed. Maybe the sports-as-national-pride is somehow more palatable to our nation than sports-as-luxury-entertainment. And then there’s also the question whether anything good can come out of Zee 🙂

  7. Forgot to add that Laloo Yadav is now offering the railway stadiums to ICL. That’s something better than the sub-Ranji standard grounds that they are considering now.
    Chandra seems to be trying all his clout to get this thing started, but I have a feeling that, in the end, he’ll have to “convince” BCCI the only way they can be convinced – by making some kind of deal (paying them for grounds usage or something like that).

  8. Greatbong, since the ICL is in its initial phases of conception, what according to you can be done to ensure that they can contribute positively to the national cricket? I’m not asking you this in any sarcastic manner, or even for the rhetorics. I think personally, however Zee-controlled that board may be, it had a chance of actually putting cricketers in charge of the development of cricket rather than businessmen and politicians who wouldn’t know the blade from the ridge of a cricket bat.

  9. Now the great Lalu Prasad joins the circus. Anything to do with his “immensely talented upcoming cricket allrounder ‘ son?

    By the way , if BCCI does shift the Jharkhand cricketing headquarters to Ranchi from Jamshedpur,( as implied in the last few months) Subhas Chandra may find new friends in Tatas! Now, that would be very very interesting!!!!!!

  10. The problem is that BCCI, for whatever reason is not in a position to “sell” he game effectively, hence the empty grounds for Challenger matches et al. However, I feel; that if the BCCI swallows some misguided pride and outsources the marketing of the domestic leagues and tournaments like the Challenger trophy to the ICL, Zee will do a far better job of it. Of course BCCI and ICL will have to share the booty.

    The main reason that the BCCI lacks incentive to do so is because the vast majority of revenues accruing to the BCCI is NOT because of gate receipts at the venues but the TV and advertising rights – things that are not dependent on venues. So that feel they do not have to do anything to the existing state of affairs as money if flowing in anyway.

    More competition from the ICL can only help. While I agree that the current ICL model is not sustainable – they have to branch out to more than 20-20 games – the fact that people like the Railway minister (albeit for political reasons) are supporting is actually good news – it has made the BCCI sit up and think again before releasing threats and making statements like “banned for life” etc.

    ICL needs to do a few things:
    1. Create a rapprochement with the BCCI using political and industry clout
    2. Have ODIs as well so that the recently retired can actually play what they play well
    3. Encourage similar breakaway organizations in other countries as well, especially Sri Lanka, Pakistan and WI, so that this takes on a more global characteristic

  11. As someone who has been arguing for such a club league in cricket long before Zee announced their ICL, I am really hopeful that ICL succeeds. I agree with most of the points made by Kaunteya above. Especially that people have started getting tired of this international format. There is only so much of India-Australia or India-Pakistan you can watch. If English Premier League and Formula One can be popular among sections of urban Indian youth, I see no reason why a cricket league can’t be made popular. It just needs to be marketed properly.

    As for this: “Brian Lara turning out for Delhi and Inzamam for Chennai, no matter how sublimely they play, just wont cut it.” – so have English fans stopped supporting their team because their best batsman for past two years has been a South African? Sure, there has to be some local presence, but as long as majority of the team are local and a couple of stars are from outside I don’t think people will have a problem. Over time, fans associate with the team and don’t worry so much about where the players are from.

  12. I don’t know what the BCCI’s problem is – this is the best opportunity for them to give away their responsibility of handling Twenty20 cricket to a group that is willing to do it. They can then just take whatever revenue they get – from renting out grounds and the like – and concentrate on improving domestic cricket and related infrastructure.

    Two seasons down, you’ll have a proper Twenty20 league from which you can choose the best in that form of the game – and just like one-day cricket, eventually, Twenty20 will be played by experts in that form, and not people who are good test or 50 overs cricketers…

  13. Laloo Prasad Yadav supports the ICL. For me this is enough.

    Sreesanth even though he is from kerala is a match winning bowler. he deserves more chances before he is dropped.

    i think r.p.singh has far too a generic name to be a successful bowler. so he should be dropped.

  14. Well said. Gone are the days (before 80s) where people in the gallery used to analyze the game and enjoy it.
    Now we want action and just cheer the country.

    I hate the game but still love hearing the roar of the crowd after a four.

  15. “They can then just take whatever revenue they get – from renting out grounds and the like – and concentrate on improving domestic cricket and related infrastructure.”

    @aandthirtyeights … ‘BCCI’ is a word not to be associated with concepts such as “concentrating on improving domestic cricket and infra .. ”

    BCCI is about making money, doing business, period.

    On the other hand, kishor-bhau, where are thou ?

  16. Cricket governance is worse than Indian governance these days. That says a lot about the level it has dropped to I guess. I am all for disbanding BCCI alltogether and only let ICL represent India hehehe 😀

    S

  17. WRONG! THENEW CRICKET THINGROCKZ, ITZTHA BEST, YOUU DON NO CRICKET WHY R U PESIMISTIC YOU TINK ALLZ RONG BUT YU ARE RONG YURSELF! GO2 HELL ! SACHIN ROCKZ HE’L COME BACK NO NEDD FOR MONEY FOR HIM! YOU DON NO ANYTING WHY YU WRITE CRAP?

    Ooooh! How I wish Greatbong’s Commentspace was filled up with comments such as these!

  18. @Tarzan: Thank you
    @Kaunteya: 1. Subhash Chandra knows a lot about cricket?
    2. Cannot disagree more.
    3.Since something like this has never happened in India and India is demographically very different from US, I do not know whether there can ever be an NFL in India.
    4.Nothing prevents the BCCI from going 2020
    5.That is not germane to ICL vs BCCI
    6.To see.
    @Hujur: 🙂
    @Prasun: Thank you for that link. My life has been enriched. What LPY has done is very very smart.
    @Sudipta: If the BCCI has the interests of cricket rather than of itself at stake, it has to provide support for ICL which at the bare minimum means not blacklisting ICL contractees. I do not doubt Subhash Chandra’s ability to run a profitable enterprise—however he needs to remember that its not cricket “the game” that brings in the masses but cricket the circus. For the circus to bring in the crowds, there has to be something at stake—national or regional pride.</p
    @Anirban: I am sure he is talented in many ways.
    @Shan: The problem is that BCCI, for whatever reason is not in a position to “sell” he game effectively, hence the empty grounds for Challenger matches et al.
    Dont agree. Too simplistic to blame the BCCI for bad marketing. The same marketing team that does the Challengers does everything else—which all make money. It is simply that people do not care to watch high class cricket, once it is shorn of all the”Hoo Haah India”
    @Mohan:
    As for this: “Brian Lara turning out for Delhi and Inzamam for Chennai, no matter how sublimely they play, just wont cut it.” – so have English fans stopped supporting their team because their best batsman for past two years has been a South African?
    Sigh. That is because Pietersen has never been a South African cricket star, and so does not have a “foreign” association that Lara has.
    @Aandthirtyeights: “I don’t know what the BCCI’s problem is”
    Well we do. They are unwilling to let even a bit of control slip from their hands, behaving in the best traditions of a monopoly.
    @WTF: “i think r.p.singh has far too a generic name to be a successful bowler. so he should be dropped.”
    No further debate is needed.
    @Ram: Hmm
    @Shan: He played like a dream in the third test.
    @Supremus: That sounds good.
    @Shamica Sativa: Your message has been reported for abuse. A moderator’s decision is awaited. 🙂
    @Ancient Mariner: Ditto
    @Ad Libber: Yes that had been brought to my notice. But thank you all the same.

  19. “Sigh. That is because Pietersen has never been a South African cricket star, and so does not have a “foreign” association that Lara has.”

    He may not have been a star, but his foreign origin was very much in the news when he first started playing for England. Secondly, do you think if any top class cricketer like Flintoff, Lee or Akhtar starts playing for India, the Indian fans will become less interested in following their team? We can only speculate, because under the idiotic ICC system such a thing is never going to happen, but I very much doubt that.

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