And so the IPL is finally finished. Who would have thought at the start of the tournament that Chennai Super Kings would win it. I certainly didn’t. Not when the auction rules were changed “suddenly” at the last minute with only one team owner being given notice, not when the “home” pitch for Rajasthan was changed at the last minute while playing against ahem…Chennai Super Kings. The final result was thus very surprising, something as unexpected as, let’s see, the geography teacher’s son getting highest marks in geography on the class test.
I might deny saying this later but I actually felt bad for Shahrukh Khan and his team. They did a lot of things right but when you have your star bowler painting balls on woman’s hands, the star maverick going “Brrrrr” (if Lalit Modi was in charge, it would have been “Burrr”), Sanjay Kapoor rubbing off his charisma on the team as a celebrity supporter, their dud buy for three seasons going on to become pure platinum and a Trojan horse in the team, there is not much you can do. That they got to the fourth position was creditable. Though what many have forgotten is that this time they won just one more match from what they did last disaster season. Food for thought.
But this post is not about the IPL. It is about this so-called club versus country battle that is raging on in the media space, now that some of our great stars have discovered the worth of spending time with the family or came to know of the brittle condition of their body-parts just after IPL. Not that this is the first time this has happened, our loaded superstars frequently find the need for down-time after the IPL showing the middle-finger to the so-called “official” engagements that follow.
First of all let us couch the problem properly. It is not a question of club versus country. It is club versus club. Yes BCCI is a club, a private registered society. To be honest, it is as representative of the “country” as a franchise with the name of a city is representative of the city. Yes we associate patriotism, pride and honor in playing for the “country” (i.e. for BCCI) but that association is something we are encouraged to make, thanks to the “Hoo Haah India” advertising bubble that is created precisely for that reason—-to make an emotional connect between us, the viewers, and the BCCI club. The players are not obligated to buy into this spin and should have every moral right to choose the tangible corporeal delights of IPL over the intangibles of “glory” in the same way that people choose the increased pecuniary benefits of industry over the supposed prestige of academia.
Sunil Gavaskar has said that while the players are free to choose club over “country” (let us use apostrophes here for country), the “country” should also have the freedom not to select them should they opt out of an ICC-event after playing the IPL. Very true, they have the right not to. But the thing is the BCCI actually does want their main stars to play the IPL because the BCCI head-honchos are personally invested in the tournament and are making money off the big-ticket players. The international fixtures (Test and One Days) are principally the ICC’s concern and the BCCI is absolutely fine if the West Indies board or the ICC loses money on a West Indies vs, what if effectively now, India A series.
With the proliferation of new leagues like IPL, Big Bash, the one that Sri Lanka has got going, there will be a few players who will become guns-for-hire like the Gayles and the Pollards and the Tens. These players will typically belong to countries with financially not-so-well-off boards. But most of the big Indian superstars will still stick to the “national” club because I doubt there will be people bleeding green in order to make them endorse colas, mobile phones and motor oils if they do not play for the “country”, since the emotional catchment area of city-based franchises is still too small to justify signing the heavy-hitters on. The BCCI might make some noise in public, because it does not want to be perceived as being “unpatriotic”, but as long as the Indian players play IPL and generate revenue for their franchises, they really could not care less if they drop out of the odd ICC event or two. Sure the ICC loses, the other board loses, the guys who bought TV rights loses but the BCCI officials do not.
And that my friends is cricket.