From his vantage position beyond mid-on, outside the boundary rope, former Indian batsman and coach Anshuman Gaekwad heard some words that caused some dismay. It was a Deodhar Trophy match, a ball was hit towards him, and the man at midwicket chased it and finally dived. His captain at mid-on could have done this too, but he didn’t. The reason became clear when he admonished his teammate thus: “Are you mad, why are you diving? The IPL is coming, do you want to hurt yourself and miss it?” Gaekwad says, “I said, what the hell man, is this what cricket has come to? I was shocked, all the more so because the two players are in the Indian team now.”
The incident could provide a clue as to why the Indian team hasn’t been having a good time of late. Humiliation in Tests in England and now Australia have soured the ODI World Cup victory. M.S. Dhoni and his men have been criticised for lacking the mettle to handle genuine speedsters, for being insipid, for putting club and money before country. But shouldn’t greater blame accrue to the temptor, the BCCI? For its baby—the Indian Premier League—has transformed the cricketing milieu and mindset, and is slowly strangulating Test cricket.
The IPL has devalued the long form of the game, even in the players’ eyes. “The guys playing only Ranji Trophy are not even thinking about playing in the Duleep Trophy or for India,” says Gaekwad, who was coach of Gujarat until last July. “These young players are getting a fee of `20 lakh from the IPL, they aren’t prepared to give their best in domestic tournaments. They don’t want to get injured, they’re saving themselves for the IPL.”
This changing culture is impatient of Test cricket. Says the Delhi player, “They’re wondering if they’d be good for T20, whether they’re hitting the ball well, not whether their technique is good.” But “good” perhaps needs to be redefined. What is “good” batting technique—playing for three sessions on a moving pitch against a ball that’s changing its behaviour? Or is it playing 30 balls and hitting 60 runs off it? The answer is easy—the former. But why is the latter more hyped and, crucially, more financially rewarding?
Paul Valthaty, last IPL’s sensation, is a case in point. He was one of IPL 4’s top stars, hitting its first century. Impressed, Himachal Pradesh signed him up for the Ranji trophy. His highest score in IPL 4 was 120; he got the same number of runs in the Ranji Trophy plate division—but in six innings, for an average of 20. A Rajasthan player says, “The hype has affected selectors too—they’ve started picking players for India on the basis of their IPL performances. First Manpreet Gony, now Rahul Sharma.”
This, the Rajasthan player says, has convinced younger players that they stand a chance of getting chosen for India through IPL. He adds, “So young players think, ‘Why waste your effort in four-day cricket’? After all, you need much more strength, discipline, and ability to do well in three or four-day cricket! You’ve got to run hundreds of singles, you’ve got to bowl 20 overs!” Another Ranji player laments that the pitches have grown flatter, as most captains are batsmen and don’t want tough tracks to bat on. “And by chance, if there’s a difficult wicket, the team’s lack of technique and temperament is exposed when they’re bowled out for less than a 100,” he says.
It would almost appear that the BCCI is keen to let domestic cricket die—why else, for example, would the 2011 Irani Trophy be timed with the Champions League T20, which pulled away the best players from Irani trophy? Why aren’t domestic matches publicised, and top players asked to play? Why aren’t pitches improving despite 25 years of lament over their flatness? What’s the BCCI doing? “They’re killing Indian cricket with their greed,” says Gaekwad.
Social commentator Santosh Desai agrees, but says: “I see a greater parallel in the way the India media has gone over the last 20 years—chasing trp ratings and becoming more business than journalism.” How do we judge excellence, Desai asks. “By discernment and discrimination,” he answers himself. “That’s why I’m worried when supposedly independent journalists or observers become enthusiastic analysts on TV during IPL auctions—for money, they’re providing legitimacy to something that’s a sham. That’s why I’m worried when commentators like Shastri and Gavaskar display the same enthusiasm for an edge for four in T20 as they do for a great drive in Test cricket. They, by doing so, put Test cricket at par with T20—and surely, they know better than this.”
Since the BCCI has created this system, Desai says, “How can you blame the players if they play by the rules of the game, with money as the prime motive?”
A senior Indian player, playing by the rules, told Outlook: “From a personal point of view, to earn good money, the IPL is necessary. And yet, if you compare the increase in our incomes with the increase in the BCCI’s revenues, you’d find that in terms of percentage, our incomes haven’t increased much.” He argues that to give a fillip to Test cricket, it is necessary to make it more lucrative than IPL.
Why, then, is the BCCI hacking at the roots of the game? Why tempt/force Dhoni with IPL’s billions, then blame him if the team is tired, the batsmen don’t score runs and bowlers don’t take wickets? The answer is money, as it often is. “You take out the money from the IPL, see how many players would play it,” says the Delhi Ranji trophy player. “They’d shun it, and they’d blame it for spoiling their technique, I can assure you.”
That won’t happen. Money has changed hands, cricket is sold. The talk about the “primacy of Test cricket” is just prime bunkum. IPL is the fool’s gold, and it’s going to cost Indian cricket dear.
The case of our cricketers is one of luck by chance and greed (Bad Light Can Stop Play, Jan 23). Dhoni’s career is ample proof of this. A player of modest talent, average wicket-keeping skills and plenty of luck catapulted him to the top of the Indian cricketing world. All this while the BCCI couldn’t take its eyes off the IPL cash cow. The rout in England and Australia had to happen one day. Some soul-searching is essential now. Start again with new players, pay them well, help them keep their feet on the ground and ask them to focus on the game and not on shooting TV ads.
R.K. Singh, Gurgaon
Factions and infighting were part of the BCCI from the hoary beginning! In the 1950s, A.S. D’Mello had his hands full trying to keep his position at the top. Even in the broadcasting field, we had ‘Vizzy’ pitted against A.F.S. Talyarkhan and V.M. Merchant; and later Merchant against afst.
G. Venkatesh Iyer, Chennai
A players union may help but are the big boys interested or ready to annoy the BCCI? I have no illusions about a revival of Test or even one-day cricket. So let’s take it on the chin and move on, for the BCCI is so well-protected by our politicians and the system.
Tushar Patel, Jamnagar
People still watch cricket? And Outlook still wastes space commenting on it? I don’t know which is more pathetic.
B. Purkayastha, Shillong
Drawing attention of Mr Mahajan. Australian team management has sent Haddin, Marsh, Starc and Lyon to play the Big Bash League T20 games. Warner would have played too had he not been facing bouts of dizziness after being hit by Umesh Yadav. Let us stop bashing the T20 format so much!
Let us stop playing international cricket. Test cricket at the international level is all about patriotism, dediction, skill and technique, attributes greedy Indian players clearly do not have. From now on, the Indian team should plying nothing other than the IPL. By adding two or three more teams, we can make the IPL a mammoth three month event. For the rest of the year, our players can indulge in more important things like holidaying, endorsing products and most importantly, preparing for the next IPL. The TV channels and media won't have to worry about revenue losses, as most of our fans don't care for the cricket itself. All they want to see is the batsmen hitting sixes and cheerleaders gyrating to tacky Bollywood numbers, both amply provided for by the IPL. The three month IPL will provide enough revenue to keep our media going for another year. If necessary, a second IPL can be organised during the year, since our players wouldn't be doing anything else. As for those of us who want to follow real cricket, we will be content watching the Ashes and other tournaments not featuring India. After all, we don't need to see India in action to enjoy good cricket.
Fine piece but some questions, too.
When was Deodhar Trophy last played? Is it not scheduled from March 16 to 19, 2012?
This year's top scorer in Ranji Trophy so far is Robin Bist. Does Mr Mahajan ever write about him? Does he have the potential to play for India? Or in scoring close to 900 runs, was he preparing for IPL?
Most important question of all: How many IPL matches did VVS Laxman play last season? Is that why his form has gone down? Has he got jaded because of IPL?
Keep up the good work. But be fair, too.
Perhaps, we can't see the wood for the trees.It is a case of luck and greed.If you just follow the career of MS Dhoni you will know what I mean.A player of modest talent,average wicket-keping skills and plenty of luck catapulted him to the top of Indian cricketing world. But all this while, BCCI kept counting the cash by concentrating on IPL.They forgot that the real thing is a test match. So the rout in England and now Australia had to happe one day.Pleas do some soul-searching. Start with new players,pay them well,make them keep their feet on the ground and ask them to focus on the game and not on shooting TV ads.
it is not just about ipl alone. it is also the lack of professionalism in the board, selectors and players themselves. how many players have thought it fit to give way to others and retire particularly at peak. To my knowledge only gavaskar may come close to that amongs indian players. see sachin playing selfishly for his records. what use is his 100th 100 when the team has been smothered to dust in england 4-0 and for sure 4-0 in australia too. this is complete nonsense. most tv commentators are hand in glove with administrators too. you can see they keep targeting dravid and laxman. Laxman definitely is way past his prime. But dravid may be out of form now in australia but he was the highest run getting for the 2011-12 period and he scored 3 hundreds in england in adverse conditions. he should have announced his retirement then and there. that is where our senior players lack selflessness. the board and the selectors have no guts to take decisions like showing them the door if they dont go themselves. sachin should have gone gracefully right after the 2011 world cup win. but hye is disgracing himself and the team., shame on all 3 of them. If they have any self respect they would atleast announce retirement on their own whithout anybody pushing them right after the perth test. they have stopped other new players being given time to build themselves. For other new players like cheteshwar pujara, badrinath ,etc some of whom see more suited to test cricket than one day or 20-20, the selectors give them a very short rope and drop them after 2-3 test matches. Am sure some of them will be completely disheartened now.
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