What does Indian cricket want from IPL 5?
There is no doubting that the Indian Premier League is top on the list of priorities for the BCCI. After all, the board president owns a franchise and there is only so much that he has not done for the benefit of his team.
Over the last five years, the IPL has been called a variety of names. It began with Lalit Modi labeling it a night out for the whole family, where you walk in, eat, dance and have fun together even as cricket plays out in the background. Then it became a package as ticket prices soared when the tournament returned from South Africa. Meanwhile the host broadcasters never looked at it as a sports entity, for pure entertainment was their only call to the wild.
Somewhere in between of all that fun people were having, it was forgotten that the IPL was mooted as a cricket tournament based on a franchise model that survived on city-rooted loyalties. In a manner that is still its current format, but the principle point of view that it will provide an opportunity for youngsters to showcase their skill and get noticed is seriously under threat.
Yes, only four foreigners can be featured in any playing XI and that has been the norm since day one. But look back at the years and it is obvious that they are getting overshadowed by the big names that are in the market. The gulf separating the Indian youngsters and those playing only first-class cricket abroad is a big one and perhaps widening with each passing season. The 2011 season stands out in this respect, for fielding levels had never stooped so low prior.
The idea of a young Indian cricketer has changed dramatically from what it was before IPL came along. Think of a kid you know, who wanted to play cricket, wanted to follow the paths of Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid. Or even think of those parents with stars in their eyes, who would push their children into academies, never mind whether they possessed any talent. All of it was done for that hallowed India jersey, that Test match cap. Money would flow in sure, fame would follow, but the path was loaded with back breaking hard work. No more.
Today those ambitions and goals have changed. The point is now to whack your way to the top, get noticed by IPL scouts whilst playing in the junior leagues and the signing amount is enough to reward your investments. From thereon in, it is about breaking into the playing eleven, getting that one chance to shine (read more slam-bang) and not messing it up. If all of this happens, and the spotlight remains on you long enough, maybe you will linger on in the minds of people long enough for the first-class season to begin. There, depending on how good you truly are, the chaff will be separated from the grain. Otherwise there is always the next IPL season to look forward to.
There are a few pointed questions to ask here. When was it that IPL stopped being a cricket tournament? When was it that money became the prime motive and not the want for an India place? When was the last time we saw a young name appear on the horizon and then, after having made a case in the IPL, go on to impress at the highest level? When did the IPL stop being the reality talent hunt that it was first made out to be?
The degradation of the IPL from a platform for young and upcoming talent to the entertainment bandwagon that it has currently become is shocking, if not expected. And it has been a gradual downward curve. You would want to ask the Board if they themselves have let it happen. Isn't it true that there is no merit in any IPL performance unless backed by equivalent good numbers in the domestic arena? There hasn't been one selection meeting that has not highlighted the same stock line.
The underlying point isn't that it shouldn't be so. By all means, the names that IPL has thrown up need to be tested and developed as understudies to the great legends that we have lost and are set to lose in the near future. But that can only happen if there is a shift from selling this Twenty20 tournament as an entertainment package.
Indian cricket needs IPL season five to be about just the game, nothing else.