By Rohan Kallicharan
For the second consecutive season, the English LV County Championship came down to the final session - after 72 matches and 864 sessions - before the winners were crowned. This is quite an achievement and a testament to the domestic game in England.
This is before one even considers a thrilling T20 finals day, one in which both semi-finals were decided by the spectacle of a ‘super-over’ after thrilling ties, and a CB40 competition that also provided great excitement.
Most importantly, this is a domestic circuit that is providing the kind of depth that has propelled England to the No 1 ranking in world cricket. Whilst the international players are relatively scarce in their appearances for their counties, there are enough overseas stars in the game to make it a very worthwhile and popular spectacle across the country. Crowds are up, coverage is at a higher saturation than ever, and levels of performance are high.
And all of this without sending any of the counties into severe financial peril. Admittedly, some have had to be very prudent in their financial management, but the end product is an entertaining product spread across five months, producing a successful English team.
Whilst ardent supporters will disagree, this is in stark contrast to the Indian Premier League (IPL), which continues to be at odds with global cricket boards and calendars. That is, of course, apart from the International Cricket Council (ICC) who seam only too happy to concede ground at any point to the BCCI.
The IPL offers maximum glitz and minimum substance, the constant moving of players between franchises making it difficult for supporters to engage with individual teams over any period of time. What it does offer is financial riches, ludicrously so in some cases. That said, it relies on overseas players withdrawing from their own domestic and international commitments, much to the frustration of their long-term employers. Money, crude advertising and gimmicks are everywhere, yet the end product is no more exciting than the T20 domestic competition in England.
Most importantly, English domestic cricket is producing a team that is capable of dominating on all fronts, whereas the IPL seems to be having a detrimental effect on Indian cricket. And for those who will argue that India won this year’s World Cup, many believe that this was in spite of as opposed to because of the IPL. It is worth noting that the majority of the successful World Cup squad were not IPL products.
The scheduling is the first bone of contention for those opposed to the tournament. However, the BCCI alone is to blame for this. It has injected the money to make it a more attractive proposition for some than playing for their country. That should simply never be the case.
To expect the Indian players to go into this extended tournament some two weeks after the World Cup was farcical at best. To do so in the knowledge that they would then go straight to the West Indies before departing for England, well that was just pure utter stupidity.
Is it any wonder that they suffered a number of key injuries, that the captain himself looked exhausted and spent, a jaded disposition that transmitted itself to the whole team? Is it any coincidence that the tour’s only success, Rahul Dravid, did not play in the World Cup?
The problem facing the BCCI is that this is a tournament that simply cannot work without the type of money that they are throwing at it.
IPL vs English domestic cricket
Let us briefly compare it with the English domestic game to discern some of the reasons for this:
- England has always been a destination for overseas players. This dates long back to the times when it was the only country in which cricket was played during the English summer. Overseas players are proud to play for counties with a huge tradition, and see the English game almost as a finishing school. On the other hand, India’s domestic cricket competitions rarely had overseas players. Moreover, the new franchises have no history at this early point. Obscene financial rewards is the only means by which they are there attracting foreign stars.
- The English domestic tournament, unlike the IPL, is not taking players away from their other commitments, instead offering a means of competition at times when they are not otherwise engaged. If players have central contracts elsewhere, they do not join the counties, full stop. This means that the focus is on young home talent as opposed to those overseas stars who do play in the tournament.
- England have used their domestic T20 game and County Championship to catapult the likes of Craig Kieswetter into the side that won the 2010 ICC World T20, and Tim Bresnan into the Test side, whilst the same simply cannot be said of the IPL, barring a few exceptions.
- The English T20, as with the other two domestic tournaments are spread across the five month season, unlike the IPL which plays a similar number of games across six weeks, this notwithstanding the travel implications. Burnout is inevitable.
However, the BCCI has no other means of making the tournament successful and of attracting the best players who will go to India simply for high recompense, but will certainly not do so for any longer than the six-week span of the tournament.
This is the conundrum in which the BCCI finds itself. They need to attract obscene advertising to pay obscene salaries, and have to do it in a condensed period. They also have to attract the world’s best in order to ensure the said advertising and crowds. However, those six weeks are an intolerable strain on their own players already exhausted by the strain of an equally unmanageable international schedule.
Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh were just some with fitness issues developed in the IPL. Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were jaded, shadows of themselves. Nobody is saying that they would have beaten England, but it would have been a very different contest.
I have said it before and will do so again. Indian cricket authorities have to decide whether they want to have the best side in the world, or the richest league in the world, and whilst some Indian supporters may still be blinded by the glitz, that will not last long with too many performances like those witnessed this summer.
It would be too easy to call it an aberration, but the symptoms are too clear for comfort. The BCCI risks being labelled, if not already, as an organisation fixated with money rather than the development of the game. Even its bed partners at the ICC will begin to see fault in those methods eventually.
England meanwhile continues to rest their international players and provide a domestic product which is developing players to challenge for international honours. The ball is purely in the court of the BCCI, and for the sake of true cricket fans in India, not to mention their top players, it can only be hoped that they make the right decisions.
(Rohan Kallicharan, son of the legendary batsman Alvin Kallicharran, is a West Indian cricket enthusiast based in the UK who played at under-19 level. He is now a Recruitment Professional who writes about the game in his free time. He is a columnist for All Out Cricket Magazine. He also has own sports’ bloghetoreahamstring.co.uk)