By Madan Mohan
I have struggled to summon up much interest and excitement for the ongoing Champions League T20. I must admit the matches have been better so far and the final look a little more inviting now. But my interest in the goings on seriously spiked when I came to know that Gautam Gambhir was playing in Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) clash against Somerset on Sunday. Visions of his travails in England returned as I chuckled wryly.
The star batsman had complained of blurred vision after suffering a concussion in the Test Series in England and was forced to miss the ODI series. The rest was most timely, it seems, for he returned to regale audiences of the prestigious CL T20. Hey, I am not going to sit in judgment of his motives or question the truth of his pronouncements. The doctor had, after all, recommended only 10 days of rest and that time has passed by. Maybe Gambhir was indeed unable to play in England but has recovered now.
But a pattern has begun to emerge. Players wanted out of a disastrous tour and jumped the sinking ship post haste. Refreshed and recharged, they have taken turns to declare themselves fit for the CL T20. Harbhajan Singh was at the beeline of players scurrying to get fit in time for the CL T20. He declared himself fit for all forms of cricket. Widely expected to sit out, Gambhir has declared himself 100% fit. Injuries and general fatigue most certainly did not daunt Mahendra Singh Dhoni. In fact, only Sachin Tendulkar has stayed away so far from the proceedings on the field.
There must and would well be plausible explanations for all these things. But what’s the import of all this? The writing is crystal clear on the wall: Some domestic fixtures are now more prestigious and attractive than international cricket for cricketers. The prospect of defending the Pataudi Trophy was met with meek and abject surrender. The chance to regain lost pride in the ODI fixtures – and to defend the claim to the title of World Cup champions – was not taken either. Yes, performances improved and more resistance was shown but the results were ultimately not much to write home about.
None of this has deterred the ongoing CL T20. Most observers agree that this edition has fared much better than previous ones so far. There is buzz and excitement around the matches, where last year’s edition slunk away inconspicuously. You’d think that after such a numbing debacle as the one in England, fans would not find a league fixture compelling but indications are otherwise.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has succeeded in creating a captive audience for its leagues that is independent of international cricket proceedings. I have met people who lost touch with international cricket, thanks to saturation and whose interest in cricket was revived by the IPL. It is these audiences that the franchise owners would be betting on and hope keenly that their numbers would swell.
On the one hand, two franchises have taken BCCI to court and one has been terminated over payment disputes. But the reception and viewership still make it a promising business model. With BCCI firmly in the grasp of politicians and industrialists, cold and calculated moves are likely to be the order of the day.
They could not have been so sure about the players. What if they had rallied together and revolted? What if more had followed in the footsteps of Michael Clarke? But the Kerry Packer episode probably allayed such fears. The modern professional sportsman is, by and large, a well paid mercenary. He is committed to sustaining excellence in his sport and expects to be adequately compensated for his efforts. He will devote his resources to those investments that promise better returns.
So, the most vital cog in the wheel, the players, have embraced BCCI’s colourful leagues with palpable glee. Even injuries that left the team embarrassingly short of reinforcements have not halted the march of the Champions League. The viewers are happy with what they are getting. So, what’s the big deal?
(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)