Paul Valhaty scored the first century of IPL 4 © Getty Images
Paul Valhaty scored the first century of IPL 4 © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

I’ve got to be kidding, right? Two centuries were hit in the week so far and the Sachin Tendulkar ‘jinx’ ‘played out’ yet again. Well, no, I am not. With each new edition, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is losing relevance, unless any cricket is good cricket for you.

 

I’d take IPL over the barrage of meaningless bilateral ODI fixtures we’ve been force fed over the years. But as a major, prestigious tournament, it is in dire need of getting its act together. The novelty value of the first edition has long since faded away from memory and it’s starting to get all too familiar now.

 

It was hoped that by assembling together the best cricket talents on one platform, IPL would set new standards for T20 cricket. It is starting to fall short of that promise.

 

I know that the name of Paul Valthaty is on many lips right now as a counterpoint to what I’ve said. But really, that knock did not set new benchmarks even for IPL, let alone international T20 cricket. Have we already forgotten Adam Gilchrist, Sanath Jayasuriya and Brendon McCullum’s centuries in the first edition? You could argue that especially the first two are amongst the most destructive batsmen in modern cricket and it’s unfair to compare Valthaty with them. And that is precisely the point.

 

IPL is yet to truly emulate football leagues because, among other reasons, it does not yet have all star ensembles and the standard of cricket often falls some distance short of international cricket. Yes, many international stars perform in the IPL but they rub shoulders with young domestic players, some of whom are being exposed to such demanding levels of competition for probably the first time in their career.

 

Say, if there was no cap on the number of foreign players in each squad, owners would be in a position to choose the best players. There may then be fewer weak links in the teams and, resultantly, tougher contests.

 

I recognize that the goal behind imposing a cap on the number of foreign players in each squad is to promote local talent. It is a tightrope walk for the BCCI. Big money has been poured into the tournament, riding on Indian cricket viewers’ craze for the game. So, relevance would have to be balanced with a sense of identity and purpose for the tournament.

 

Too many foreign players and the ‘Indian’ in IPL may go for a toss. Too many weak links and interest in the tournament starts sagging. This edition is particularly disadvantaged in succeeding an Indian World Cup win and is so far not dazzling enough to obliterate the much-savoured hangover of a long-awaited World Cup win.

 

I will draw a parallel here to the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), set up in 2006. It is teeming with foreign musicians, not to say that there are no Indians in the troupe at all. As an orchestra, it has clear goals. Regardless of nationality, it is mandated to perform classical music and measure up to high expectations. Standards therefore take precedence over promotion of local talent, with the hope that in the long run, the SOI’s performances will increase interest in classical music and lead to more Indian musicians taking it up and, eventually, joining the orchestra. It is harder to define such a clear purpose for a cricket tournament, especially one that is floated with more than an eye on the mind-boggling commercial possibilities.

 

It is admittedly a difficult task to sustain interest in a cricket tournament played in India without Indian players. But the eyeballs are really clued into the feats of the likes of Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, etc. There is really not so much interest in the Bharat Chiplis of IPL at the end of the day. On the other hand, by building strong teams, the fewer upstarts who do get an opportunity to perform in the IPL will be given a tougher and more appropriate initiation into, eventually, international cricket while the contests too would make for more engrossing viewing.

 

As a breeding ground for upcoming talent, IPL would be much better served with more flexibility in the hands of owners. That is, freedom to sign up players, no limits on the cash chest and no restrictions on the composition of the squad.

 

Rather than dictating what teams should be like, which is contributing to a fair amount of undesirable uniformity, BCCI should let the owners decide what they want their teams to look like. If the largest purse wins, so be it. In an owner-led tournament, that is the only way cricket’s interests in the limited context of the IPL would be best served. Whatever, the IPL badly needs to get back the dazzle that silenced naysayers in 2008. 

 

(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)