Written by Anmol Gupta
It has been more than a decade since the Indian Premier League or the IPL started in 2008. Prior to 2008 there were still people in the country who argued that because there were hardly any spectators at the domestic cricket games, the people who are labeled cricket fans were in reality people who followed only the Indian Cricket Team because of their love for the country. It was argued that by comparison, the Domestic Football Leagues were always well attended and some of the clubs like Mohan Bagan, Mohameddan Sporting etc had legendary following. And, then came the IPL which put to rest any such outlandish claims. Today as things stand, the IPL has even eclipsed the popularity and commercial value of a bilateral cricket series involving India.
But as a lifelong fan of cricket and IPL, one feels that while the IPL has ensured revenues of billions for the BCCI, the product can still be improved for the sake of the cricket nuts that exist by the millions in the country.
First of all, why restrict the league to just the eight of the biggest Indian cities. Why not have a multi tier IPL involving 50 to 60 cities covering the length and the breadth of the country while restricting the premier division to 14 or 16 teams with aspect of relegation and promotion in play. After all why shouldn’t a ten year old growing up in Jammu be allowed to dream that one day he will lead his favourite ‘Jammu Jets’ currently languishing in the Third Division to the Premier Division and then eventually to the IPL title. The BCCI should have a ten year plan in place to expand the structure of the league in a phased manner wherein first the 2nd and 3rd division should be established and then gradually the number of teams in the Premier Division should be increased through promotions from Division 2 and once the number of teams in the Premier Division reaches 16, the relegation of teams to lower divisions should start.
With the boom in regional channels and the regional language content, there is a big market available for the 2nd and 3rd division teams. If the three tier structure will not exactly set the BCCI coffers on fire it certainly can be a self sustaining model. Already, the mushrooming of leagues like the Tamil Nadu Premier League, the Karnataka Premier League and Mumbai T20 and their coverage on National Television is an indicator of the appetite that exists for lower Divisions of the Indian Premier League.
Also, the anti-market restrictions imposed by BCCI on teams like a salary cap or all the players going into a common auction pool after every three years are unnecessary. Money will never guarantee the success of a team. After all New Zealand does manage to get the better of a star studded Indian Team in T20 cricket more often than not (at least till now). On the contrary, just like the English Premier League, the Indian IPL teams can have their youth teams and academies where they nurture talent over a long term contract. Also, the long term association of a player with a team will help tremendously in developing team loyalties. Auctions after every three years are artificial (and anti market) and should be done away with. If they are an exercise in ensuring parity, then Kings XI Punjab is a classic test case. Let Mumbai Indians with their money power buy Virat Kohli for a five year $100 Million contract. Let them have Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni as well. They may even have Mitchell Starc, AB De Villiers, Andre Russel and Sunil Narine and yet they will be beaten in the IPL Final which would a story for years to cherish and they would be beaten for sure on many occasions. The BCCI should understand that meddling with the market is never a good idea. As with the current model my loyalties have already shifted from Kings XI Punjab to CSK to Mumbai Indians (over the last 10 years) as mine is not genuine loyalty and hence, one feels that this model is inadequate to ensure long term success of the IPL.
India is a country of 1.3 billion people. The planet would still be considered decently populated if there were only 1.3 billion people in the entire world instead of the current 7 billion. With all its diversity and the number of people, India is a mini world in itself. Those who argue that the quality of cricket will suffer if the number of teams is increased should look at the number of teams in Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA. The sheer number of followers of the game in our country will ensure that the quality of cricket always remains world class.